Rereading (as I do, obsessively) one of my Patrick O’Brian books the other day, I ran across a passage in which Diana Villiers expresses surprise at Stephen Maturin’s lack of enthusiasm over the fact that a certain French cardinal is to appear at an event. She says, “I thought you would be pleased. Surely a cardinal is next door to the pope; and you are a Catholic, my dear.”
Stephen responds, “There are cardinals and cardinals; and even some Popes have not always been exactly what one might wish…”
Indeed, if one has a sense of history. But that got me to thinking, as I too seldom do, about how blessed I am to be living at this particular moment: I’m very pleased with the current pope, as I am often reminded. And not only that, but Joe Biden is about to be my president. The rest of the world might be going mad, but at least these good men will be in charge of my church and my country. And Joe being a devout Catholic, the two things are tied together…
But that hardly means everything is wonderful. After all, as my fellow (but fictional, alas) Papist Stephen would say, there are cardinals and cardinals.
This was documented with stark clarity by this piece a few days ago in the Jesuit magazine, America. The piece was headlined, “How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol.” It spelled out how, among other things, “an alarming number of Catholic clergy contributed to an environment that led to the fatal riots at the U.S. Capitol.”
Which these “leaders” unquestionably did. And have been doing for some time. I had seen plenty of things to worry about over the past year (which was why I wrote this), but I was startled by how extreme their rhetoric was — how anti-Christian it was, not to mention anti-intellectual. Because God had been merciful to me, and had not exposed me to these specific examples. As the piece leads off:
At the end of last August, the Rev. James Altman, the pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse, Wis., uploaded a video to YouTube that has been viewed over 1.2 million times. The video’s title voiced what an increasing number of Catholic bishops and priests were saying in the run-up to the presidential election: “You Cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat.”
“Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches,” said Father Altman, as music from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 swelled in the background. “So just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”…
There’s more — quite a lot more. Another example:
A few weeks later, the Rev. Ed Meeks, the pastor of Christ the King Church in Towson, Md., preached a homily, also uploaded to YouTube, under the title “Staring into the Abyss,” in which he declared the Democratic Party the “party of death.”
Father Meeks’s video, which has received over two million views, was warmly commended by Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Tex., who tweeted it out to his 40,000 followers with the message “Every Catholic should listen to this wise and faithful priest.” Earlier, Bishop Strickland had endorsed Father Altman’s video as well, tweeting, “As the Bishop of Tyler I endorse Fr Altman’s statement in this video. My shame is that it has taken me so long. Thank you Fr Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation…pleases [sic] HEED THIS MESSAGE.” Father Altman later appeared as a guest on the premiere episode of “The Bishop Strickland Show” on LifeSite News….
The things they say, and the language they use, is amazingly startling — again, both on the grounds of being unChristian, and that of being amazingly stupid-sounding. You might imagine something like this coming from one of the very least educated of the “poorly educated” Trump so loves — assuming he’d had a few too many beers sitting on that stool at the end of the bar:
“Why is it that the supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God-hating Democrat party can’t say a goddamn thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump? What the hell do you have to say for yourselves losers?” the Rev. Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted….
But it’s impossible to imagine it coming from someone who has graduated from a seminary, even if you can somehow explain the irrational hatred.
Especially telling, as much as the profanity, is that “Democrat party” bit. That sort of disregard for the difference between adjectives and nouns is typical among the less-thoughtful staffers at your state Republican Party (somehow, they all forgot the name of the opposition party back in the ’70s, and haven’t had it come back to them yet), but it’s extremely jarring coming from a man of the cloth. It’s an unmistakable sign of someone who is incapable of thinking outside the framework of Republican jargon.
Anyway, all this extreme stuff was news to me. I had been responding to more subtle stuff when I wrote the “Let’s talk about ‘real Catholics” piece back in October. I was concerned about the voting pattern in 2016 — which showed almost half of Catholic voters voting for Trump — and the possibility of its repetition.
I was also motivated by nods and winks I was seeing from some Catholics — including some clergy — here in South Carolina. What I was hearing personally was of course far more subtle and polite than the fulminations Father James Martin writes about in America — this is, after all, South Carolina. But I had been disturbed by it nonetheless. And I felt it was important for me to say, as a Catholic, that real Catholics would never vote for Trump, and should certainly vote for fellow Catholic Joe Biden. Maybe in writing her brilliant piece — which helped inspire my own, more pedestrian one — Jeannie Gaffigan was motivated by some of the horrible stuff in the America piece. But I think it was mostly milder stuff than that, as I recall.
Back to what I had been hearing here at home… First, I’m not going to share it with you. Why? Because it’s close to home and personal, and I’m going to speak personally to the people responsible before I share it with the world. And I haven’t seen those people in awhile — I haven’t been physically to my church since March; we’ve been streaming Mass every week.
Also, since a lot of it was indirect and polite, I’m not always entirely sure of what I’m hearing. I have reached out (via email) a couple of times to fellow parishioners (also Biden supporters) to see if they were hearing it the way I was. And they generally were, more or less. But before I put my objections in writing, I want the parties involved to have a chance to explain their views — in person, not via email.
But to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a video of our bishop, posted on YouTube before the election:
As you can see, what the bishop says — to a less critical person than myself — is kindly, shepherdly, and very carefully non-partisan. And of course, you know me. I wholeheartedly applaud when he says:
What is important for all of us is to recognize we’re not Republicans, we’re not Democrats. We’re Catholics.
From that alone, you see that there’s a wide ocean of difference between him and the hateful people the piece in America deals with. They are ardent, committed (and sometimes profane) partisans, twisted by their fury at the “other side.”
I don’t know the bishop well. I’ve only met him a time or two, and my view of him is positive and respectful — which is the way you want to feel about a shepherd placed over you. And I think the video bears this out.
Which is not to say I didn’t have problems with it — rather obvious problems, if you know me.
But thank the Lord that here in South Carolina, I haven’t been directly exposed to the kind of overt, hostile stuff Fr. Martin writes about in America.
Back to that stuff…
Let’s look again at this part of the first passage I quote above, speaking of the Democratic Party: “Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches.”
Of course, that is utterly absurd and utterly false, and the words “absolutely” and “everything” would render it laughable — if it weren’t so tragic.
Compare the Trump position on a host of issues to that embraced by Joe Biden. Trump is the guy who got elected telling us that people coming into this country illegally was a national emergency — nay, the national emergency — and he planned to build a “beautiful wall” to keep them out, and make Mexico pay for it. He’s the guy who failed to do that, but did succeed in separating children from their parents and putting them in cages. He’s the one who described countries other than white ones like Norway as “shithole countries.” He incited a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, and has not once spoken a word of remorse for his own actions. (A Catholic like Joe Biden is accustomed to doing penance for his sins. You won’t ever see Donald Trump do that, because he’ll never get as far as the “heartily sorry” part.)
He is a man who considers his every action (and everything else) — in office and out of office — in terms of how it benefits or fails to benefit Donald J. Trump. If you think he is a person who puts others first, or even on the same level as himself, as a Christian should do, I’d love to hear your arguments on that point, and be persuaded.
I could go on all night, listing the ways in which Trump grossly violates Catholic teaching, and Biden would not. But let’s just cite one more issue, one that bears on the Church’s pro-life teachings: “Trump administration carries out 13th and final execution.”
Before last year, the U.S. Justice Department hadn’t executed anyone in 17 years. Trump put three to death in the last week at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Under Trump, there have been more federal executions in the past year than in the previous 56 years combined. More to consider:
Not since the waning days of Grover Cleveland’s presidency in the late 1800s has the U.S. government executed federal inmates during a presidential transition, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Cleveland’s was also the last presidency during which the number of civilians executed federally was in the double digits in one year, 1896….
Trump was in a hurry, you see, with Joe Biden about to take over. Joe, the story tells us, is “an opponent of the federal death penalty,” and may actual bring it to an end.
Joe Biden, you see, is a Catholic.
But some Catholics have gotten twisted around. They’re just talking about abortion, you see. When they say “pro-life,” they’re not talking about Cardinal Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life. Nor are they including the rest of the many, many Catholic teachings beyond cherishing life when they refer to “everything the Catholic Church teaches.”
Abortion is a profoundly important moral issue, but it is one important part of a range of important issues that fall under the description “pro-life.” And then of course, there are all the other things that would fall under Catholic social teaching. Take “solidarity,” for instance, which means “We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.” Can you picture Donald “America First” Trump agreeing with that? Maybe, but only if you add, “except those from shithole countries.”
Folks, I don’t think I know anyone who is more opposed to abortion than I am. And if you asked me to cite the one thing Joe Biden did during the campaign that most disappointed me, it would be his abandonment of support for the Hyde Amendment. I know why he did it. This was at a time when he was one of a crowd of 20 or so vying for the nomination, and the vast number of Democrats who wanted to find a way, any way, to dismiss him completely (thereby insuring the re-election of Donald Trump) saw Hyde as a great gift. I can’t tell myself with any certainty that he’d be the president-elect if he hadn’t done it. But I still believe it was wrong.
But talking about that reminds me of something remarkable: That is the only thing I can think of that he has done wrong over the last two years, in terms that might violate Catholic teaching or offend my own standards. Whereas Donald Trump can hardly get through a day without doing that. Joe is so dramatically more in keeping with advocating the moral, Catholic position on issue after issue that it’s absurd even to make a comparison.
Also, as fervently as I oppose abortion — which we’ve argued about many times here — I differ from these angry priests on a couple of points: First, I don’t believe jamming through justices who agree with me on the issue is the way to solve the abortion problem. (And I find it profoundly wrong for either side to do it — which both do.) I’d like to see Roe v. Wade disappear, but aside from the fact that I don’t think it will, there’s the problem that if it did, it would simply kick the issue to the place where it should be — state legislatures. Those legislatures would be at war over the issue for the rest of my life, and probably my grandchildren’s lives, and I believe legal abortion would still be widely available across much of the country. It’s not a prospect that fills me with optimism.
Secondly, to get to that point requires something that I believe to be immoral in another way, although a secular one: I believe it is critically important for the United States to have an independent judiciary. Therefore it is wrong for me to demand that judicial candidates agree with me on any issue, even one as morally compelling as abortion. Otherwise we can’t have the blessing of living in a country of laws and not of men. And that is crucial to our freedom of religion and everything else that matters. Start applying an issue litmus test on judges, and you will get a country in which law is whatever is embraced by the majority — 50 percent plus one — voting in the last election. We must somehow get past this business of trying to elect presidents who agree with us on abortion, and expecting those presidents to nominate justices who agree with both, and stacking the Senate to confirm them — until the majority shifts again.
I could go on and on on both those points (arguments on the last two points could fill books), but since I’m nearing 2,500 words (not counting the thousand or so I cut out), you’ve probably stopped reading already.
But to go back to where we started: There is something horrific going on among some priests, and even some bishops, in the Church. And I think the pope, who knows better, should have a chat with some of them. Because things have gotten out of hand, and these words (and sometimes actions) have been a great disservice to the country, and to the Church.