Harvard law professor Charles Donahue, Jr. speaks in
Slowinski Courtroom on February 4th.
MORAL LAW, WITHOUT CODICILS
The recent sexual scandals of the Catholic Church have been blamed on many things. Arrogance, lax supervision, and the unwillingness to even acknowledge a problem are among the commonly mentioned culprits. Now, a prominent legal scholar suggests adding one more: a peculiar moral confusion born of the Church's historically uneven relationship with both secular and Canon law.
In remarks titled "A Crisis of Law? Reflection on the Church and The Law Over the Centuries," Harvard Law Professor Charles Donahue argued that the influence of law itself has waxed and waned in Church affairs since the beginning of Christianity.
"Law is constantly in the process of becoming," he observed. "Relatively little in the law is fixed, and none of the interesting questions are fixed."
A self-described historian, Donahue noted that in early centuries, law appears to have had a subsidiary role within the Church. Its teachings then were primarily concerned with man's relationship to God, and beyond the Ten Commandments, said little about proscribed human activity. According to Donahue, one goal of the writings of the Apostle Paul was to free the early Church some of the rigid encumbrances of the laws of Moses.
His February 4th address in Slowinski Courtroom, an offering of the 2003 Lecture Series in Law, Philosophy and Religious Traditions, painted a different picture of the role of law in Church affairs as time rolled on. The nineteenth century was host to the gradual emergence of a considerable body of administrative law within the Catholic Church, and with the advent of Vatican I in 1917, the Church adopted language the specified penalties against clergy who were found guilty of sexual misconduct.
Yet somewhere along the way, Donahue believes, a fault line began to appear between
Church law, with its dense codes and formal regulations, and moral or natural law. The end result, in his view, was Bishops who used arcane legalisms as a curtain to hide inexcusable sexual abuse.
"The role of law in any organization is to tie together its day-to-day workings with its highest aspirations, to separate the ought from the may, and the ought not from the may not," Donahue said. "There's much of that kind of thinking that needs to be done in the Church today."
No one is better suited to help the Church regain its moral compass, he suggested, than laity who happen to posses Juris Doctor degrees."Lawyer Catholics ought to read the code of canon law, and the best of writing on moral and pastoral theology together. Then they ought to write about it and talk about it in groups," he recommended.