Komonchak, Kaveny & Quinn

IN PRAISE OF CONTINUITY

Unlike Fr. Joseph A. Komonchak’s review (“Rewriting History,” January 30) of Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition, which I co-edited, the reviews in L’Osservatore Romano, First Things, and elsewhere claim that the book does understand and apply Pope Benedict XVI’s hermeneutics of reform. Nowhere in the book is the second millennium of Catholicism identified as “the Enlightenment.” That millennium began with the emergence of science and scholarship in the universities of Catholic Europe, and continued with later advances in empirical sciences and historical scholarship. The Enlightenment, as John Paul II and Benedict XVI have reiterated, along with many philosophers and theologians, tended to instrumentalize human reason, promoting relativism and nihilism, which jeopardized both Christian faith and the full sweep of human reason. The theologian Bernard Lonergan, SJ, refers to that loss of wisdom as a “longer cycle of decline.”

The new situations and advances calling for discernment are mentioned in every chapter of Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition—contradicting Komonchak’s claim that “the book contains nothing that suggests there was anything of value in the modern era, anything the church might have had to learn.” Komonchak ignores all the references to the new situations and challenges facing the church; he presents the volume as if it advocated a wooden traditionalism. The chapters on Vatican II’s constitutions, decrees, and declarations show how a theological reading of the texts integrates the new situations and reforms in continuity with the principles of the Catholic faith. Pope Benedict illustrates that point by noting how martyrs of all eras witness to a proper separation of church and state.

Komonchak misconceives the intent of the volume. He laments the relative absence of a concern for the dramatic debates in the redaction of the texts, in comparison with the five-volume history edited by Giuseppe Alberigo. Our volume attempts something rather more ambitious. It seeks not just to insert the texts into the history of the council but to read them in light of the entire history of the church’s dogmatic and theological traditions. The book is a response to Benedict’s call to discern and implement the reforms in “continuity with the two millennial tradition of the church.” The contributors may have done this well or badly, but that was their purpose. In this way the volume aims at a more robust appreciation of the identity of the dogmatic commitments of the church, providing the principles for discerning what reforms are still needed and how they ought to be realized.

(Rev.) Matthew L. Lamb
Ave Maria, Fla.


THE REVIEWER REPLIES:

We have to leave it to readers of the book Fr. Matthew L. Lamb co-edited to decide whether most, much less all, of its chapters attempt to show how the texts of Vatican II reflect an engagement with new situations, advances, and challenges. In my view, most of them do not. To refer again to the book’s subtitle, the volume is much more interested in vindicating tradition than in exploring renewal. A balanced interpretation of the conciliar texts requires that those two concerns be given equal weight.

(Rev.) Joseph A. Komonchak


FOCA'S THREAT

In her January 30 article “Bad Law,” Cathleen Kaveny claims that the Freedom of Choice Act is merely “abortion-war propaganda” and will make no real change in existing law. As she sees it, FOCA codifies Roe v. Wade and therefore will be applied in a way that is consistent with that case and its progeny. FOCA, however, creates statutory, not constitutional, rights. If valid, it will be interpreted according to its own far-reaching terms and not with reference to Supreme Court precedent.

Since FOCA shares similar flaws with the ill-fated Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it is likely not a valid exercise of congressional authority, under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. So it is unlikely that the Court will view FOCA as merely enforcing abortion rights the Court has already recognized.

FOCA’s constitutionality largely rests on whether it lies within the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce, which would not tether the rights created in FOCA to the Court’s abortion precedent. I agree with Kaveny that it does not; but Commerce Clause case law is in such flux that no seasoned Court watcher would confidently predict the outcome. Even if the Court ultimately strikes down FOCA, countless fetal lives would be lost as the case winds its way through the courts. Those risks are real and not the “nightmarish worst-case scenarios” Kaveny wishes them to be. In the end, I fear that complacency in the face of such threats to life is complicity with prochoice aims, because such a position presumes that the basic fault with FOCA is that it protects a favored right too well.

Stephen L. Mikochik
Philadelphia, Pa.


THE AUTHOR REPLIES:

The main point of my article was that it is not at all clear what FOCA means or what FOCA would do to existing law. While FOCA’s provisions may be interpreted radically, I argued that it makes sense to interpret them more modestly. Moreover, we cannot neatly disentangle FOCA from Supreme Court abortion case law. FOCA expressly purports to create a statutory right that corresponnds to the right created in Roe v. Wade. While not required to do so, courts might sensibly turn to later cases interpreting Roe in order to flesh out the right created by FOCA, unless there is clear evidence of congressional intent to the contrary.

Is FOCA unconstitutional? I think an argument can be made that it exceeds congressional authority under both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Commerce Clause, although the former argument is stronger. Ironically, FOCA’s attempt to create a “fundamental right” is most likely to be unconstitutional on Fourteenth Amendment grounds if Roe is overturned—the very situation in which prochoicers would want FOCA the most. If the bill were passed, I would expect prolife groups and others to litigate its interpretation and challenge its constitutionality in federal district court. Its implementation would most likely be enjoined until it made its way through the federal court system up to the Supreme Court, a process that could take two to three years. All of that delay, expense, and hassle is unnecessary for those who want to protect abortion rights. As I indicated in my article, if Congress wants states to fund abortions, or to make abortion more widely available, it has far quieter, easier, and more clearly constitutional ways to do it. That fact, among others, leads me to believe that FOCA is best interpreted as culture-war propaganda, rather than as a serious attempt at lawmaking.

Perhaps prolife leaders thought that focusing on FOCA was a way to “rally the troops.” I fear that strategy will backfire. Remember the story of Chicken Little. What will happen if the “troops” come to believe that they have been duped?

Cathleen Kaveny


BROTHER IN ARMS

Thank you for Peter Quinn’s “Frankie’s Secret” (February 13). Yes, the Doughboys of World War I are our forgotten heroes. My father, like Quinn’s uncle, was also a WWI vet, and he too did not talk about the war or his experiences in battle. Dad’s left leg was wounded. It left him crippled, but to us he was not a cripple—he just had a stiff left leg. He held a steady job with Westinghouse Electric in Pittsburgh for more than thirty years. He raised a family of eight children, and although we didn’t have much, we never wanted for anything, and we knew that we were loved. My father was a wonderful example to his family. We hardly spoke about the war. He carried that “stiff” leg for seventy-two years, and it never held him back. Perhaps he was one of the stretcher cases for whom Frankie cared. Dad went home to God in December 1990 at the age of ninety-four.

Marion C. Willey
Oroville, Calif.

Published in the 2009-03-13 issue: 
Tags
Also by this author
Letters

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Culture
Books
Collections