Ronald J. Rychlak

Ronald J. Rychlak

Ronald J. Rychlak is the associate dean and MDLA Professor of Law at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He is the author of Hitler, the War, and the Pope (2000) and Righteous Gentiles (2005).

Articles by Ronald J. Rychlak

Crime, Sin, and Politics

Feb 5, 2009 / 00:00 am

On January 9, the Illinois House deliberated less than 90 minutes before voting 114-1 to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The case then went to the state senate, where on January 29 he was convicted by a vote of 59-0. Illinois legislators may tolerate some corruption, but they will not stand for the incompetence of being caught red-handed.

Life Issues in the New Administration

Dec 4, 2008 / 00:00 am

\The election is over, and the changes are already beginning. For sincere Catholics, the most disappointing prospect is President-elect Barack Obama's complete embrace of the culture of death. He is dedicated not only to preserving the right to abortion, but actually to extending it. Unfortunately, he can make lots of changes quite quickly, and he almost certainly will do so. Last year, Obama promised Planned Parenthood that his first act as president would be to sign a bill that he co-sponsored in the Senate: the Freedom of Choice Act. This bill will invalidate virtually every state or federal restriction on abortion, even those previously found constitutional by the Supreme Court, such as parental notification laws, waiting periods, full disclosure, and the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Some scholars argue that it could also force Catholic doctors to perform abortions against their will.             Obama also wants to reverse the ban on federal funding of fetal stem cell research. That won't even require legislation, just an executive order. With the stroke of a pen, human embryos will become property. They will be produced for the purpose of harvesting their parts, and federal funding will support the process. President Bush refused to risk "crossing a fundamental moral line by providing taxpayer funding that would sanction or encourage further destruction of human embryos." For Obama, it is a priority.            Obama is also expected to reverse the ban on taxpayer funding for overseas aid promoting or offering abortion (the "Mexico City Policy"). President Reagan instituted this policy in 1984. It was repealed by President Clinton in 1993, but reinstituted in 2001 by President Bush. It will probably be re-repealed by President Obama very quickly.             President Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is also about to undergo a radical change. Bush launched PEPFAR in 2003 to combat global HIV/AIDS. It was the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in human history, with up to $48 billion authorized for the effort. Under PEPFAR health workers are trained to emphasize abstinence and marital fidelity as the most effective ways to combat the spread of AIDS. Unfortunately, that is about to change.            Discussing these issues, Susan F. Wood, the co-chair of Obama's advisory committee for women's health issues, said: "We have been going in the wrong direction and we need to turn it around and be promoting prevention and family-planning services." The Obama team's approach will emphasize condoms, abortion, and the morning-after pill. Referencing Obama's campaign slogan, Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition said, "I don't think many dreamed that this 'change' would mean taking taxpayer dollars to fund abortion around the world." He called the projected policy overhaul of PEPFAR "tragic, a betrayal of social justice and human rights."             Even at the United Nations, things will change. Time after time, in agreement after agreement, advocates attempt to insert abortion rights language into international treaties. Representatives of the Holy See spend a great deal of time combating these efforts. During the Clinton administration, the Holy See was often at odds with the United States over these issues. Once the Bush administration was in place, the Holy See and the United States were on the same side. Unfortunately, that is about to change again.            As Time magazine has reported, "the election of a pro-choice, pro-diplomacy Democratic president is changing the Vatican's game plan vis-à-vis Washington on several levels. Bush was viewed in Rome as a rare ally in the West for his opposition to such issues as abortion, gay marriage and stem-cell research." Obama will not be an ally. The United States will now support abortion rights in international treaties, and the Holy See will continue its heroic efforts on behalf of the most vulnerable humans.             This is a lesson about presidential power for now and the future. We all know that the president gets to nominate Supreme Court justices. Too often, the electorate is told that this is the only real impact that the president can have on life issues. (That was the argument set forth by Republican, abortion-rights candidate Rudolph Giuliani in an effort to attract -- or at least not frighten off -- pro-life voters.) In reality, however, the president sets the agenda and affects life issues in numerous ways that we are only just now coming to see clearly.            While he was a state senator in Illinois, President-elect Obama opposed a measure that would have mandated medical treatment for babies who survived an attempted abortion and were born alive. His reasoning was that such a law might suggest that these fully born babies were actually human. Unfortunately, his stated intentions indicate that he is determined to continue denying their humanity. As president, that determination means that many more human lives will be lost.

Church and State in Presidential Elections

Sep 8, 2008 / 00:00 am

None of this year's Catholic presidential candidates (Sam Brownback, George Pataki, Rudolph Giuliani, Joe Biden, Wesley Clark, Christopher Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, and Bill Richardson) earned a nomination from either of the two major political parties. Arguably, however, the Church had its highest profile in a presidential race since 1960 with this past Democratic primary. Unfortunately, the Church did not come off looking that good. Sen. Barack Obama took a lot of criticism over the anti-American, racist tirades of his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He seemed, however, determined to weather the storm until Rev. Michael Pfleger, a white Catholic priest from Chicago's South Side, gave a guest sermon in Obama's Church in which he mocked a "crying" Hillary Clinton and made race-based arguments against her candidacy. Obama was forced to leave his church, and he barely limped to the nomination. This was the first time that most Catholics saw Father Pfleger in action. The flamboyant priest has, however, been a fixture at St. Sabina's parish since I lived in Chicago in the mid-1980s. His Masses feature rock bands, liturgical dances, almost constant music, but not necessarily any profession of the faith. His synthesis of music, showmanship, and social commentary has created a strong following, but it is one based on his personality, not on Catholic teaching. In fact, Father Pfleger may be more important as a political leader than as a religious one. The Archdiocese of Chicago, like most dioceses, typically limits priests to a maximum of 12 years at any one parish. Father Pfleger, however, has been at his church for over 25 years. When his bishop tried to move him, Father Pfleger refused to go. According to a recent article by Matthew Rarey in the Catholic World Report, the Archdiocese of Chicago has not forced Father Pfleger's hand in part due his threat to quit and lead his flock away from the Catholic Church, but also -- at least in part -- because he is a significant player in Chicago and Illinois politics. Father Pfleger routinely talks about politics from the pulpit. He also seems to deliver lots of votes for Democratic candidates. Once they are in office, they reciprocate by sending money to important Catholic social programs.  After his performance at Senator Obama's former church, Francis Cardinal George told Father Pfleger to take a couple weeks of extra vacation to think about what he had done. He has returned now, and according to the CWR article, he's unapologetically picking up right where he left off. That's problematic from the Church's perspective and from the government's perspective.   When a priest embraces a political viewpoint, it can alienate members of the congregation. The Catholic Church does not claim to have the correct political or economic solution to each problem; it speaks to eternal principles. When a priest claims to know the correct political solution to a typical social problem, he is likely going beyond the Church's teachings and potentially creating problems for the Church. (Is his judgment correct? Does he know better than the Church?) What happens to the soul of a potential convert who leaves Mass, never to return, because he was offended by the unsanctioned teachings that he heard?  There can be confusion when a moral issue is also a political matter. Thus, social activists sometimes try to keep priests from speaking out against abortion, euthanasia, fetal stem cell research, and similar issues because they are political in nature. The Nazis also used to argue that Church teachings and sermons against racial policies were inappropriate ventures into politics. These political issues, however, are also moral issues for the Church. The line can be hard to draw in some cases, but Father Pfleger's liberation theology is clearly beyond the scope of the Church's Magisterium. In addition to being a problem for the Church, when a priest gets too involved in politics, he can also offend the government. Like most charities, churches are tax-exempt, and donations made to them may be deducted from the donor's income taxes. Donations to political causes, on the other hand, are not deductible. If a church ventures too far into politics, it can lose its tax status. Churches can engage in educational efforts -- even "get out the vote" drives -- but they are not supposed to advance particular candidates or parties. When they do, the government may respond. Father Pfleger's brand of Catholicism has shifted the balance of power between the bishop and the priest. It has likely driven some people from the Faith (possibly for reasons completely unrelated to the teachings of the Catholic Church). It could (and probably should) also jeopardize the tax status of his parish. Worst of all, those who attend services conducted by Father Pfleger may think that they are experiencing the full expression of the Catholic Faith, but they are not. They're witnessing Father Pfleger's self-indulgent liturgical abuses and listening to his personal theology. That's the real shame.

Interpreting the Constitution and Voting for President

Aug 14, 2008 / 00:00 am

In back-to-back days of June this year, the U.S. Supreme Court came down with opinions in two different cases that illustrate very different judicial philosophies. The cases themselves are unrelated, and they are generally seen as coming down on different sides of the political spectrum, but together they provide a good lesson about constitutional interpretations.  The first case, Kennedy v. Louisiana, involved a sentencing law from that state. Back in 1977, the Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on someone convicted of raping an adult woman, stating that such punishment was disproportional to the severity of the crime. States were at least arguably, however, still free to impose the death penalty in the case of a child rapist. Patrick Kennedy was convicted and sentenced to death in 2003 for raping his 8-year-old stepdaughter. Her injuries were severe enough to require emergency surgery. The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld Kennedy's conviction and rejected his challenge to the constitutionality of his sentence. The Supreme Court overturned the sentence, holding that the death penalty was unconstitutional when imposed upon a child rapist.  In reaching this decision, the Court asked the question whether the death penalty was so disproportionate as to amount to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The Court decided that issue based upon "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."  Justice Kennedy (no relation to the defendant) was the swing vote in this 5-4 decision. He said the majority reached its conclusion based on "our own independent judgment" about the implications of extending the death penalty to child rape as well as on the fact that the great majority of states have declined to do so. Justice Kennedy said there was thus a national consensus against applying the death penalty is such cases (though the New York Times pointed out that the Court seems to have been unaware of a provision in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which Congress inserted in 2006). That leads us to the other important case, District of Columbia v. Heller, which was released one day after Kennedy v. Louisiana. In Heller, the Supreme Court struck down Washington, D.C.'s gun ban. Washington had the nation's strictest gun laws, but the Bill of Rights provides:  A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. For more than two centuries, the meaning of the first clause -- about the militia -- has been unclear. Did that condition the right? No other right in the Bill of Rights has such a condition. On the other hand, the structure of the Constitution suggests that this, like all the other rights, is a personal right. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the right was personal: American citizens have the right to keep and bear arms and it does not depend upon state militias. To reach this decision, the Court looked to the meaning of the words that were used in the Second Amendment, not to modern attitudes and concerns about society as the justices had done in Kennedy v. Louisiana.

Fathers and Families

Jun 12, 2008 / 00:00 am

With Father's day just around the corner, it's a good time to take a look at the importance of fathers in our society. In 1950, 6 percent of America's children lived in a home without a father. Today, almost one out of every four children does not have a "dad" at home, and about 40 percent do not have their biological father at home. In fact, the United States is the world's leader in fatherless families. According to David Blackenhorn, author of Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, being a father is "society's most important role for men." A good father "puts his family first. He is responsible for them. He sacrifices for them." He may pitch in with household duties, but that is not his most important contribution to the family. Fathers help their children grow by encouraging them to explore their limits. Blackenhorn explains: "Fathers are likely to devote special attention to character traits necessary for the future, especially qualities such as independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to test limits and take risks." Fathers also provide economic security: Children living in single-parent homes are far more likely to experience poverty in their youth than are children in two-parent families.                 Watching a father leave is particularly devastating to children. We have always known that divorce can have a significant psychological impact on a child, but there was always the argument that perhaps children would be better off living with one parent (almost always the mother) than with two parents who were unhappy together. The evidence is now in, and the hypothesis has failed.  In The Abolition of Marriage, author Maggie Gallagher summarizes the massive evidence showing that "short of pathological brutality, divorce is never good for children." Moreover, remarriage after divorce typically does not solve the children's problems and often makes them worse. (Interestingly, children of widows usually do not suffer as badly as do children of divorced or never-married mothers.) Unfortunately, today we have a whole industry built around divorce, and that industry survives by encouraging people -- including parents -- to take the step that is so damaging to children.  There is much debate over the precise impact of fatherlessness, and we all know single mothers who have done a great job rearing their children. Nevertheless, fatherlessness has been linked to a significant increase in criminal activity, suicide, behavioral problems, chemical substance abuse, dropping out of high school, and being a victim of abuse (especially when the child lives with a mother who has a new man in the house). Well over half of all adolescent murderers and long-term prison inmates grew up without fathers in their home. In addition to being important to the children, fatherhood also changes the father. The vast majority of crime in America is committed by young men. If these men were leading families, as good fathers do -- rather than engaging in drug abuse, gang activity, and other destructive behaviors -- they would have to go to work, earn money, and help take care of their children. They would be better people. As the nonprofit National Fatherhood Initiative puts it: "What reduces crime, child poverty, teen pregnancy, and requires no new taxes? -- Good Fathers." Social programs designed to benefit children and poor families often do not work. When the government steps in to fill the role of economic provider, it strips young men of their self-worth. Men used to talk about "having to get married" when a woman got pregnant. It may not have been the happiest of situations, but for the father it was a time of assessing his role. He had to settle down and earn a living; he had to protect his family. He had to grow up. What faces a young man in a similar situation today? If the woman decides to keep the baby, she does not need him for economic support; the government will take care of that. So the young man feels no obligation to settle down. He can stay carefree and avoid responsibility. In that situation, fatherhood is unable to have its civilizing effect. Unfortunately, men who father illegitimate children disproportionately turn to crime, use drugs, and suffer premature death.  If America is going to solve its social problems, young men must have positions of responsibility, and children need to have their fathers. We don't need more federal programs to replace fathers or to create jobs for young men. We need to teach boys how to become men. We need them to become responsible fathers. Mothers alone cannot take their place. Governmental agencies can't even come close. 

The Unintended Consequences of Gay Marriage

May 1, 2008 / 00:00 am

America's position on homosexual activity has radically changed over the past few decades. Fifty years ago, every state criminalized homosexual acts under "sodomy laws." As recently as 1986, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of such laws. In 2003 there were still 13 states that criminalized homosexual acts (though the laws were rarely enforced). That year, however, the Supreme Court ruled these laws unconstitutional. Today, laws are used to protect rather than prohibit homosexual activities.

Global Warming and the Pope

Apr 3, 2008 / 00:00 am

In his 2008 World Day of Peace address, Pope Benedict XVI made clear that human beings "are of supreme worth vis-à-vis creation as a whole." He explained that respecting the environment does not mean considering "material or animal nature more important than man."