Notre Dame Professor Suggests Contraception Ban Is Just Chopped Liver
Cathleen Kaveny, the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law and Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame Law School, suggests at Commonweal that the Church’s teaching on contraception may be just “an identity marker.”
Oddly enough, Kaveny’s taking off point for putting forward this notion is Bishop William Lori’s congressional testimony defending religious liberty against the coercive HHS contraception mandate. Bishop Lori told what is now widely referred to as “the parable of the kosher deli:” forcing Catholic institutions to pay for coverage of contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, Bishop Lori argued, would be similar to mandating that Jewish delis must sell pork.
It was a deft analogy and most people took it for what it was. But this analogy seems to have started the Notre Dame law and theology professor off on an interesting—ahem—train of thought. It is one that would likely surprise Bishop Lori:
I was surprised that a bishop would make this comparison—and certain that Aquinas would have been shocked. Catholics traditionally have seen the prohibition against contraception as a moral norm binding on all human beings, like prohibitions against murder, theft, and lying; by contrast, the laws of kashrut are cultic precepts that bind only Jews. But then I began to wonder whether Lori was on to something. From a sociological perspective, the prohibition against contraception does seem to be morphing from a universally applicable moral norm into a cultic norm that marks and defines Catholic identity—one strict form of it, anyway—within a broader pluralistic culture.
The subtitle of the Commonweal piece is “Is the ban on contraception just an identity marker?” From the piece, however, it appears that Professor Kaveny has made up her mind and the question mark is superfluous:
A hundred years from now, no one will remember the political skirmishes around religious liberty during the 2012 presidential campaign. But some future historians of Catholic moral theology might point to Bishop Lori’s testimony as a turning point, marking the moment when the church’s official teachers began to concede that the prohibition against contraception could plausibly be defended no longer as a matter of a universal moral law, but only as a cultic precept binding on Catholics. Four decades after Humanae vitae, that prohibition looks increasingly like a form of Catholic kashrut.
Somebody should explain to the professor that sometimes an analogy is just chopped liver.