The Rise of the “Stars and Stripes” Cardinals in Rome

The College of Cardinals began its pre-conclave meetings (the so-called Congregazioni Generali) this week in Rome, with 153 members in attendance. Of them, 115 are under the age of 80, and therefore eligible to participate in the papal election. The question popping up in every Italian newspaper article and commentary is, of course, the same: who will be the new Pope?

While, for obvious reasons, it is impossible to predict the most likely outcome of the cardinals’ decision, it is true that European, and especially Italian, media have devoted particular attention to Cardinal Timothy Dolan and to American cardinals in general. For instance, two days ago the daily Corriere della Sera, the most influential Italian newspaper, had a long interview with the Archbishop of New York . Yesterday, La Repubblica published a long article on the “Stars and Stripes cardinals” and how they are approaching the conclave.

Why are American cardinals receiving so much attention? One obvious, and superficial, reason is that they are much more skilled, as compared to other cardinals, in communicating and establishing relationships with the media. But there is another factor. The United States’ ability to preserve a vocal religious presence in the public sphere has always raised interest and curiosity in Rome, and especially now, in a time when the secularization of Europe is growing at an unprecedented level. It is not to reveal a secret to say that Benedict XVI himself, on many occasions, expressed appreciation for the “American model,” a model in which religious arguments in the public sphere are heard and debated much more than in Europe.

Why did this American model fit better with Benedict XVI’s approach and teachings? According to John L. Allen, Jr., Benedict XVI, contrary to the conventional narrative, tried to shape his teachings on the basis of an “affirmative orthodoxy.” In a conversation with Archbishop Dolan (A People of Hope, Image Books, 2011) Allen defined affirmative “in the sense of being determined to present the building blocks of orthodoxy in a positive key.” The emphasis would therefore be on “what Catholicism embraces and affirms, what it says ‘yes’ to, rather  than what it opposes and condemns.” This affirmative orthodoxy works much better in a social context, like America’s, which welcomes religion in the public sphere and in which religious arguments are heard.

Today, the real challenge for the Catholic Church, especially according to many European cardinals, is religious indifference and the coming of a post-Christian world represented by a new type of man: the homo indifferens. As a result, the American experience, which represents, in many accounts, a hopeful and affirming Catholicism,  is seen as a success story in Rome. This does not mean that in a few days we will have an American Pope. But  I’m sure, like it or not, that the “American model” will matter in discussions on the future of the Church.

Young, “Ecclesiastical Colony”

Next month, the Oxford University Press will publish Ecclesiastical Colony: China’s Catholic Church and the French Religious Protectorate by Ernest P. Young (University of Michigan). The publisher’s description follows.Ecclesiastical Colony

The French Religious Protectorate was an institutionalized and enduring policy of the French government, based on a claim by the French state to be guardian of all Catholics in China. The expansive nature of the Protectorate’s claim across nationalities elicited opposition from official and ordinary Chinese, other foreign countries, and even the pope. Yet French authorities believed their Protectorate was essential to their political prominence in the country. This book examines the dynamics of the French policy, the supporting role played in it by ecclesiastical authority, and its function in embittering Sino-foreign relations.

In the 1910s, the dissidence of some missionaries and Chinese Catholics introduced turmoil inside the church itself. The rebels viewed the link between French power and the foreign-run church as prejudicial to the evangelistic project. The issue came into the open in 1916, when French authorities seized territory in the city of Tianjin on the grounds of protecting Catholics. In response, many Catholics joined in a campaign of patriotic protest, which became linked to a movement to end the subordination of the Chinese Catholic clergy to foreign missionaries and to appoint Chinese bishops.

With new leadership in the Vatican sympathetic to reforms, serious steps were taken from the late 1910s to establish a Chinese-led church, but foreign bishops, their missionary societies, and the French government fought back. During the 1930s, the effort to create an indigenous church stalled. It was less than halfway to realization when the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949. Ecclesiastical Colony reveals the powerful personalities, major debates, and complex series of events behind the turmoil that characterized the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century experience of the Catholic church in China.

Witte Jr. & Nichols on the Jurisdiction of Religious Matrimonial Tribunals

John Witte Jr. (Emory University School of Law) and Joel A. Nichols (University of St. Thomas School of Law) have posted Who Governs the Family? Marriage as a New Test Case of Overlapping Jurisdictions. The abstract follows.

In many areas of law and society, religion and law exercise “overlapping jurisdictions.” Often such overlapping claims concern institutions that have both religious and political dimensions, such as education and schooling; charity and social welfare; and marriage and family life. It is the third of these mixed institutions – marriage and the family – that is the focus of this Essay. The headline battles today are over what forms of marriage should be recognized by the state: straight versus same sex marriage, contract versus covenant marriage, monogamous versus polygamous marriage, and more. But an emerging battle concerns not the forms of marriage, but the forums in which marriage and family cases are adjudicated. Specifically, the new battle is looming over the place of faith-based family laws and religious tribunals.

Such jurisdictional conflicts have recently resulted in a growing set of “anti-Shari’a law” statutes, first in Oklahoma and now in Kansas, South Dakota, and elsewhere. Such statutes are based on rather slender, if not specious, rationales – and on a purported study that has not been sufficiently assessed. We argue, contrary to this study, that the very few cases cited by proponents of anti-Shari’a statutes say far more about the use of ordinary principles of comity regarding the law of foreign nations, respect for the voluntary choices of individuals, and a sense of growing multiculturalism in general than they do about any sort of fanciful imposition of Shari’a law on unwitting parties. We oppose such anti-Shari’a laws for their targeted discrimination, their duplication of other laws and decisional norms, their potential conflict with the Federal Arbitration Act, and more.

But hard questions persist that cannot be easily swept away with a mere assertion that religious groups should enjoy autonomy over the marriage and family affairs of their voluntary faithful. Those are the questions that we have been probing and encouraging others to probe in this and prior writings: What are the appropriate lines between the civil state and religions with respect to marriage? Civil marriage and divorce are perhaps a least common denominator for all citizens, but can there be variations if accompanied by base level protections for women and children? And how can the state best protect vulnerable members and also advance its liberal ends? Such hard questions need not lead to a jurisdictional stand-off between law and religion, however, nor to a universal and over-reaching claim by the state. Instead, negotiation, compromise, and mutual respect may lead to more nuanced and achievable results – especially if we are careful not to be so distracted by conversations about the propriety of Shari’a that we miss the actual complications of the growing marital and legal pluralism in the United States.