Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Reinventing Popes

Double-posted to The DC Writeup:

Liberal American Catholics love to reinvent dead Popes. When John Paul II was alive, liberal Catholics ignored his teaching on a whole host of issues, from the all-male priesthood to liberation theology. But after Pope Benedict XVI’s election, they have attempted to contrast the suddenly “moderate” and “beloved” John Paul with his “conservative” and “hard-line” successor. John Paul is not the only one to be subject to this historical revisionism. Almost every Pope from Leo XIII to Paul VI has been recast to appear more or less liberal or conservative than he really was, so as to fit some leftist template of “liberal = good, traditionalist = bad.”

The principle is simple: Liberals despise Popes who oppose them and pretend to like Popes whom they can portray as supporting their agenda.

Liberal Catholics are now (at least momentarily) changing their tune on Pope Benedict to justify their support for the fiercely pro-choice Barack Obama. Though Josef Ratzinger was derided before and after his election with such epithets as “God’s Rottweiler,” “the Grand Inquisitor,” and “a Nazi” (no joke), his meeting with President Obama this month, along with his new encyclical Caritas in Veritate, are being hailed by the left as proof that the Church is over her silly fixation on abortion, and is now equally concerned with peace, “social justice™,” universal government health care, rainbows, ponies, and the Socialist Utopia.

Some context for those who don’t know what’s going on with the Catholic Church in America would be useful. The Church in the U.S. has been rocked by two closely-related events: the 2008 election and the University of Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement address by President Obama.

An emerging new Catholic Left, led by such thinkers as U.S. Ambassador to Malta Doug Kmiec and such groups as Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, put forward a significant case in favor of supporting Obama’s candidacy in 2008. They based their support in Obama’s commitment to bringing about peace in Iraq, protecting the environment, providing health care for the uninsured, and reducing abortions by improving the social conditions of the usually-poor women who choose it.
As great as that all sounds, more traditional and conservative Catholics attempted to point out two inconvenient facts. First, these goals expressed by Obama as priorities for his presidency were also shared by John McCain. The two differed in terms of how to accomplish them, but, though the Catholic Left acted like Obama had the Catholic market cornered on these issues, McCain’s approaches to them were not inherently immoral or opposed to Church teaching.

Secondly, Obama (unlike McCain) wholeheartedly endorses the legal status of on-demand abortion, federal funding for embryo-destructive stem cell research, repealing the Mexico City Policy to allow federal funding for abortion overseas, a publicly-funded health care plan that covers abortions, and appointing Supreme Court justices who will protect Roe v. Wade. Oops. Many American bishops, led by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, were forceful in asserting to their flocks the logical priority that Catholics had to give to the abortion question in their vote.

For these same reasons, approximately eighty American bishops publicly opposed the decision of the University of Notre Dame to honor President Obama by naming him their 2009 commencement speaker and by giving an honorary doctorate. The bishops thought it was scandalous for a Catholic school to honor someone whose positions and actions are antithetical to the most important social issue the Church faces today. Liberal Catholics howled in protest to the bishops, saying that the Church needs to engage the broader culture (by kissing its ass, apparently) and accusing bishops of wanting to put us back into the “Catholic ghetto.”

So, you can see that the Catholic Left position, under assault from the hierarchy, really could use a bit of magisterial help. Well, along came two P.R. godsends from no less authority than the Pope himself.

First, President Obama met the Pope for the first time on July 17 at the Vatican. With their uncanny gift for ignoring important distinctions, liberals gleefully shrieked, “See! See! The Pope met with him, that must mean the American bishops are just a bunch of reactionary partisan frauds!” Of course, the Pope just met and talked with Obama, as he meets and talks with almost every world leader with whom he has diplomatic relations. He did not render Obama any conspicuous honors or hold him up as someone to model—as Notre Dame did.

Secondly, the Pope’s magnificent teaching letter (or “encyclical”), Caritas in Veritate, was publicly released on July 7. The encyclical was broad, providing a summary of a huge swathe of the Church’s social doctrine, including certain more particular comments about the recent financial crisis. Statements indicating the importance of protecting the environment, of the rights of workers to unionize, of rejecting motives of excessive greed in business, of preserving some social welfare programs, and one particular paragraph that seemed to recommend an expanded role to the United Nations were hailed by liberals as a sign that the Pope was now a progressive who joined them in an utter rejection of capitalism.

However, none of these “liberal” ideas were exactly new sentiments coming from the Papacy, and I don’t think I can find many conservatives who would object in principle to anything the Pope suggested. As for his statement on the United Nations (the one novelty in the document), who would oppose giving the UN authority over some limited aspects of international trade, so long as it were first reformed so as “to be regulated by law, to observe consistently the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, to seek to establish the common good, and to make a commitment to securing authentic integral human development inspired by the values of charity in truth,” as the Pope stated?

And, by the way, what is “authentic integral human development” in the Pope’s mind? He said earlier in the encyclical, “Openness to life is at the centre of true development.” He decried the spread of abortion, euthanasia, and the sterilization of women in developing countries, specifically criticizing the NGOs that provide these services to women (CoughMexicoCityPolicyCough!). It is clear that defending the dignity of human life is the central, foundational concern of the Pope in this encyclical, and that it is at the heart of the Church’s social teaching in the modern era.

And this is the problem with the Catholic Left. They care about abortion, but apparently not enough to, you know, try to make it illegal or anything. Maybe they should try to take in the words Benedict quotes from John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae: “…a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.”


Kevin Donohue said...

great post

Brian Boyd said...

"The principle is simple: Liberals despise Popes who oppose them [...]"

I know all too well from my own mistakes that blogging can lead one to go on autopilot and not carefully think through things, so I mean this in a friendly spirit -- seriously, friend, careful with the generalizations and exaggeration; that's not the way to change hearts. We need to be about conversion, not conflagration.

Tom B. said...

Kudos to Boyd.

Awesome post, B Payne.