""The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible."--Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, God's Justice and Ours'
Explaining Why the Issue Must be Raised (Part Three in a Sub-Series).
The steady drip, drip, drip of ultra-traditionalist Catholic teachings into the moral mindset of the U.S. Supreme Court and other parts of our government has implications beyond, privacy, choice and stem cell research; it goes to the most basic of liberty interests, life itself. And as we have seen in the Carhart decision, the five Catholic justices--four of whom are even outside the mainstream of American Catholic thought-have clearly made their presence felt.
Such a view can have an impact in many life and death cases that come before the courts--especially where the distinction between right and wrong is obscured by grey issues of mental incompetence and competing claims to justice.
In an article entitled God's Justice and Ours' Justice Antonin Scalia stated: "Before proceeding to discuss the morality of capital punishment, I want to make clear that my views on the subject have nothing to do with how I vote in capital cases that come before the Supreme Court."
Perhaps he doth protest too much, and we saw a rather transparent Platonic noble lie Let us return to a quote Associate Justice Scalia gave a few years back:
"Indeed, it seems to me that the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. Abolition has taken its firmest hold in post-Christian Europe, and has least support in the churchgoing United States. I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal. Intentionally killing an innocent person is a big deal: it is a grave sin, which causes one to lose his soul. But losing this life, in exchange for the next?"
Such a statement exhibits a rather cavalier attitude towards life and death issues. And although Justice Scalia claims that his "...views on the subject have nothing to do with how I vote in capital cases that come before the Supreme Court," his actions may indicate otherwise.
For example, consider when in 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v Virginia (536 U.S., 122 S. Ct. 2242; 153 L. Ed. 2d 535) "that death is not a suitable punishment for a mentally retarded criminal." Justice Paul Stevens, writing for a six-member majority observed that the Eighth Amendment must "draw its meaning from the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.
Scalia coldly replied in dissent: "One need only read the definitions of mental retardation adopted by the American Association of Mental Retardation and the American Psychiatric Association to realize that the symptoms of this condition can readily be feigned," Scalia then concluded, "And whereas the capital defendant who feigns insanity risks commitment to a mental institution until he can be cured (and then tried and executed), the capital defendant who feigns mental retardation risks nothing at all."
But judging by the quotes of two experts on mental retardation cited in an article in the January 2003 edition of Psychiatric Times, Justice Scalia overstates his case. Dr. Jeffrey L. Metzner, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver and chair of the American Psychiatric Association's Council on Psychiatry and the Law, wrote: "I can understand why the dissent might have said what he said when he looks at transcripts where you have professionals arguing about whether someone is mentally retarded or not... But I think more often than not there is no controversy in making that diagnosis."
Dr. Carl B. Feinstein, professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and chair of the American Psychiatric Association's committee on children with mental or developmental disorders was more direct: "This is really not a battle about what the definition of mental retardation is, this is a battle about people who want to put other people to death."
Justice Scalia has effectively substituted the very subjective idea that if an innocent man is executed, Providence will make all the necessary corrections. And in doing so, he has substituted his concept of morality upon the aggregate will of the American people.
But what Justice Scalia's quote is ultimately about is the substitution of theology for legal principles--something very problematic for impartial dispensation of justice in a pluralistic society. Reasonable people might disagree on whether the death penalty is just, but few would claim as Justice Scalia does that it is acceptable for the courts to execute the innocent because Providence will sort it out.
As our Frederick Clarkson commented, "What is odd about Scalia is that for someone who is a literalist and, as I recall a constitutional originalist, relying upon his subjective Catholic notions of providence concerning the death penalty (which, by the way is in conflict with current Vatican teaching as described in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae) seems to me to be a far greater legal reach than Roe v. Wade's finding of a right to privacy.
The issue of highly subjective strains of ultra-orthodox Catholic thought does not end with the federal judiciary. As I reported earlier Opus Dei contacts with leading neoconservatives are starting to pop up with more frequency. For example, embattled World Bank President, Paul Wolfowitz appointed Juan Jose Daboub as a Managing Director.
The British daily, The Guardian, described Daboub, El Salvador's former finance minister as, "A key figure in the World Bank, said to have links to the Roman Catholic sect Opus Dei..." Daboub is a member of El Salvador's ultra-right wing ARENA Party, which has been documented as having a close working relationship with the country's Opus Dei archbishop, Fernando Sáenz Lacalle.
According to both The Financial Times as well as the Center for American Progress the bank's chief scientist has alleged that "...Daboub, tried to water down references to climate change in one of the World Bank's main environmental strategy papers" as well as attempting to "remove references to family planning in the bank's Madagascar country assistance strategy and reduce its prominence in its new health sector strategy."
When I cross-posted the second segment of this sub-series on Opus Dei's possible influence on the court,at Daily Kos several commenters contested my proposal to raise the issue of a judicial nominee's links with strident religious organizations such as Opus Dei, arguing that I was proposing a religious test for political office. While I appreciated their concern, I do not advocate the constitutionally proscribed religious tests for public office.
The question here is not whether a nominee is a member of Opus Dei. Instead, the question is whether the nominee will act in his public office in a manner that would be inconsistent with the laws and constitution of the United States; thwarting the will of the majority and trampling the rights of the minority? In other words, will he engage in factious behavior? And as I written previously on the Catholic Right, their members often share a neo-Carlist view that our secular laws should be based upon Vatican morality. This is a reasonable and necessary question that goes to the heart of the integrity of the judicial system.
One of the difficulties for anyone writing about Opus Dei is that it is a highly secretive organization. Its founder Josemaria Escriva warned about secrecy's importance in his book The Way. In point 627 he lectures, "Yours should be a silent obedience. That tongue!" At point 643 he warned Opus Dei members, "Be slow to reveal the intimate details of your apostolate: don't you see that the world in its selfishness will fail to understand? " And again at point 639, "Remain silent, and you will never regret it: speak, and you often will."
But among the facts that we do know is that Opus Dei actively seeks political influence in Washington DC and elsewhere. And while lots of religious organizations do so, most do so openly and their agendas are compatible with constitutional democracy. Opus Dei's agenda is not necessarily compatible with constitutional democracy, and that is what makes its secrecy concerning, and one additional reason why the Senate Judiciary Committee should take the extra precaution of screening candidates for whether their personal beliefs conflict with their constitutional responsibilities.
What certain Opus Dei members and cooperators are trying to accomplish is quite simple. They simply want to make the federal judiciary-and secular government in general, the enforcement arm of Vatican doctrine. It is the ultimate example of church and state acting as one.
If Opus Dei's ideas were so appealing, they would probably already be incorporated into our laws and commonly held morality by consensus. But this is not the case. Even their fellow American Catholics reject their co-religionists' desire to outlaw abortion in all circumstances as well as the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.
It is no coincidence that Opus Dei members and cooperators, and their allies --obfuscate their ties to the organization, often cloaking their world-view in the ambiguous self-description of "traditional Catholic." Their lack of forthrightness reveals a fear of discovery, as if speaking truthfully would unmask their true agenda for society.
And that is why when the question of an Opus Dei association arises with a nominee for a public post, the issue needs to be raised."
Note: Content reposted with the permission of the author.