Many people who have followed the Justina Pelletier case—largely ignored by the mainstream media, by the way—have thought that there has to be more to it, or that it’s an outrageous out-of-the-ordinary affair. This is the case where the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families forcibly took custody from her parents over a year ago of a teenager who had been treated for years for mitochondrial disease (a genetic disorder), when they brought her to Boston Children’s Hospital for consultation about a related gastrointestinal problem and resisted a quickly-made diagnosis by a medical resident and a psychologist there that she instead had a mental problem. Justina has been confined to Children’s Hospital for over a year and then DCF assigned her to a group home and then foster care and a juvenile judge awarded the agency custody of her until she turns eighteen. Justina has written that she feels like a prisoner and she has been denied both schooling and the opportunity to attend Mass or receive Holy Communion—all this, while the hospital and DCF claim they’re “helping” her. Her parents’ have engaged in a protracted legal battle with DCF and now their attorneys have filed a habeas corpus action.
Serious Catholics and political conservatives since the 1950s have strongly criticized the Supreme Court for making public policy and acting as a kind of “super-legislature” to further a leftist socio-political agenda, instead of interpreting the law and judging. We have seen such judicial lawmaking on pornography, abortion, legislative reapportionment, sodomy laws, and the list could go on. While this has certainly been a valid and much-deserved ongoing criticism of the Court, cases in each of its last three terms indicate a new, contrary problem: over-deference to the political branches on both the federal and state levels.
In 2011, the Court decided the companion cases of Camreta v. Greene and Alford v. Greene, which concerned whether a child protective system (CPS) operative and a law enforcement official who backed him up could be sued under federal civil rights laws for an aggressive interrogation of a nine-year-old girl—which under international norms possibly constituted psychological torture—to get her to say that her father abused her. Along with many other organizations, the Society of Catholic Social Scientists filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the girl’s claim (I drafted the brief), mostly because we wanted to focus the Court’s attention—as we tried to do over a decade before in the important parental rights case of Troxel v. Granville—on the CPS’s systemic misconduct that in one article I called “a grave threat to the family.”
The passing of the eminent American Catholic economist, Dr. Rupert J. Ederer, at the age of ninety on Thanksgiving Day 2013 calls attention to the great, but equally unsung, economic thinker and system that he devoted most of his career to furthering: Heinrich Pesch, S.J. and solidarism. Pesch, who died in 1926, was thought to have inspired Pope Pius XI’s great social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno five years later. In spite of Pesch’s relative obscurity, Ederer called him an economic “system builder,” on par with Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes—although the system he constructed was based firmly on Catholic teaching and the natural law. The word “solidarism” rings of the principle of solidarity, which has been stressed more recently in Catholic social teaching. In fact, solidarism is also referred to as “the solidarity work system.” There is some indication that Pesch’s solidarism influenced the famed Solidarity trade union movement in Poland that rose to prominence a generation ago and led the way to the collapse of Eastern European communism.
The aftermath of the George Zimmerman trial has brought an expected, but very disturbing, reaction. From all indications, the jury weighed the facts of the case carefully and applied the law (as it was presented to them) to the facts correctly. The prosecution had more than its fair share of opportunities to make its case, and one following the trial could not help but to think that they simply did not come anywhere close to providing proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, the lead-up to the case was troublesome. The police and the prosecuting attorney’s office did not think they even had probable cause to make an arrest, and Zimmerman was charged only after misleading media coverage, the bringing in of a special prosecutor (who later fired an employee after he testified that she had withheld evidence from the defense in the case), allegations by the lead detective in the case that he was being pressured to make an arrest despite the lack of evidence, and the firing of the police chief because he believed the same. The reaction of certain groups, elements of the public, and the Obama administration since the verdict has shown how the coveted American principle of the rule of law has fallen victim to the imperatives of identity politics.
The airwaves and the opinion columns continue to discuss the terrible December 14 school massacre in Connecticut and have brought us additional stories of senseless multiple murders in places like Oregon and western New York. Much of the discussion is now focusing on renewed calls for more gun control. As I go on to say, there are certainly some serious public policy issues that must be debated. There are, however, other deeper questions that are being raised by a few commentators, but are unlikely to receive much attention in the media generally—even though they represent the crux of the problem.
Within a couple days of the Connecticut massacre, the secular left raised their predictable demand for gun control. While most people would have thought that respect for the dead—even more so because most of them were children—and their families would have inhibited political commentary and clamoring for legislation so soon, the left was not deterred. It seemed to be another situation of not letting a crisis go to waste; it was a prime opportunity to promote an ideological and policy agenda. To its credit, the major organizational opponent of gun control, the National Rifle Association, held its tongue for a week before stepping up to call for armed security guards in all public schools. Even then, it seemed reluctant to get a full-scale debate going that soon after the tragedy by refusing to answer media questions at its press conference.
Dr. Stephen Krason, Professor of Political Science at Franciscan University of Steubenville, sits down with us to speak on what it means to be an informed Catholic Voter.
A chapter discussing U.S. laws regarding child abuse, from Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System: A Critical Analysis from Law, Ethics, and Catholic Social Teaching, edited by Dr. Krason.
Public policy in the United States on child abuse and neglect and the formation of what we now call the child protective system (CPS)—which this article argues has been deeply troublesome—was shaped by a landmark piece of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon in 1974 called the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), or the “Mondale Act” (after its prime sponsor, Senator and later Vice President Walter F. Mondale). The Act made federal funds available to the states for child abuse prevention and research programs on the condition that they passed laws which mandated the following: reporting by certain professionals (such as physicians) of even suspected cases of child abuse and neglect; the setting up of specialized child protective agencies, usually housed within state and corresponding county public social service or child welfare agencies, to deal with abuse and neglect; the granting of complete immunity from criminal prosecution or civil liability for the mandated reporters and CPS investigators regardless of their actions and even if the allegations are grossly erroneous; the insuring of confidentiality of records and proceedings in each case; and the providing for appointment of a guardian ad litem in judicial proceedings for children alleged to have been abused or neglected. Effectively, CAPTA transformed public policy with respect to child abuse and neglect by means of a new federal grant-in-aid program to the states, the way in which public policy in so many different areas from the early twentieth century onward has been reshaped. CAPTA’s mandates encompassed all kinds of known and suspected child maltreatment, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and psychological and emotional maltreatment. CAPTA never defined these terms, however, and there has not been and is not today any widely accepted definition of them even among professionals working in the field. (As we shall also see, the problem of definition has been a major reason for an ongoing explosion of false abuse/neglect reports.) CAPTA further required the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (later Health and Human Services) to establish a National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect to act as “a clearinghouse for the development of information and dissemination of information about child protective research and programs.” The center, initially headed by noted child abuse expert Douglas J. Besharov (later, as we shall see, he became a major critic of current child abuse/neglect policies), used most of its funding for research and training grants to individuals and for special grants to the states. Although the latter comprised only about 20% of the available funds, it emerged as the most important part of the statute for the future of child abuse/neglect enforcement in the U.S.
A chapter on the origins of America’s governmental system from Dr. Krason’s 2012 book, The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic.
We hear it said often that the practice of something does not measure up to the theory behind it. This is the case with political orders as with other types of entities, as well as with individual persons.
In Federalist 10, James Madison says that in “a pure democracy…there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party or an obnoxious individual. Hence it is that such democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention…and as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” With such an utterly unflattering assessment by the main author of the Constitution, one wonders how we might be able to refer to the United States as a democratic republic? Martin Diamond, Winston Mills Fisk, and Herbert Garfinkel, in their book entitled The Democratic Republic, say that the U.S. is “democratic”—in the representative, not pure, sense—because it features majority rule, and is “republican” because it was intended to demonstrate such characteristics as restraint, sobriety, competence, and liberty. There was intended to be majority rule, to be sure, but within the context of preserving minority rights; that is, the minority could not be suppressed or its liberty destroyed. As Diamond, et al. say, our Constitution is “faithful to the spirit and form of democracy…[but] guards against its dangerous propensities.” The latter are not just the tyranny referred to by Madison, but also folly, feebleness, and ineptitude. It seeks to “reconcile the advantages of democracy with the sobering qualities of republicanism,” and “to render a democratic regime compatible with the protection of liberty and the requisites of competent government.” The consent of the governed, then, is at the heart of the American political order, but its force is mitigated by the restraints of representative institutions, the rule of law, and social, cultural, and moral influences. This insures that the majority’s will not only is not abusive, but also that the common good of the political order will be promoted.
A chapter on Papal social teaching from Dr. Krason’s 2009 book, The Public Order and the Sacred Order: Contemporary Issues, Catholic Social Thought, and the Western and American Traditions.
This chapter summarizes the main elements of Catholic social teaching, as derived primarily from the papal social encyclicals. These elements provide one of the main criteria by which we go on to approach and evaluate the different public questions we take up later in this book. The elements fall basically into five categories: the family, the obligations owed to human life, the role of the state, the “social question” (involving the moral issues concerning economic activity and the relationship between capital and labor and the taking care of the welfare of the needy), and the “international question” (relations among nations, war and peace, and human rights). The limits of this chapter do not permit a detailed examination of all the social encyclicals. Instead, the major ones of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries⎯-from the time of the earliest social encyclicals in the latter half of the nineteenth century⎯-are focused on. The summarization of the social teachings, then, will come mostly from the following encyclicals: Rerum Novarum (The Condition of Labor) (1891), Quadragesimo Anno (Reconstructing the Social Order) (1931), Divini Redemptoris (Atheistic Communism) (1937), Mater et Magistra (Christianity and Social Progress) (1961), Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) (1963), Populorum Progressio (On the Development of Peoples) (1967), Laborem Exercens (On Human Work) (1981), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (The Social Concern of the Church) (1987), and Centesimus Annus (The Hundredth Year) (1991). Other Church documents, encyclicals, and secondary source materials will also be referred to at different points in the summary.
Neither Left nor Right but Catholic
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the health care law is probably a disappointment to many readers of this column. One of the things many people are scratching their head about—and some expressing something like a feeling of betrayal—is why Chief Justice Roberts joined the majority. Obviously, I cannot “get into Roberts’ mind” to answer that question. One writer speculated that Roberts made the decision he did to protect the integrity of the Court as a non-political institution. Perhaps, but with half or more of the American public against the law it does not seem as if the Court would have suffered much damage to its reputation if it had decided the other way.
Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic
In my article on “Roman Catholicism” in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, I wrote that, “Conservative thought parallels Roman Catholic teaching in many respects.” I also pointed out, however, that the Church “does not fully embrace it or any particular socio-politico-economic perspective.” I especially pointed to the problem of the classical liberal economic perspective in certain branches of what is today called “conservatism,” which is probably the predominant view in varying degrees of most of the political right.
Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic
Observing the erosion of individual rights in contemporary culture, someone once said that after all other rights were lost, freedom of speech would be the last to go. Developments in the Western world, including the U.S., in recent years are making this increasingly evident. So-called human rights commissions in Canada have hounded pastors for preaching the immorality of homosexual practice. In a celebrated case, Pastor Ake Green in Sweden was convicted and sentenced to prison for an anti-homosexuality sermon (the Swedish Supreme Court later overturned his conviction). The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation seeks laws in various countries to outlaw criticism of Islam, and several European countries have enacted laws to prosecute people for “vilifying” Islam.
Neither Left nor Right but Catholic
NEWT GINGRICH ON RESTRAINING JUDICIAL POWER: IN LINE WITH THE CONSTITUTION (MOSTLY)
By Stephen M. Krason
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich caused a stir during a media interview when he set forth his ideas about how the excessive exertion of judicial power should be checked. Among his claims were that a president could ignore unconstitutional U.S. Supreme Court decisions and that Congress could subpoena federal judges to make them justify questionable decisions and abolish lower federal courts. He was subsequently attacked for threatening judicial independence, and his comments were called “radical,” “frightening,” “irresponsible” and “outrageous” (these last two responses were from two former Republican U.S. attorneys general).