Fordham Law

Cardinal-Designate Timothy M. Dolan Headlines Legal Forum

January 25, 2012

The dignity of human life must be at the center of all man-made laws if society is to strike harmony with natural law, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan said on January 24 Archbishop Timothy M. Dolanat a forum organized by the Law School's Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer's Work.

Delivering the inaugural address of the Institute's new Law and the Gospel of Life series, Cardinal-Designate Dolan invoked Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Written 17 years ago, it speaks not just to Christians, but to "all people of good will" on the contrast between a culture of death and a culture of life, the Archbishop said.

In modern political and legal theory, religion has been set aside from public policy discussions and law, in favor of secular arguments that are based on shifting values, or "drifting dunes of utility, convenience, privacy, and self-interest," he said. Such a culture constructs laws that lead to the devaluation of human life, whether it be through abortion, infanticide, contraception, war, or poverty.

This runs contrary to the concept of "natural law," an objective truth that recognizes all human life as sacred, and thus meriting legal protection.

"In the utilitarian view that dominates our age, the principle that human life is an end in itself, not a means to an end, is always subject to a calculation that would justify harm to another—if we deem it to produce enough of a benefit to ourselves," Archbishop Dolan said.

Even babies, he said, have become a "commodity." The nation of China enforces the law of one child per family, and in other nations couples use contraception until they "decide they'd enjoy one."

"Pragmatism, utilitarianism, and consumerism are fancy vocabulary words for the passionate drive for having and doing," Archbishop Dolan said. "(But) life is basically about being, and the law's most noble purpose is to safeguard the 'being' of life from the rawest preferences for having and doing."

Archbishop Dolan's remarks were followed by responses by Professor Jacqueline Nolan-Haley and by Monica McDaniel '09, former President of Fordham Law's Catholic Law Students Association.

McDaniel, an associate at White & Case, said that the pro bono departments of many law firms can lack good moral reasoning and even "contradict" themselves when adopting legal causes—representing conscientious objectors on one case and pro-abortion clients in another.

It is up to law students and lawyers who believe in the Gospel of Life to uphold their values in school and in the workplace, she said.

"This may mean starting a conversation with a co-worker on a difficult subject, or challenging a professor who makes ethically dubious claims, or opposing an unethical practice advocated by a client, or requesting not be put on an assignment involving a corporate client whose mission we can't support—even if we risk earning a reputation of not being a 'team player,'" she said.

Although the Archbishop joked that he would answer questions on "anything but my income taxes," the moderator said he would not pose the “more difficult and pointed” questions that some audience members had submitted.

The Archbishop went on to acknowledge the frustration that some faculty members can face when students see no place for religion in classes on topics such as bioethics. "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," Archbishop Dolan said. "Some of its greatest proponents—Aristotle, Cicero—never even heard of the Catholic Church.

"You can tap into your pedagogical toolbox and take this out of a Catholic context," he said. "This is a human examination of conscience."

Following the event, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President of Fordham, presented Archbishop Dolan, a St. Louis native, with a St. Louis Cardinals hat, which he promptly donned to unanimous applause.

The Archbishop made a promise to return to Fordham following his elevation to cardinal next month in Rome.

"Any opportunity to visit Fordham is an occasion I relish," he said.

The event launched the new initiative by Fordham Law's Institute on Religion, Law and Lawyer's Work, to explore the challenges of applying Gospel values to law and social policy. The Institute was established in 2001 with funds from the late William F. "BJ" Harrington '59 for the purpose of integrating faith values into the practice of law.

Harrington's son, William P. Harrington '82, moderated the evening’s discussion.

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