Abby Johnson’s Downfall and the Heresy of Americanism

Abby Johnson’s Downfall and the Heresy of Americanism December 23, 2020

Let’s say you were a public practicing Catholic, famous for your conversion to Catholicism, and you decided to openly defy the Catholic Church. You were going to encourage people to disobey the Church and listen to you instead.

You weren’t going to do this because so many Catholics are so cruel to LGBTQ people (and they are). You weren’t going to do it because of child abuse by priests and the shocking, scandalous cover-up that could shake anybody’s faith. You weren’t going to do it because they went ahead and canonized John Paul the Second even though he’s the reason Maciel and McCarrick got away with so much. Not because the Catholic Church as an institution was complicit in so many genocides– and, by our grievous fault, we have been, even though our faith should have taught us the opposite. Not because of the way Cardinal Dolan pals around with politicians. Not because of the scandals in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston or Buffalo. Not because of anything like that. Not for any reason that, at least on its face, looked compassionate or logical.

Let’s say you were going to openly defy and bad-mouth the Church, while portraying yourself as more orthodox and more obedient to Christ than the Church itself, because you were upset that they said you were allowed to get a vaccine that would keep you and your family safe from disease.

Isn’t that the saddest thing you can imagine?

I am watching Abby Johnson’s deterioration on social media the last 24 hours, not even angry anymore. I find her an enraging person and I always will. She infuriates me. But right now, I’m just sad.

Yesterday, Johnson declared that she was rejecting the Church’s teaching because she thought that the Church should forbid everyone from using a vaccine that had been tested on cell lines from a single embryo who died 48 years ago. Today, she has been doubling down on her open defiance of the Catholic Church’s stance on remote cooperation with evil the past twenty-four hours. She’s adamant. For a person who makes an enormous amount of money to talk about her repentance and conversion, Abby Johnson certainly seems uniquely unable to admit when she’s wrong. A priest informed her that the USCCB said that people who chose not to get a vaccine for COVID-19 have a moral responsibility to self-isolate to keep the pandemic under control, but Johnson was not having that:

“Well I’m refusing the vaccine and I’m not doing any of that *shrug emoji* And they shouldn’t be telling others how to live their life. They aren’t the purveyors of freedom.”

Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like “My body my choice?”

That profession that I’m allowed to do anything I want with my body because it’s mine, and I don’t care if I hurt or kill someone else? Doesn’t Abby claim she left that way of thinking behind her when she walked out of Planned Parenthood?

Abby’s husband, Doug, who usually lets his wife do the talking, had a lot to say about Abby’s heresy.

He declares that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church has “false teachings.” He proclaims that they, the Johnson family, Abby and Doug, are going to “LEAD the Church” even if it means fighting WITH the Church. They want to lead the Church and decide what the rules for the Church should be. Not the Magisterium (and I don’t blame anybody who’s disillusioned with the Magisterium right now). Not the Successor of Peter guided by the Holy Spirit. Not the deposit of the Faith. Not the inspiration of the Holy Ghost handed down to us through so many beautiful Doctors of the Church. Not Sacred Scripture. Not even Jesus. Abby and Doug Johnson intend to lead the Church.

And not for any reason that sounds noble on its face, but because they’re too cowardly to get a shot, and too selfish to practice the self-isolation and social distancing that would be the responsible consequence of not getting a shot.

Other people are not important to the Johnsons. The sin of scandal isn’t important either. Their body, their choice, their Church.

I was reminded by a friend today that Pope Leo XIII, the Pope who Saint Therese met and spoke with as a child, once wrote an encyclical condemning Americanism. In Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae he wrote: “These dangers, viz., the confounding of license with liberty, the passion for discussing and pouring contempt upon any possible subject, the assumed right to hold whatever opinions one pleases upon any subject and to set them forth in print to the world, have so wrapped minds in darkness that there is now a greater need of the Church’s teaching office than ever before, lest people become unmindful both of conscience and of duty.

The confounding of liberty with license. I wrote about that just before the beginning of the Advent season, and here it is the last day of Advent and I’m doing it again. Our freedom is not so that we can do whatever we please, say whatever shocking things we want online, and make pigs of ourselves regardless of how it hurts our neighbor. Our freedom is a gift given to us so that we can serve our neighbor and love God with it. License, the liberty to do whatever we want no matter the consequences, isn’t freedom and it certainly isn’t a good thing according to the Catholic Church.

Americans value license above little else. This is our heresy, one that’s such an intrinsic part of our culture we can confuse it with Christianity. We’ve seen that on display again and again this year, from people hoarding groceries in early March to people defying social distancing just to have a good time over Spring Break and in the summer, to the irresponsible Thanksgiving and Christmas parties going on now, to the ludicrous Jericho March, to Abby and Doug Johnson endangering themselves and others because they love their license better than the lives of their neighbors. Abby’s body, Abby’s choice. She’s an Americanist. And she’s chosen that over her Faith. We ought to have seen her con a mile away when this whole charade started, but it’s out in the open now. The Johnsons use the Catholic Faith to advance their own agenda, and they have become wealthy doing that. All they care about is themselves.

I have met quite a few selfish and narcissistic people in my day, but I find this uniquely narcissistic. Abby Johnson wants to be her own Pope so she won’t have to get a shot. And she expects her disciples to continue fawning on her. I’ve no doubt they will. I’m sorry to say that the most likely scenario after this is for her to continue raking in ten to twenty thousand dollars per appearance, giving talks at churches about how she used to be a bad person before Jesus saved her. But maybe not. Maybe she’ll go the way of Father Corapi and disappear, and we’ll find other celebrity converts to fawn over.

Or, maybe we’ll get wise. Anything could happen.

This entire situation is profoundly sad and an embarrassment for the Catholic Church in America. But I hope we can learn a lesson and be better for it.


Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.

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