US vs. Rome

US vs. Rome June 3, 2009

I’ve noted before that the over-reaction among some US Catholics to the Obama presidency is causing some divergence between themselves and Rome. And now Vaticanologist Sandro Magister weighs in on this issue, noting that people like Deal Hudson, George Weigel, and Michael Novak are even accusing the Vatican of capitulation on abortion. Their ire is particularly directed at L’Osservatore Romano and its editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, after the newspaper ran a number of stories on Obama more balanced that these American Catholics liked, most recently on his Notre Dame speech. Given that the Secretary of State is known to keep a close eye on the editorial stance of the newspaper, their frustrations are showing.

What is interesting to me is the tone of the language. Weigel laments “a sorry ignorance of recent American history” and Novak also accused it of not understanding the American reality. In other words, they want the Vatican to think as they think. Note there is no major doctrinal issues here — nobody is even hinting that the Vatican is backpedaling on its definitive teaching that abortion is intrinsically evil and that the unborn deserve some legal protection. What this American triumvirate wants is for the Vatican to align itself with their own chosen tactics in this matter. Their position is a partisan position, and the Vatican will not embrace a partisan position. To them, it is black and white. One side is the party of life, one side is the party of death. As Michael Winters noted, they don’t believe in pro-life Democrats and they don’t want to Vatican to believe this either.

What they fail to understand is that their way of thinking is a quintessentially American way of thinking. They speak the stark language of duality, influenced more by Calvinism and Gnosticism than Catholicism (note I am speaking about their worldview, not their actual theological beliefs). To them, you are either with us or against us. If a Catholic opposes their tactics, then that Catholic is a traitor (remember Kmiec?). These three men are all smart, but some of their less intelligent acolytes explicitly conflate theological and political orthodoxy, and so what I write on this blog can be deemed “heterodox” or “dissident” simply because I think their political tactics are gravely deficient, and prefer others. It happens all the time.

But that is not how Catholics outside of America view things, and they need not be any less pro-life. They find the stark language of Hudson, Weigel, and Novak confusing. Magister lists one example:

“In effect, amid the storm of controversy Obama’s speech has been little read and analyzed. And yet something significant must have been said in it if, in Italy, a commentator beyond suspicion like Giuliano Ferrara – the most “Ratzingerian” of the secular defenders of unborn life – published it in its entirety in the newspaper “il Foglio” which he directs, seeing in it common ground on which the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” can work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortion.”

Remember, the American Catholics listed come with a lot of baggage. Both Hudson and Novak have hinted that torture might be licit in some circumstances. Novak is a well known defender of laissez-faire liberalism, with an extremely narrow reading of Catholic social teaching. And not only did Weigel support the Iraq war vehemently, even today he stubbornly clings to his position — decrying the lack of appreciation for Bush’s momentous endeavor after a million dead, five million orphans, and 4.5 million displaced people. It was only a few years ago that leading Vatican officials were condemning  justifications of the Iraq war as Calvinist inspired.

It is not for nothing that Magister dubs this triumvirate “standard-bearers of neoconservative Catholic thought”. They would help their cause a lot if they accepted Church teachings on all matters, not selectively. They would become more credible if they supported various political actors in spite of, not because of, their stances on issues condemned by the Church — especially issues related to human life and dignity. And they would do the unborn a greater service by not aligning themselves so tightly with a certain movement and condemning fellow Catholics who choose otherwise.

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