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What The Catholic Integralists Get Wrong

June 14, 2019 Frontpage No Comments


During the Second Vatican Council, there was an open debate on the question of religious freedom. More accurately, the question was whether the American model of open religious freedom was the most optimal mode of existence for the Catholic Church in the world or was it the Spanish model where the Church functioned externally but alongside the state.
Critics of the American model insisted then (and now) that religious freedom was something alien and even antithetical to the idea of Catholicism. Religious freedom implied individual autonomy, which could only erupt in licentiousness. Culture followed politics, ergo the sluices of the state whether through education, pro-family policies, or rigid anti-leftism would serve as the tools to restore Christendom to splendor.
Yet in contrast to this stood the American model. Catholicism in American during the middle twentieth century enjoyed a status of pre-eminence. Finally, out from under anti-immigrant pogroms of the 1920s and discovering that their opposition to Communism made Catholics more Americans than most Americans, in film and in society most Catholics were finally turning their faces toward the sun.
U.S.-Vatican relations were also enjoying an unprecedented collaboration in the wake of Francis Cardinal Spellman’s relationship with Pope Pius XII. Vatican diplomats could go where American diplomats could not. In fact, there were only two powers on Earth that had truly global reach: American hard power and Vatican soft power. Given a common foe in Soviet Communism, the interests matched well for the times.
Thus the American bishops led by Fr. John Courtney Murray, SJ, were able to introduce two concepts into the Second Vatican Council: ecumenism and religious freedom. These ideas were viewed as opposite to Catholic teaching just a mere twenty years earlier, as Catholics refused to engage in any sort of “ecumenism” that put other faiths on par with the Deposit of Truth and Faith.
Objections to religious freedom were of a similar vein, as the temporal power of the state ought to be married to the spiritual power of the Church. Otherwise, the legitimacy of such power was not merely suspect, but could even prove hostile to the Catholic religion.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the integralists have pointed at the results. Pews empty, children and grandchildren fallen away from the faith, the Catholic Church prostrate in the face of the left, abortion rampant, marriage redefined, transgenderism normalized. Our Masses virtually desacralized by runaway priests, vocations down, the sexual abuse scandal unchecked, and prelates such as former cardinal Theodore “Uncle Ted” McCarrick installing his men into positions of power with the nod of the Vatican.
Is there anything left? Why aren’t we fighting for the Kingdom of God as if it were any other kingdom, they ask? If religious freedom is such a panacea, then explain the last 50 years?
These are all fair points to raise. Yet it was none other than Patrick J. Buchanan who pointed out that there is an inherent flaw in this critique of the Second Vatican Council and the introduction of the Novus Ordo Mass, namely that it is a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. The sexual revolution was already in full swing long before the Second Vatican Council was convened. Pope Benedict XVI in his recent “post-papal encyclical” decried the very same cultural shock coming after both world wars.
In fact, it is worth reminding ourselves what the Second Vatican Council was trying to correct. Consider that virtually every Western institution has succumbed to the postmodern disease: education, colleges, courts, bureaucrats, media, even the military.
What the Second Vatican Council was attempting to do was in truth quite far-sighted. Rather than institutionalize the faith, it engaged in a sort of cultural guerrilla warfare. The radical bet on human freedom in the Lumen Gentium and Dignitatis Humanae: Catholicism was willing to roll the dice on religious freedom and ecumenism, if for no other reason than the dice are loaded.
This is perhaps the single greatest distance between Catholics who accept the Second Vatican Council as authoritative and those who question Pope Benedict XVI’s insistence that Catholics are morally bound to hold the council’s teachings as authentic. More specifically, there are those of us who believe that the Catholic Church will be preserved from error precisely because Jesus Christ promised it would be preserved, and there are those of us who think that Christ’s promises need a little “boost” from the Leviathan.
The problem here is that a marriage of Church and state almost always ends in a divorce. Either the Deposit of Truth and Faith is enough, or Christ is a liar — and that’s not a card I am willing to play.
Is society falling apart? Surely this grand idea known as the West is having a tough 100 years.
Even though we are surrounded by horrors, there are upshots that do not sell as well on the evening news. For instances, never before in salvation history have we had as many Christians as we have today. Never before have we had more priests, more vocations, more saints worldwide than we have today.
Thanks to the explosion of freedom on this planet, human beings have lifted over one billion people out of poverty and are set to lift the next billion out of poverty in ten years. Warfare and terrorism are at all-time lows, even with the rise of ISIL and conflicts in Syria and Yemen (all sponsored in some fashion by the Obama administration and inherited by the current one).
Ronald Reagan and John Paul II defeated Soviet Communism with freedom, not Falangism. Vaclav Havel and Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko did not demand riots in the streets to rid Czechoslovakia and Poland of the Communists. Fr. Popieluszko prayed the rosary instead, the same way Fr. Petrus Pavlicek prayed the rosary to rid Austria of the Soviets. Jaime Cardinal de Barros Camara did likewise in Brazil in 1964 when Communists rose to power there.
Yet when critiqued for their bad theology, these integralists claim that this is nothing more than a political experiment. When Catholics critique their politics, they put on a stole.
Yet what is at core in their critique of the American experiment (and the Second Vatican Council) is that to have a just society, we must be subject to both the Church and the state. By subject, they intend that word and all the attendant rejection of citizenship that men such as Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and even John Carroll of Carrolton — our Catholic Founding Father — advocated for when they fought for the pre-eminence of the natural law over the Protestant divine right of kings.
The American experiment is built upon the principles of natural law, not integralism. This law reflects the divine law, and argues that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights because they are God-given — not the privileges of the state. We are citizens in a free country precisely because we are subject to God, not to a manufactured institution that — as we have seen over the last half century — proves so utterly corruptible in the hands of mankind.
Catholic integralism is a dead end precisely because it is a dead faith; it is a Christendom without a Christ. The wisdom of the Second Vatican Council was its rejection of temporal power. Once we admit the permissibility of coercion, we start playing the devil’s game. The answers are not political or institutional precisely because such answers are corruptible and incomplete.
We must conclude that Christ doesn’t need our help to create the Kingdom of God. Our task is to raise our children and grandchildren, unplug them if necessary from the seductions of the world, fortify them with prayer and education, raise good families and then surround ourselves with like-minded souls.
That’s how culture is built; that’s what swings political structures. When we believe what we believe as Catholics more than what they believe as political operators? That’s what moves mountains, or at least, what took down the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall.

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