Movsesian at ICON-S Conference This Week

ICON-S-logoOn Thursday, I’ll be appearing on a panel at the annual ICON-S conference on Public Law, to be held this year at New York University. The conference is sponsored by the International Journal of Constitutional Law, and draws scholars from around the world. My panel, “The Foundation of an Uncertain Law,” will discuss Cambridge’s new collection of commentary on the jurisprudence of Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict XVI’s Legal Thought: A Dialogue on the Foundation of Law (Cartabia & Simoncini eds. 2014). Other panelists include Michel Rosenfeld (Yeshiva), Ran Hirschl (Toronto), and John Garvey (Catholic University of America). The panel will be moderated by Sabino Cassese, formerly of the Italian Constitutional Court. CLR Forum readers at the conference, please stop by and say hello!

Prophets in the Public Square – Part II

More from an unpublished talk I presented at the 19th Annual Journal of Law and Religion Symposium at Hamline Law School in 2009.

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In Part I, I talked about the importance of “authenticity” and the risk of succumbing to “cheap prooftexting” when Jews bring their religious values to bear in public debate.  While the general notion of “authenticity” is obviously also relevant to Christian interventions in public debate, it might seem at first glance that Christians need not worry about the more specific challenges facing Jews — especially the need to distinguish between religious law and religious exhortation and also between intra-group and universal norms.  After all, most Christians, unlike Jews, do not treat law, with its rigor and limitations, as central to religious life. Nor do Christians, at first glance, seem to be caught up as Jews are in a tense polarity between particularism and universalism.

But I want to sketch an argument that, to the contrary, there is a lot of resonance between the two cases. Read more

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.

Papal Resignation: The Canon Law

It just shows you. Even an institution as ancient and traditional as the papacy still retains the ability to shock. Pope Benedict’s announcement today that he will resign for health reasons, effective February 28, seems to have taken everyone, including Vatican insiders, by surprise. It is the first papal resignation since the year 1415.

Canon law on papal resignation is surprisingly – or, come to think of it, unsurprisingly – brief. Canon 332(2) of the current Code of Canon Law provides simply that ” If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.” A leading commentary notes that Canon 332(2) does not specify the person or persons to whom a pope must manifest his resignation. Some scholars argue that the college of cardinals, as the body that elects the pope, is the proper recipient. But that’s not entirely clear; anyway, in Catholic understanding, the pope has authority to determine such matters for himself. Most likely, today’s announcement at a consistory, in which the Pope stressed that he was taking this step voluntarily and in full recognition of its gravity, will suffice. Anyway, the college of cardinals will no doubt have a chance to receive the resignation, if that action is required, before it elects Pope Benedict’s successor, most likely next month.

Seeking Moral Guidance on the Iraq Withdrawal

On December 15, 2011, President Obama formally announced the end of the eight-and-a-half year Iraq war.  American troop presence in Iraq has dwindled to a fraction of its former strength:  In 2007, 170,000 Coalition troops occupied Iraq from 505 bases; in December, 2011, 4000 operated there from only two.  President Obama has also said he will not send any more troops to Iraq, even if the nation devolves into civil war; instead, America’s role will be limited to a political one, using diplomacy to resolve future conflicts.

Our war, then, is essentially over.  But whether war is over for Iraqis is a separate question, one with significant moral import for the United States.  Though American troops will be gone, Iraqis still face the specters of terrorism, government oppression, and civil war.  And because America started hostilities in 2003—whether justly or unjustly—it bears at least some responsibility to aid the nation it now leaves to its own devices.  Major religious bodies like the Catholic and Anglican Churches have yet to speak directly to this grave issue, one essential to America’s moral obligations to the Iraqi people.

What moral guidance, then, can we draw upon to evaluate this moment in contemporary history?  Shall we be overjoyed that a war is over, or shall we lament a moral failure?

For more on the situation in Iraq and a moral discussion of our withdrawal, please follow the jump. Read more

Benedict XVI: Message on Interfaith Understanding & Peace in the Holy Land

On November 10, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Israeli Religious Council—a committee comprising leaders of Israel’s primary religious communities—at a Vatican meeting.  (Significantly, Benedict addressed the Council on the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht (1938).)  Among those present were Israel’s Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, and a delegate described as “the head imam of Israel.”  This was the first time a Pope, according to, has held such a summit.  (See a video report of the meeting here.)

Founded in 2007, the Israeli Religious Council is a body consisting of representatives from eighteen different communities in Israel—including Jews, Muslims, and Christians—and its purpose is to foster interfaith awareness and dialogue.

The Pope’s message emphasized interfaith understanding to the end of promoting peace, particularly in the Middle East.  He differentiated, on the one hand, between violence motivated directly by religion and, on the other, violence that is simply the consequence of modern secular society.  In Pope Benedict’s view, simple interfaith understanding—which would theoretically end direct interfaith violence—will not generate lasting peace in the world; rather, an understanding of divine love and justice will be the source of lasting reconciliation in modern society, regardless of the mediating faith through which one chooses to understand such divinity.

For excerpts of Benedict’s address, please follow the jump.

Read more