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Wed Aug 1, 2012, 06:36 AM


Camosy v. Garnett

by Michael Sean Winters on Jul. 31, 2012 Distinctly Catholic

My smackdown of George Weigel has given birth to a very interesting and important exchange between two professors I greatly admire, Notre Dame’s Rick Garnett and Fordham’s Charles Camosy. At issue is the relationship between agreed-upon Catholic doctrine and the exercise of prudential judgment by politicians. This is a critical discussion and I hope that all three of us can help perfect the arguments of each of us.

Camosy wrote:
It would also be interesting to see if Weigel (and Garnett) would accept the same doctrine/policy distinction when it comes to life issues. Suppose a Catholic politician says that she supports all of the Church’s doctrines on the sanctity of human life, the prohibition against killing persons, and duties to aid vulnerable populations. But then let us suppose she has a broadly pro-choice voting record because she believes the Church, in calling for legal protection of our prenatal children, is speaking about a technical area of public policy about which it has no expertise or authority. Suppose she believes that laws against abortion would be virtually unenforceable and harm women. Suppose she argued that the kind of big government necessary to monitor women’s reproductive choices poses a serious danger for the common good. Suppose she thought that the best way to save prenatal life was by creating the social conditions in which women would be more likely to freely choose to keep their child. On this basis, then, could she vote for pro-choice legislation, against pro-life justices, etc., without publicly dissenting from Catholic teaching?

Garnett responded:
So, Charlie asks, "It would also be interesting to see if Weigel (and Garnett) would accept the same doctrine/policy distinction when it comes to life issues." I would not accept it, and don't think that I should, and I wouldn't have thought Charlie would, either. It's not, in my view, the "same doctrine / policy distinction." Certainly, I agree, to identify a moral truth is not to identify the best, let alone the morally required, policy or law. The Church does not purport to teach what is the best way to structure, all things considered, a taxation regime. It does teach, though, that it is fundamentally unjust to discriminate, in the way that our abortion laws do, against one class of human persons. It's an old argument, I realize -- it's one that we kicked around a lot during the run-up to the last election, when then-Sen. Obama was characterized by some as the pro-life candidate. But, in my view, to be "pro-life" is not only to think we should hope for, and try to find strategies for, reducing the number of abortions; it is also -- I believe it has to be -- about rejecting the anti-Catholic premises about human dignity and equality that our abortion laws reflect. (This is a different question from the "for which candidate, given all the givens, should we vote?" question.)

Both Garnett and Camosy are right, but how can that be? And both men are wrong too.


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