Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Consequences of Evil

Perhaps you've heard of the flap up in Sacramento where Bishop Weigand told Loretto High School to dismiss a drama teacher who had been actively serving as a Planned Parenthood "Pro-Choice Escort" at an abortion clinic up until at most a few weeks before beginning work at the school. Apparently during the six weeks or so she was working at the high school she became 'a beloved teacher' in the eyes of some of the students, and some members of the "Loretto Community" have been arguing that it's unacceptable and closed-minded to fire someone "because of her beliefs" -- especially considering that she hadn't volunteered at the clinic since beginning her employment and she did not (so far as anyone knows) openly advocate abortion in the classroom.

This got me thinking about natural law vs. positive law and the extent to which we feel it appropriate to hold people accountable for violations of the moral law which are not violations of legal statute.

In the wake of WWII, we and our allies came down clearly on the side of a form of universal natural law when we tried Nazi war criminals for "crimes against humanity" -- the which crimes were in no way crimes under the laws in force in Germany at the time they were committed. In effect, we said that some actions are so clearly wrong that someone can be held accountable (even executed) for committing them even if the crimes were allowed or encouraged by the legal system governing the perpetrator. We rejected the most extreme form of legal positivism and endorsed a measure of natural law. As the trial of Saddam Hussein goes on in Baghdad, we must assume that these ideals are still to some extent held, but here and internationally.

But play a thought experiment with me for a moment: Imagine that a year from now, due to some near miraculous change in national opinion, a Human Life amendment is passed asserting that unborn children are (from the time of conception) protected by the constitution and that abortion is illegal, as a form of homicide. Would we demand that Nuremburg style trials be held for the heads of Planned Parenthood and NARAL and for individual abortionists?

Certainly some people would. You can count on at least some people to do almost anything. However, I think the vast majority of reasonable and faithful pro-life advocates (including me) would settle for abolishing abortion and allow an amnesty for those who performed abortions before the ban. Is this a matter of caving to a positivistic approach to morality and law? Would I, in supporting an amnesty, be taking essentially the same position as the critics of Bishop Weigand who say, "I oppose abortion, but I don't think we should fire someone just because she disagrees with us on this issue"?

I would argue that aborting an unborn child at 8 weeks is morally identical to walking up to an eight-year-old and shooting her in the face with a 9mm. However, I also think that aborting an eight-week-old is less obviously evil than shooting an eight-year-old to the unformed conscience. Thus, I think mercy would demand that those involved in abortion prior to a ban not be tried for their crimes. And indeed, I imagine that justice and mercy would demand that the punishment for abortion (even if explicitly illegal) would not be the same as for shooting a defenseless grade schooler -- again on the basis that the act, while equally wrong, is not as obviously wrong to a malformed conscience.

As to the case at Loretto High School, I think the bishop clearly did the right thing -- though I hope that someone in diocesan HR made sure the termination was done in such a way as to make legal action on the teacher's part impossible. While the teacher in question may be less culpable for her actions than a prison camp guard, her actions are equally wrong. And for the very reason that a proper understanding of the evil of abortion requires a well formed conscience, it is doubly important that a person of her convictions not be set up as an example or role model for still impressionable students -- who (Catholic schools being what they are these days) are probably getting a none-too-clear introduction to Catholicism as it is.


Rick Lugari said...

While the teacher in question may be less culpable for her actions than a prison camp guard, her actions are equally wrong

Maybe...maybe not. The guard was duty bound (by the positive law) to escort the victims to gas chamber and may or may not have been sickened by his duty.

This woman volunteered her own time and 'talents' to escort victims to the vacuum chamber.

Even us pro-lifers are a little numb to the reality of abortion; just because the word doesn't always conjure up horrific images like those from Auschwitz, I don't think it lessens the culpability of the participants.

Darwin said...

I'm not sure if 'culpable' was the right word to use, I struggled for a while to think exactly what was the right word.

I agree that most Nazis had less choice as to whether or not to do what they did than this woman did to do what she did, so in that sense she's clearly in a worse catagory.

However, I think it is arguable that it is objectively easier to tell that shoving Jews in an oven is wrong than that aborting a child is wrong. The two acts are of objectively equal wrongness, but the one requires more moral discernment to recognize than the other.

I certainly think it is possible to determine from a natural law perspective that abortion is identical to wholesale slaughter of 'post natal' people -- it just takes a little more thought. And that's the sense in which I think it would be less in keeping with the correct balance of justice and mercy to institute 'crimes against humanity' trials against abortion providers.

Todd said...

My only misgiving about this case is the situation that arises if and when a pro-abortion person sincerely repents and reforms. Keeping the discussion entirely in the political realm leaves no room for belief in conversion, nor a forum for trusting the veracity of a person who says she or he has reformed.

Bain supposedly refrained from her active advocacy before she took this job. What I haven't seen advanced from the pro-termination crowd is the answer to the question, if that wasn't enough, what would be?

What bothers me is the attitude of many people posting who seem to have lost the focus, or the expectation, really, of converting others. It seems to be more about ideological loyalty: "This is what pro-lifers do."

Lastly, I'm cautious about calling this a pro-life item. It's an administrative misadventure: the school should be checking more carefully; the diocese needs policies out there in writing, and maybe everybody has their favorite martyr. Meanwhile, the issue stays on point one and nobody's convinced otherwise.

Darwin said...

I would certainly agree there's room for repentence, nor would I for a moment suggest that someone who has repented of such actions should be refused employment.

For obvious reasons, it's unclear how much conversation went on behind closed doors. I gather that there was some attempt to look for repentence before event contacting the bishop, in that the student involved wrote in the comments section of her blog something like "my mother spoke with Ms. Bain, hoping that she had had a change of heart". Similarly, I would certainly hope that the diocese and/or school administration covered that topic with her before a decision was made to fire her.

I'd say generally the pro-life movement is very accepting of changes of heart. After all, Project Rachel and related ministries are some of the most respected organizations in the movement these days, and people like 'Jane Roe' have become major figures in the pro-life movement.

The reason, I think, why Ms. Bain is getting so sympathy from pro-lifers is that she does not at all seem to have changed her beliefs about abortion. At best, she was willing to compromise by not actively volunteering at the clinic while teaching at the school. While it's possible that an actual change of heart might take place later, I don't see why (short of a clear change of heart having taken place already) the school should hire her.

What I would assume happened (and what I think clearly should happen in a case like this) is that someone in the administration sat down with her and said: "We've had this brought to our attention by a concerned parent. As I'm sure you're aware, the Catholic Church considered abortion to be tantamount to murder. Have you experiences a substantial change in your views on this matter since the time of your activities at Planned Parenthood?" If she said she had experienced a conversion, I think the school and diocese should definately have kept her on.

However, from what I understand of the timeline, she was volunteering up until a couple weeks of when she started at the school. And so unless their application and hiring process is much more abbreviated than anything I've ever seen, she must have applied and been accepted while she was still volunteering, and only ceased when she started work.

All of which serves to illustrate what a messy situation you can end up in if you bill yourself as a 'Catholic' school and yet employ a number of teachers who are not Catholic or who do not ascribe to Church teaching. I would tend to think that any Catholic school (especially a grade school or high school) should require a statement of beliefs or oath of loyalty from any employee other than the most basic support staff.

Anonymous said...

However, I think it is arguable that it is objectively easier to tell that shoving Jews in an oven is wrong than that aborting a child is wrong.

If anything that might support a more severe treatment of the latter than of the former, it seems to me (if we have stipulated that treating different premeditated murderers differently for pastoral reasons is not a violation of justice).

What to do in the face of the Neuremberg defense remains an interesting question though.