John Courtney Murray was America’s leading Catholic theoligian during Vatican II, and as a peritus [theological advisor] at the council was a great influence on the document “Declaration on Religious Freedom” (Dignitate Humanae).
Murray was also well known for his book We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, in which he meditated on the compatability of Catholic doctrine with the thought of America’s Founding Fathers, particularly with respect to the First Amendment.
In the discussion of the relationship between church and state, he made the Thomistic observation that there existed a necessary distinction between morality and civil law; that the latter is limited in its capacity in cultivating moral character through criminal prohibitions, and that it “it is not the function of civil law to prescribe everything that is morally right and to forbid everything that is morally wrong.” As we shall see, he was influential in bringing this line of thought to bear on the issue of contraception.
It comes as no suprise, then, that the thought of John Courtney Murray has recently been marshalled by numerous liberal Catholics to justify a “pro-choice” stance in the current debate over abortion.
Consequently, in spite of the fact that I have little knowledge of Murray beyond my reading of We Hold These Truths or of Catholic political philosophy in general, I would like (with no small amount of trepidation) to present my findings on Murray’s thought on contraception and the contemporary Catholic use of John Courtney Murray by “pro-choice Catholics” to support a liberal view of abortion and civil law. . . . READ MORE