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Dolan Delivers Inaugural Address

Students Welcome Designate Timothy M. Dolan to Fordham’s School of Law


Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 04:02

Photo by Christopher Kennedy/The Ram

Archbishop Dolan contributed to the “Law and the Gospel of Life” lecture series.

Timothy Michael Dolan, Cardinal-designate and archbishop of New York, admitted that he was neither a scholar nor a jurist, but a pastor, as he addressed the topic of "Law and the Gospel of Life" last Tuesday at the Fordham University School of Law. His talk, sponsored by the Law School's Institute on Religion, Law and Lawyers' Work, focused on how Catholic teaching should influence public policy.

 Specifically, he focused on why right to life must be at the focus of any man-made legal reasoning. This tenet, Dolan explained, was the focus of Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" (literally, "The Gospel of Life,") which was written in 1995.

Notably, the encyclical was written not only for Roman Catholics or Christians, but also to "all people of good will," because, Archbishop Dolan said, the Pope's teachings on the right to life did not come just from Roman Catholic canon but from natural law. As such, they are based not solely on religion but reason. 

This reasoning has come under fire, he said, because today, in many ways humans are seen as matters of convenience; efficiency is more important than compassion. Dolan explained that Pope John Paul II referred to this as "the culture of death."

To avoid caving into this culture, Dolan said that those who make the law must not set aside religious convictions or aim solely at a utilitarian construct. Laws made this way, he said, are unjust. To explain this, he read from Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," in which King quotes St. Thomas Aquinas.

"An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust," Aquinas wrote.

Instead, Dolan said, lawmakers should not be afraid to make religious arguments, as those arguments appeal to objective truth. "The Gospel of life calls us specifically to offer a clear, faith-based view of humanity as a basis for law," he said.

Dolan then turned his attention to the ideologies in today's culture that oppose against his approach of pragmatism, utilitarianism and consumerism. All of these ideologies, he said,  have at their core the belief that things and people are not inherently good. Rather, they are only as good as they are useful. These ideals, he said, have been around for a long time but, as John Paul II said, are based in a culture's focus on "having and doing, rather than being."

"Law's most basic purpose is to safeguard the being of life from the rawest preferences of having and doing," Dolan said. One example here, related to abortion. He explained that a fetus is, from a utilitarian, pragmatic, or consumerist viewpoint, useless. Babies too, he said, are sometimes viewed as an accessory at best or an inconvenience or burden at worst.  From a Christian perspective, he said, the way to live is for others, especially the weak and essentially useless.  

Dolan concluded by asking that the audience promote the "being" of human life over "having and doing" and the preservation of the right to life above all others.

"The Gospel of Life offers us a pathway to building not just good laws, but a free and virtuous culture as well," he said.

Responses to Dolan's talk came from Jacqueline Norman-Haley, professor of law, and Monica McDaniel, Fordham Law '09 and former president of the Catholic Law Students Association at Fordham Law. They both agreed with Dolan, and McDaniel mentioned that in contemporary legal culture, it is often difficult to bring religion-based morals into her work.

This statement was echoed by a question asked of the archbishop at the end of the talk, dealing with explaining and promoting Catholic values in a culture where they can seem diametrically opposed to modern views. Dolan responded by explaining that Catholic values and the natural law were based on more than meets the eye.

 "One of the things that is frustrating is that the natural law approach is automatically thought to be synonymous with Catholic teaching but it is not uniquely Catholic," he said. "Some of its greatest proponents, Aristotle, Cicero, never even heard of the Catholic Church."

The evening concluded with Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J. president of the University, presenting the archbishop with a St. Louis Cardinals cap in recognition of Dolan's elevation to the College of Cardinals, a maroon New York Yankees cap and a case of Trappist beer. McShane also mentioned that Dolan had accepted an invitation to be the principal celebrant and homilist at the Class of 2012's Baccalaureate Mass, to be held May 18 in the Rose Hill Gymnasium.  

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