Paul L. Caron

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Saints, Sinners, and Scoundrels: A History Of Catholic Legal Education

Teresa Stanton Collett (St. Thomas), Saints, Sinners, and Scoundrels: Catholic Law Faculty and A Light Unseen: A History of Catholic Legal Education in the United States, 94 St. John's L. Rev. ___ (2020):

Light UnseenAs a faculty member at a Catholic law school for the past seventeen years, I have often been frustrated with the inability of many professors and administrators at Catholic law schools to describe what makes a law school “Catholic.” As Professors Breen and Strang report in A Light Unseen: A History of Catholic Legal Education in the United States, too often the description is limited to something like “a commitment to social justice,” or “inculcating a strong sense of professional ethics.” Yet as the authors observe, “Catholic law schools do not have a monopoly on or even a special claim to caring for the poor or promoting professional virtue.” Breen and Strang trace how we got to this place and propose an ambitious path to the “Light Unseen.”

Breen and Strang propose to create a jurisprudence grounded in Catholic social thought and human anthropology, and thus imbue Catholic law schools with a strong Catholic identity. As the co-editor of a collection of essays seeking to incorporate Catholic anthropology into American law, I fully support the authors’ proposal. I also appreciate the care with which they have built their case that such a project is necessary to avoid the continuing secularization of most Catholic law schools—secularization that both scandalizes and discourages many faithful Catholics.

My focus, however, is not to reargue the case for the creation of such jurisprudence, but to explore the capacity to initiate such a project within existing Catholic law schools given the current state of the American legal professoriate.

While I will not go so far as to say a spiritual awakening and enthusiasm for the Breen Strang project is impossible at most Catholic law schools, I believe such an awakening and project will require fervent prayer, God’s favor, and skillful committed leadership by both clergy and lay professionals.

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