Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.
By this author
The life of a scholar can be lonely at times. In working on a big writing project, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in your own head and your own questions, and to lose the sense that you’re part of a wider community and a broader discussion. That sense of isolation can make it hard to do your work.
But the field of moral theology/Christian ethics is blessed to have in its midst a person who has consistently modeled the life of the mind as lived within an intense, communal conversation: James Keenan, S.J. , the Founders Professor of Theology at Boston College.
Each January, after putting the Christmas decorations away and before putting final touches on the spring term syllabi, Christian ethicists across the country gather at the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics. It is a major professional meeting for people interested in the study of morality within the context of a Christian framework. I went to my first SCE as an undergaduate at Princeton; I am honored to serve now as its vice-president.
On November 29, 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Tamesha Means in the Eastern District of Michigan. The lawsuit demanded compensatory and punitive damages for medically negligent treatment she allegedly received in the course of her pregnancy and miscarriage at Mercy Health Partners (MHP), a Catholic health facility in Muskegan. The plaintiff suffered from a decreased volume of amniotic fluid caused by the rupture of her amniotic sac.
I saw the movie Philomena last weekend: It is a movie about an Irish woman who had a baby out of wedlock, and was coereced into giving up her little son nearly half a century ago by the nuns who took her in. She ends up collaborating with a posh English journalist to find out what happened to him: As it turns out, he was adopted by a well-to-do American family, grew up to be handsome and smart, and became a lawyer. Actually, he became a key legal strategist for the Republican party, eventually rising to the position of Chief Legal Counsel for the Republican Naitonal Committee. Yet Philomena does not get the resolution she hoped for: it turns out her son died several years ago, his meteoric career cut short by AIDS--he was not only a Republican, but a closeted gay Republican. His ashes were buried on the grounds of the convent where he and his biological mother lived together during the first few years of his life.
I thought the movie was good. In fact, Judi Dench was brilliant--she acts with her entire body, not merely by emoting her lines. IMHO, they made a huge mistake in killing her off in the Bond movies--she was wonderful as M, too.
But it wasn't great. I do not agree with this reviewer, who lavishly praised the movie's storyline. You may say that the plot I recounted above is too incredible to make a plausible movie; but in fact, all that stuff actually did happen. Philomena's son Anthony became Michael Hess--"a man of two countries and many talents." Truth is stranger than fiction, and it's no crime for a storyteller to take advantage of strange truths.
At the same time, I did have three basic problems with the film's framing of the story.
First proposed by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in a lecture at Fordham University thirty years ago, “the consistent ethic of life” challenged American Catholics involved in the pro-life movement to broaden their focus beyond abortion. Bernardin asked them to engage other issues where human life and dignity were threatened, such as the ominous possibility of nuclear conflagration, the routinization of capital punishment, and the specter of legalized euthanasia.
This talk,""Fulfiling Our Prophetic Mission," by Bishop James Conley, of Lincoln, Nebraska, is one of the best talks on equal dignity that I've ever seen.
Over the past quarter-century, Catholics who support Humanae Vitae have done a superb job articulating the ways their adherence to church teaching against contraception fits into their view of family life. For example, Helen Alvaré, professor at George Mason Law and former spokeswoman for the U.S. Catholic bishops, recently edited a volume titled Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves.
Apparently, he just switched party affiliations from Democrat to Republican. I think most people from RI thought he already was a Republican!
But the news provides me with a nice opportunity to link to a very cute little video about my home state, based upon a song from the 1948 musical review "Inside U.S.A." by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. (HT: Barbara Fick)