Saturday, June 30, 2007

Law: Benedict XVI and the Constitution of Political States

On May 10 2007, Pope Benedict XVI started his visit to Brazil. See Papa apóia excomunhão de politicos pró aborto, O Globo, May 10, 2007 at 1. The visit was a homecoming of sorts for the Pope. Not in the usual sense, though. The Pope had not visited Brazil before in person. But in an intellectual sense. His visit provided an opportunity to tour the site of Benedict's greatest triumph as Cardinal Ratzinger about 30 years earlier—a triumph that might well have secured him his future at the Vatican.

For Brazil had been a hotbed of liberation theology, a form of engagement between Catholicism, social action and the state, that had energized many parts of Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. In some parts of Latin America it caused its adherents, priests and well as lay Catholics, to challenge not only the secular leadership of the state, but the leadership of the Church itself. Benedict’s contribution to the dissipation of that movement within Catholicism, at least as an intellectually vibrant aspect of Catholic social thought, and the suppression of its foundational norms as heretical, is well known. See Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, given at Rome, at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on August 6, 1984, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect. The basis of Ratzinger’s attack was that liberation theology was unacceptable not because of its inherent totalitarianism but because of its essentially Godless totalitarianism. “‘The message of the Gospel cannot be reduced to politics. Nevertheless, the Gospel has certainly political consequences," the Cardinal explained.” Cardinal Ratzinger to Review Liberation Theology in Mexico, Catholic World News, May 9, 1996 ( ). These efforts helped cement his ties with the youngish new Pope John Paul II (himself on a crusade against the godless totalitarianism in Poland and the rest of the Stalinist Soviet Bloc) and ultimately played a role in securing for him the bishopric of Rome. But the attack on Liberation Theology was also grounded in more positive aspects. Principally these touched on issues of solidarity within the communion of the faithful. The meaning, exercise, and obligations of that communion, and the penalties for rejection of faith, of living in solidarity with the faithful, were points well developed in Ratzinger’s attack.

The success of these attacks can be seen today in Brazil. “In Brazil, though, liberation theology is far from dead. These days, instead of preaching class struggle and defying dictators, many veterans of the movement have adapted their rhetoric and role to the times. They work to promote environmental conservation or women's rights; they help the homeless and AIDS patients.” Monte Reel, An Abiding Faith in Liberation Theology: Since the Vatican’s Condemnation, Movement Veterans in Brazil Have Adapted to the Times, The Washington Post, May 2, 2005 at A12. Liberation Theology has been tamed.

This background is critically important when one attempts to understand Benedict’s trip to Brazil, and the statements he carefully chose to make there. It was not just to gloat about the transformation of the force of liberation theology that Benedict chose Brazil, but also to refine the points he made so effectively against Liberation Theology (and where better than in the place of its greatest potency). And that begin point can be described simply as: solidarity. Benedict used his visit to Brazil to emphasize the contours of the behavior necessary to show solidarity with the Church—what is the minimum requirements for being” Catholic.

Though felt in a particular way within Catholicism, the ideas of solidarity in the management of the integrity of communities and its self conception, provides important lessons to all governance communities in a transnational world. That solidarity focuses on the nature of the community—evangelization—and its organization—hierarchical and demanding a certain amount of fidelity and obedience. “All priests, religious, and lay people who hear this call for justice and who want to work for evangelization and the advancement of mankind, will do so in communion with their bishop and with the Church, each in accord with his or her own specific ecclesial vocation. . . . Aware of the ecclesial character of their vocation, theologians will collaborate loyally and with a spirit of dialogue with the Magisterium of the Church. They will be able to recognize in the Magisterium a gift of Christ to His Church [29] and will welcome its word and its directives with filial respect.” Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, given at Rome, at the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on August 6, 1984, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect, at Part XI (Orientations)—Paragraph 3-4 ( dictates of other communities (including political communities) to which the member of the Catholic communion belongs. “It has to do with a challenge to the 'sacramental and hierarchical structure' of the Church, which was willed by the Lord Himself.” Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, Id., at Part IX (The Theological Application of this Core) Paragraph 13.

And contrary to the usual course for Benedict, he chose praxis over theological discourse to emphasize his points. “In this sense, it is necessary to affirm that one becomes more aware of certain aspects of truth by starting with 'praxis', if by that one means pastoral 'praxis' and social work which keeps its evangelical inspiration.” Instruction on Certain Aspects of the Theology of Liberation, Id., at Part XI (Orientations)—Paragraph 13. Thus, it should have come as no surprise that Benedict issued a statement, even as he was flying into Brazil that he supported the position of the Mexican bishops who has threatened to excommunicate Mexican politicians who voted in favor of the legalization of abortion within Mexico City. When the Brazilian Health Minister, himself a Catholic, was asked about the threat of excommunication for officials that acted contrary to the will of the Magisterium of the Church, he responded “a não pode ser excommungada” (faith cannot be excommunicated). Id., O Globo.

It seems that Benedict has the better of this dialogue with the Health Minister. No community can retain of autonomy without both a sense of those characteristics that make it different form others, and the willingness to enforce communal boundaries. If it means anything to be a Catholic, it means to be a Catholic through practiced faith, that is, through faith “on the ground.” There can be no higher calling in a system in which God sits at the to of a system guarded by its disciples. Disobedience must be disciplined, and a serious disobedience might well merit expulsion from the body of the faithful. In matters of faith, political officials in Mexico must pay heed to Rome even as they act as representatives of the people of a variety of faith communities. Benedict has thus been right to suggest that he would rather have a smaller community of truly faithful than a larger community of faithless. Certainly the Jews have proven the lasting power of such choices for grounding communal solidarity—and the risks.

In effect, Benedict rejects the notion of a "soft Catholicism" in the same way that many in the Muslim world have rejected a version of "soft Islam." Benedict suggests, and from his perspective not incorrectly, that faith is the paramount community, and that the obligation of the faithful must seemlessly conform to its requisites in all of the individual's actions--both personal and representational. One can only represent others in a political system by being true to the tenets of one's faith obligations. Thus, an individual cannot wear multiple hats, as individual and as representative of the people, and remain true to his faith. And in this faith, of course, the nature of both personal and representational obligations is subject to to the mandatory guidance of the Church's Magisterium. For Benedict, this represents no conflict, and no conflict with democratic values. In that respect he mirrors the theological perspective of so-called political Islam, both of which would marginalize secular or multi-normative systems. See Omayma Abdel Latif, Harmonising Immutable Values and Ever-Changing Mechanisms, Al-Ahram Weekly, 11 - 17 November 2004, Issue No. 716 (Focus) (interview with Ahmet Davutoglu, chief advisor to the Turkish AK Party, and referencing Mr. Davutoglu's book democratic political theory). Yet perspective matters. And from the perspective of those who must share a democratic political system with the faith of "hard" religion, the loss of representational power might be deeply felt, especially when the values of the Magisterium become translated into mandatory obligations in secular law.

But in the absence of a complete monopoly of the faithful, and the corresponding power to control conformity with its obligations, and in the context of the crrent sysrtem tending toward universal tolerance of faith communities (and the right to choose among them) , any "victory" of hard political religion, such as that suggested by Benedict, is perverse. For in the absence of a complete correlation between the community of Catholics and other faith communities, and in the absence of viable faith alternatives for individuals, the reality of enforcement of faith boundaries through expulsion cannot have the effect it might have 1000 years ago. In this sense, “faith” cannot be excommunicated—excommunication is separation from the body of believers. But faith extends beyond the body of believers. And faith to the precepts of other communities may require obedience every bit as strong as that to the body of the faithful. Thus, faithfulness to the political community may require faithlessness to the community of the faithful—at least to the extent that faith communities seeks to universalize its mores over the body of different believers. Benedict reminds us of the binding power of solidarity to the constitution o community, as well as to its viability. The Health Minister reminds us that in a world of multiple global communities of faith, solidarity has its limits. As long as a variety of communities of faith, political and economic communities compete more or less on an equal plane, the individual may chose freely from among them for the satisfaction of his earthly and otherworldly needs. But he also reveals the risks—authority and legitimacy mat be adversely affected by the migration from one to another group. In a transnational world, the multiple pull of solidarity will add a certain level of complexity to governance.

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