The Washington Post and the Church of Me

My local paper, the Washington Post, is best read for its sports and op-ed pages and its often-sensible editorials on foreign policy. Alas, the Post editorial board’s IQ drops well below the Mendoza Line when the subject is the Catholic Church. After decades of grumbling about this seemingly permanent feature of life along the Potomac littoral, it occurred to me recently that the problem here isn’t gross ignorance about matters Catholic; the problem is that the Post is all-in for another, competing religion.

The prophet of that religion – call it the Church of the Imperial Autonomous Self or, if you prefer something punchier, the Church of Me – is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. For almost a quarter-century, Justice Kennedy has preached a notion of freedom that the Post regularly applauds and promotes, dismissing other views as bigoted. The idea of freedom in the Church of Me was neatly captured by that great moral philosopher, Frank Sinatra, when he sang, “I did it my way.” Underwriting that self-centered (indeed, selfish) concept of freedom is the idea that the human person is just a twitching bundle of desires, the satisfaction of which is what we mean by “human rights.”

This Church of Me has, if you’ll pardon the phrase, a sacramental system: the sexual revolution in all its forms. Thus the Post has been front and center in the agitation for giving legal protection to every imaginable icon of this extraordinary cultural upheaval, from state-funded contraception to abortion-on-demand to the latest faux-“civil rights” cause: public restrooms in which people who call themselves “transgendered” can live out their self-definition, irrespective of biology.

In a July 2 editorial (“The Pope’s welcome surprises”), the Post tried to recruit Pope Francis as a kind of deputy to Justice Kennedy as prophet of the Church of Me, claiming that the Holy Father had “charted a new course in compassion for the Roman Catholic Church.” The evidence for this was the most over-reported and mis-represented papal statement in history: the Pope’s response (“Who am I to judge?”) to a question about the appropriate pastoral approach to a priest experiencing same-sex attraction who was striving to live an upright and chaste life (the Pope repeated a modified version of the phrase to reporters in late June). “Empathy for the oppressed,” the Post’s editors opined, “has always been a hallmark of Francis’s papacy.”

Memo to editors: “Empathy for the oppressed” has been a hallmark of the papacy for a long time. To suggest otherwise – to imply that the Catholic Church has been a theologically-sophisticated Ku Klux Klan, reveling in oppression until the Pope from the peripheries began to drag it into the bright uplands of compassion – is slander. Period. And anti-Catholic slander, as the Post editorial board should know, has a long, ugly history in the United States.

Then there was the editorial’s claim that the “Catholic Church has been dodging” certain “contested issues” for a long time. Which issues, you ask? Welcome to the catechism of the Church of Me: the issues being “dodged” include “homosexuality, divorce, and contraception.”

Memo #2 to editors: The Catholic Church has emphatically not been “dodging” these issues, which are not in fact “issues” but settled matters of Catholic moral teaching, informed by both reason and revelation. Beneath the façade of a Church playing dodgeball, the real complaint here is quite different: what cobs the Post’s editors is that, unlike liberal Protestantism and Reform Judaism, the Catholic Church has not taken the Post’s advice and caved in to the cultural tsunami of the sexual revolution – a surrender the Post applauds as “compassion.”

If Pope Francis, however misreported and misrepresented, has gotten the Washington Post editorial board’s attention, good for him. Let me now suggest some follow-up for the editors. Read St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body – or, if that’s too much to ask, read the summary of it in my Witness to Hope. Then see if that portrait of human love, noble self-giving, and mature, humble self-mastery isn’t a more attractive vision of human possibility than Justice Kennedy’s twitching bundle of desires.

The editors challenged “Church traditionalists” to “open themselves to a ‘God of surprises’.” Let’s see if the Post’s editorial board has the nerve to take its own advice.

COMING UP: Trump, Kaine, and more illusions

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The following, instructive nugget comes from Times of London columnist Tim Montgomerie, writing in late July after a visit to a South Carolina evangelical church where he found delicious, post-service fried chicken – and Trump supporters willing to overlook their candidate’s sketchy credentials in the piety department:

“It was Mr. Trump’s ‘strongman’ vibe that they liked. At some length and with deep knowledge of the region, these articulate and informed South Carolinian Christians discussed how their fellow-believers were being wiped out across the Middle East and how, at home in America, secular judges were taking away religious liberties and ‘legislating from the bench.’ ‘We don’t need an angel to defend Christianity,’ one told me. ‘We need our own Putin.’”

No, friend, we don’t.

The notion that Donald Trump, self-professed admirer of Vladimir Putin, is going to defend persecuted Middle East Christians is as ludicrous as the claim that Mr. Putin, ex-KGB thug and current kleptocrat, gives a tinker’s dam about the Christian victims of ISIS. (No one running for office in the United States has the nerve to say it, but the only earthly way out for Middle East Christians is the reassertion of western political and military power in the Levant.) As for Mr. Trump, defender of traditional culture and religious freedom against “secular judges,” that forlorn hope is belied by the warm welcome afforded proponents of lifestyle libertinism – the principal driver of activist federal judging-as-legislating – at the Republican convention in Cleveland.

Recognizing those grim realities does not, though, lead to the conclusion that the Democratic ticket offers Catholics informed by the Church’s social doctrine a safe haven in this dreadful electoral cycle. On the contrary: Senator Tim Kaine’s presence in the number-two slot makes matters worse.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of the senator’s claim that, personally speaking, he holds “traditional” Catholic views on the life issues. Nonetheless, he’s been a reliably ardent supporter of so-called “abortion rights” throughout his political career, and he is now the vice-presidential nominee of a once-great political party that has mortgaged itself to the sexual revolution tout court – which presumably means that Mr. Kaine made clear to Mrs. Clinton that she need not fear pushback from him on the abortion, euthanasia, marriage, or LGBT fronts.

Such kowtowing would be expected of any Democratic veep nominee. What makes matters worse is that a Vice President Kaine will provide a veneer of Catholic cover for what will certainly be the most aggressive, pro-“choice” administration in U.S. history. And in doing so, Mr. Kaine will further tear the fabric of Catholic social doctrine in a pattern of irresponsibility and double-speak previously mastered by the late Senator Ted Kennedy, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, and outgoing Veep Joe Biden.

As for religious freedom, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who evacuated that first of civil rights of most of its content, reducing it to “freedom of worship” in her discussions of international human rights. Apply that hollowed-out notion of the first freedom to domestic public policy, and what do you get? You get the Obama administration’s contraceptive/abortifacient mandate on steroids and a full-scale legal assault by Clinton Administration 3.0 on the capacity of religious institutions to be themselves as they understand themselves to be: communities of religious conviction with a right to their own moral integrity, not mere instruments for delivering whatever the government deems to be a public service or a public good.

Anyone who imagines that a Vice President Tim Kaine is going to be an effective brake on this assault is living in fantasyland. Ideological imperatives (and financial clout) within the Democratic Party make any such principled resistance impossible, save for some 21st-century Thomas More. And there is nothing in the public career of Mr. Kaine to indicate that this decent man is willing to lay his head on the chopping block.

American Catholics for whom the noun, not the adjective, is determinative are thus faced with a brutal fact: our deeply wounded political culture has produced two impossible options in the 2016 Republican and Democratic tickets. Thus some of us, and perhaps many of us, are going to be investigating how to cast a write-in vote of conscience in November.