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New Sins For Old

November 23, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By CHRISTOPHER MANION

Anyone who’s been on the front lines in the battle for life knows how often the laity have had to go it alone. It’s not that America’s bishops aren’t interested, it’s just that they’ve had more pressing priorities for the past fifty years. And business consultants will tell you that, if you haven’t finished priority number one, it’s likely that you’ll never get around to priority number two.
Take contraception. In the 1960s, long before Humanae Vitae, the bishops’ conference decided not to oppose federal taxpayer support for programs that provided contraception and sterilization. Of course, it’s quite possible that many prelates didn’t really object to contraception at all. But the fact is clear: They were up against powerful secular elites. With weak support and considerable opposition within the conference, they apparently decided the fight simply wasn’t worth the effort.
Those secular elites were as powerful then as they are today. In fact, fifty years ago many national leaders were still intoxicated by the Wilsonian eugenics craze that had thrived not only in Nazi Germany, but in Planned Parenthood and the Ku Klux Klan. After World War II, Catholic historian Donald Critchlow reports, major foundations, corporations, and government figures in both parties championed population control.
Their argument went like this: Since wars were fought by growing populations demanding “Lebensraum,” reducing the number of people would deter the desire for expansion, and thus make future wars unnecessary.
Some policymakers, in the spirit of Malthus and the Marquis de Sade, even advocated sterilization of the “unfit” to curb population growth and mass starvation, hitching their wagons to the anti-growth myth that Paul Ehrlich described in The Population Bomb (1968). Even though Ehrlich’s arguments have been thoroughly discredited, the elites haven’t adjusted their advocacy to conform to reality.
And neither have the bishops. They wouldn’t oppose federal population control funding then, and they won’t now. Even today the USCCB supports Pope Francis as his Vatican advisers beat the drum for the United Nations’ “Sustainable Development Goals,” although these goals support population control and embody the internationalist elite’s disdain, if not outright contempt, for the United States.
Why have our bishops abandoned this vital principle of Catholic teaching, so beautifully articulated by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae?
The answer was made clear in a candid moment during an interview published in The Wall Street Journal in March 2012. Addressing the bishops’ woeful silence, then-USCCB President Timothy Cardinal Dolan admitted that Humanae Vitae had “brought such a tsunami of dissent, departure, disapproval of the Church, that I think most of us — and I’m using the first-person plural intentionally, including myself — kind of subconsciously said, ‘Whoa. We’d better never talk about that, because it’s just too hot to handle’.”

The Dialectic

So Humanae Vitae was put in the bottom drawer. But we still need sin. So Pope Francis wants to invent some new ones. His latest is “the ecological sin.”
He used a recent address in Rome to continue his campaign against capitalism, business, and the profit motive. Quoting his earlier encyclicals, he condemned “the idolatry of the market,” in which “the fragile, vulnerable person finds himself defenseless . . . profit maximization . . . violently inflicts [damage] on those who suffer its social and economic costs in the present, while condemning future generations to pay for its environmental costs. . . . These are crimes that have the seriousness of crimes against humanity, when they lead to hunger, misery, forced migration, and death from avoidable diseases, environmental disaster and ethnocide of indigenous peoples.”
Pope Francis is well-known for his condemnation of “rigidity.” His ideological meanderings are by no means rigorous either, whether he’s dealing with the faith or with sociology and economics. This approach reflects his Peronist worldview, infused with the tenets of Liberation Theology. Both of these tendencies borrow from the Marxist tradition the dialectic, which revels in contradiction and thrives on ambiguity.
This allows the Holy Father to ignore inconvenient facts. In this case, how the capitalism he condemns has liberated from abject poverty literally billions of those “fragile, vulnerable persons.” In two decades alone, according to the World Bank, the global rate of “extreme poverty” was cut in half from 1990 (1.85 billion persons) to 2010 (767 million). These “fragile, vulnerable persons” were liberated not by socialism, but by capitalism.
Having failed to convince anyone, Francis used his Rome address to condemn the “Nazis” who disagree with him. He then raised the stakes, threatening to us his authority to “introduce…in the Catechism of the Catholic Church the sin against ecology, the ecological sin.” Once more the ideological has become magisterial, while the Magisterium is ignored.
As the Vatican’s financial and moral scandals have mounted, Francis’ War on the West has become increasingly strident. He has never contradicted his right-hand man, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who last year proclaimed: “Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.” But isn’t Communist China one of the highest per capita polluters in the world, as well as one of the most gruesome in its violation of human rights?
That’s a forbidden question.

Perilous Times

The pontificate of Pope Francis and the presidency of Donald Trump present us with some unsettling parallels. Both men came into office with agendas that strike a sharp contrast to those of their immediate predecessors. Both insist that they are fully in harmony with tradition (for Pope Francis, the Magisterium; for Trump, the Constitution). Both insist that their initiatives aim at restoring and preserving those very traditions; both advocate changes they deem necessary to strengthen the institutions that they govern.
In both cases, the tenures of these two world leaders have aroused an opposition without peer in recent history. Church historian Henry Sire, author of Dictator Pope, writes that Francis “is using [his authority] to destroy the Church.” And Trump? An Internet search for “Trump,” “destroy,” and “Constitution” yields eight million results. Given this resistance, it’s not surprising that news reports from both the Vatican and Washington describe an atmosphere rife with turmoil, uncertainty, and challenges to the very legitimacy of both Pope Francis and President Trump.
This will have consequences. Both men have left an indelible mark on the institutions they serve. It will be a long time before a Holy Father can expect to enjoy the implicit trust of the faithful. And it’s unlikely that any president — Republican, Democrat, or other — will ever be able to fulfill his obligations (or hers) under Article II of the Constitution without enduring constant harassment from the elected Article I Representatives and Senators, as well as the Article III officers of the Judicial Branch.
The traditions and structures of the institutions Pope Francis and President Trump serve are, in some respects, not as permanent as we once believed. Pope Francis has suggested that the Church’s governance should devolve to local bodies, such as national synods, or to regional entities, such as the Amazon. Meanwhile, in the United States, Democrats have advocated changing (or ignoring) the Constitution regarding the election of the president, and annulling the Electoral College. Some senior Democrats have even called for the elimination of the Senate itself, criticizing its “anti-democratic” character.
The “logos” that guides both the Church and the U.S. government has long been taken for granted; in both cases, it has come under withering fire. Who will protect them?
These are perilous times indeed.

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