NEW HAVEN – A lecture by Judge Marta Cartabia, of the Constitutional Court of Italy, could have been titled "Surprise Pope," according to Professor Mary Ann Glendon, a speaker at the April 14 event.
That is because Judge Cartabia traced the ways the thought of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, expressed in his speeches, shatters the stereotyped images of him. Her talk, titled "A Journey with Benedict XVI through the Spirit of Constitutionalism," were part of the Judge Guido Calabresi Fellowship in Religion and Law at the St. Thomas More Catholic Center at Yale University. The talk was sponsored by The Lehrman Institute.
"The Catholic Church is very committed to family life and social needs," Judge Cartabia told the approximately 40 people in attendance. "We might expect Pope Benedict XVI to emphasize the importance of those values of social life. He could have taken the opportunity to take a stance in favor of those moral values. But he didn’t…. He is much more concerned with the methodology than with the outcome," Judge Cartabia said.
Judge Cartabia, 50, one of the youngest members and one of only three women ever appointed to the Constitutional Court of the Italian Republic, examined the relationship between law and justice and the applications of faith and reason to law.
Judge Cartabia said that although Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is not a legal scholar, she has "always been struck by Pope Benedict’s response to the problem of law and justice."
In order to recognize what is the right and just law, Judge Cartabia said, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI does not cite revelation or dogma. Instead, he says that we need "faith and reason."
She noted that contrary to the assumption that religious precepts can’t be introduced into the public debate because they are "discussion stoppers," the retired pontiff "demands that Catholic people engage in a thorough use of reason."
"He requires Christians to take part in democratic dialogue using arguments open to everybody," Judge Cartabia said.
She said that although a nation’s constitution is a great achievement in the history of humanity, the teaching of Pope Benedict warns that such documents are not enough to ensure that people will be protected from the uncontrolled power of the majority.
"Legality often prevails over justice," Judge Cartabia said. "Benedict was considered a conservative, but he is a great reformer because he said each generation has to find anew their own path to justice," Judge Cartabia said.
Professor Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University and former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, served as the respondent to Judge Cartabia’s lecture. She offered four observations in reaction to the talk.
Professor Glendon praised the lecture, saying that "the most salient theme was the emphatic defense of reason." She also noted that Pope Benedict’s understanding of reason was not merely an understanding based on science but is "a more capacious concept."
"What is it we laity … are supposed to take away from [Pope Benedict’s] speeches emphasizing faith and reason in relation to political topics?" Professor Glendon asked. "Religious leaders speak at the level of principles, and it’s up to the laity to bring those guidelines to life."
She said Pope Benedict’s call to the laity to use their consciences as well as their critical thinking skills is certainly challenging to the faithful.
Judge Cartabia began her lecture with a quote taken from a speech Pope Benedict gave to the Budestag, or German Parliament, in 2011. He noted that when God invited the young King Solomon, on his accession to the throne, to make a request, King Solomon asked not for success, wealth or a long life, but for a "listening heart so that he may govern God’s people, and discern between good and evil."
"This idea of a listening heart to distinguish between good and evil accompanies me every day in the courtroom because my desire is to perform my duty with a listening heart," Judge Cartabia said.
Following the talk, several people said they appreciated the judge’s ability to show them a side of Pope Benedict that went beyond media stereotypes.
"This was really great to look into some of this in a very different way from what you’d get from the media," said Jane Hubbard, of New York.
"She [Judge Cartabia] gives us so much to consider with regard to not just the life of faith of Catholics in the public sphere, but any believer in the public sphere," Mr. Marshall said. He also praised her as "a wonderful role model."
Jadwiga Biskupska, a graduate student, said she was glad to see that Yale was bringing in Catholic intellectuals from outside of the United States.