America Magazine… climbing the invisibile ladder

When you see a person drowning, you will note common traits during their panic.  Sometimes they seem to be trying to climb an invisible ladder.  Their arms flail and their head is pushed lower into the water. 

It is a sad and horrible sight.

In the Jesuit run America Magazine there is an editorial: 

Before you read, consider this:

1.     of or pertaining to sectaries or sects.
2.     narrowly confined or devoted to a particular sect.
3.     narrowly confined or limited in interest, purpose, scope, etc.
4.     a member of a sect.
5.     a bigoted or narrow-minded adherent of a sect.

Now for the editorial with my emphases and comments.

Sectarian Catholicism
The editors  MAY 11, 2009

 The clouds roll with thunder, the House of the Lord shall be built throughout the earth, and these frogs sit in their marsh and croak—‘We are the only Christians!’” So wrote St. Augustine about the Donatists, a perfectionist North African sect that attempted to keep the church free of contamination by having no truck with Roman officialdom. In the United States today, self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy, like Randall Terry [I was pretty disappointed in what he did with the Archbp. Burke interview.] and the Cardinal Newman Society, [Note how they lump them in with Terry, as if they were even remotely similar?] push mightily for a pure church quite unlike the mixed community of saints and sinners—the Catholic Church—that Augustine championed[This is slithery.  Augustine did not "champion" a Church mixed with saints and sinners.  He described the reality of the Church in those terms.] Like the Circumcellions of old, they thrive on slash-and-burn tactics; ["Slash and burn"…. riiiight.  An online petition, letter writing campaign, praying the Rosary, peaceful protests.  I suppose Martin Luther King and Gandhi were slashers and burners too.  This hyperbole is a perfect example of how the editors of America are failing around in the water as they drown.] and they refuse to allow the church to be contaminated by contact with certain politicians.  [The editors just called those who have uphold the right to be born "terrorists".  Circumcelliones (derived from circum cellas) were late 4th and early 5th century N. African extremists who lurked with clubs in gangs about the tombs or shrines of martyrs.  They would attack Catholics and those who left Donatism for Catholicism.  People were terrified of them. They were associated in respects with the Donatists, but this wasn’t a wholly Donatist movement.  What is worse, however, is the attempt to present Augustine as a defender of error.  Augustine extends toleration to sinners but not to sin. Augustine’s use of the biblical image of wheat and tares was his way of defending toleration of sinners in the Church but not of sin.]

For today’s sectarians, [Watch what happens…] it is not adherence to the church’s doctrine on the evil of abortion that counts for orthodoxy, [The writer has claimed to be the proper interpreter of the Church’s teaching.  He now goes on to politicize the issue.  The editor of America will try to persuade you that those who oppose pro-abortion Catholics are doing so from political motives rather than doctrinal.  They have already called them terrorists.] but adherence to a particular political program and fierce opposition to any proposal short of that program. They scorn Augustine’s inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics, who will not know which of them belongs to the City of God until God himself separates the tares from the wheat. Their tactics, and their attitudes, threaten the unity of the Catholic Church in the United States, the effectiveness of its mission and the credibility of its pro-life activities[I think the real object of their attack is the group of American Bishops who have made public statements of opposition to Notre Dame.  They want people who think that it is wrong to bestow an honor upon a pro-abortion President at a Catholic school simply to shut up.  Otherwise they are terrorists.   Hey wait….  I love the way the left cites Augustine when convenient.  Remember how Speaker Pelosi and then Sen. Biden tried to cite Augustine in favor of their pro-abortion stance?  Liberals have discovered Augustine!  Perhas should read him.   Start with City of God V, 26Augustine applauds Ambrose for denying Holy Communion to the Emperor Theodosius.  And Augustine himself tells us that he denied Communion to more than one member of his congregation.  Slash and burn, right?  If you are going to refer to Augustine, refer to all of Augustine.  I think that America chose to cite Augustine because the POPE cites Augustine so often.  That would be a typical move by a post-modern Jesuit.]

The sectarians[So… people who oppose the America/Kmiec/Obama/Reese/DNC agenda are "sectarians".] targets are frequently Catholic universities and Catholic intellectuals who defend the richer, subtly nuanced, broad-tent Catholic tradition. [Those who oppose them are stupid bigots.] Their most recent target has been the University of Notre Dame and its president, John Jenkins, C.S.C., who has invited President Barack Obama to offer the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at this year’s graduation. Pope Benedict XVI has modeled a different attitude [Nice buzzzz language … "modeled an attitude".  What America is doing, however, is remodeling Pope Benedict into Fr. Hesburgh.] toward higher education. In 2008, the pope himself was prevented from speaking at Rome’s La Sapienza University by the intense opposition of some doctrinaire scientists. The Vatican later released his speech, in which he argued that “freedom from ecclesiastical and political authorities” is essential to the university’s “special role” in society. He asked, “What does the pope have to do or say to a university?” And he answered, “He certainly should not try to impose in an authoritarian manner his faith on others.”  [Problem.  La Sapienza is not a Catholic University.  The analogy doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.  In the one case, a Catholic leader was invited by a civil university to engage in dialogue.  On the other, a civil leader was invited by a Catholic university to receive a distinctive honor.]

The divisive effects of the new American sectarians have not escaped the notice of the Vatican. [I should think not.  Nor has this sort of editorial.  Right, Fr. Reese?] Their highly partisan political edge  [Again, they are trying to say that people who are resisting the reduction of abortion to merely one of many social issues are doing so for political reasons.] has become a matter of concern. That they never demonstrate the same high dudgeon at the compromises, unfulfilled promises and policy disagreements with Republican politicians as with Democratic ones is plain for all to see. It is time to call this one-sided denunciation by its proper name: political partisanship. [The writer is right… but he should look in the mirror.]

Pope Benedict XVI has also modeled a different stance toward independent-minded politicians.  [Okay… so this is the sort of "nuance" they hold up as an ideal.  Speaker Pelosi, Sens. Kennedy and Kerry are "independent-minded".] He has twice reached out to President Obama and offered to build on the common ground of shared values. [This is weasel language.  Just what is it that Pope Benedict is eager to accomplish with the Obama Administration?  Also, what do they mean by "reached out".  The Pope sent a congratulatory telegram to the President for his election.  Is that reaching out?  Ridiculous.  He would do that for any president.] Even after the partially bungled visit [This is supposed to be a little handful of dirt.  But what is really going on here?  I have an acquaintance who was at that same audience.  He got the CTV DVD because he had a chance to speak with the Pope afterward.  He reports that even in paning the crowd of dignitaries present, there was no film of Speaker Pelosi.  If it was "bungled", it wasn’t "bungled" by the Holy See.  She met the Pope and the Pope told her off.  There is not a single photo of them that she could use as false propaganda or claim his approval because they met.] of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with Pope Benedict, Vatican officials worked quickly to repair communication with her. [Oh?  How was that?] Furthermore, in participating in the international honors accorded New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson in Rome last month for outlawing the death penalty (See Signs of the Times, 5/4), Pope Benedict did not flinch at appearing with a politician who does not agree fully with the church’s policy positions. [Did the Pope give him an honor?  Popes regularly during Wednesday audiences spend a minute with public personages on the other side of a barrier.] When challenged about the governor’s imperfect pro-life credentials, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe responded on point, “We were able to help him understand our position on the death penalty…. One thing at a time.” Finally, last March the pro-choice French president Nicolas Sarkozy was made an honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope’s own cathedral.  [Again… this is not useful for defending what ND has done with Pres. Obama.  The French head-of-state has had a right to be a canon of the Lateran since the 16th c.  What’s happening at ND is entirely different.]

[Here is what thinkers of America consider necessary…]

Four steps are necessary for the U.S. church to escape the strengthening riptide of sectarian conflict and re-establish trust between universities and the hierarchy. [In other words, head off the possibility that Ex corde Ecclesiae might be implemented.   Wait a minute.  Doesn’t Ex corde Ecclesiae say that the local bishop monitor the local Catholic colleges and universities?  That sounds like one of the cherished liberal principles of subsidiarity.  They ought to be able to act without interference from, for example, the Vatican!] First, the bishops’ discipline about speakers and awards at Catholic institutions should be narrowed to exclude from platforms and awards only those Catholics who explicitly oppose formal Catholic teaching. [In other words it is okay to honor non-Catholic pro-abortion figures.  Remember people like Pelosi and VP Biden etc. said that, though they may be Catholic, they can’t impose their views on the rest of the country.  This point reflects that attitude.  It is little more than an echo of the schooling of Drinan, Cuomo, etc.] Second, in politics we must reaffirm the distinction between the authoritative teaching of moral principles and legitimate prudential differences in applying principles to public life. [Fine!  On the surface this is good and everyone will agree.. so long as there are basic principles.  People can disagree about how to deal with poverty, or immigration, or hunger or third world debt, etc.  But there are some things which the Church has made clear are not matters of compromise. ]  Third, all sides should return to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council [Oh… this is really slimy.  In other words… if you are one of these sectarians who don’t think that abortion can be pushed under the carpet, then you are against the Second Vatican Council, which by the way, explicitly condemns abortion.] and Pope Paul VI that in politics there are usually several ways to attain the same goals. [Just as John Paul II showed when he abandoned Paul’s VI’s Ostpolitik!] Finally, church leaders must promote the primacy of charity among Catholics who advocate different political options. For as the council declared, “The bonds which unite the faithful are mightier than anything which divides them” (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” No. 92).  [Stop.  Charity is based on truth.  There are limits to charity.  One cannot in true charity pass over a moral evil.  No one today would appeal to charity as a reason for excusing support of the Hitler regime by German Catholics.  What editor of America is really saying is that Catholics ought to be able to believe anything and their opponents should just shut up.  This what Pope Benedict meant by the dictatorship of relativism.]

There is so much wrong with this piece that we could nearly go line by line.

But let’s refocus on a couple of things you must take away from this dreadful editorial.

The most important is that this is the panic of someone who drowning.  Go back and read it again: you can nearly see the arms flailing… hear the gurgling, gulping.  

They are trying to climb the invisible ladder.

Now dig into one of America‘s objectives.

They say that the Pope has reached out to the President.

The Pope sent a telegram of congratulations for the election, etc.  That is reaching out.  They are hinting that it might even be seen as a subtle approval of President Obama’s policies, at least in the nuanced way America and Kmiec Catholics see social issues.  

In any event, we can stipulate that Pope Benedict is reaching out

That is what Popes do

Pope John Paul II met with Yassir Arafat and Fidel Castro. 

Paul VI met with Idi Amin Dada.

What America is trying to do is draw a parallel between a Pope reaching out to a world leader at odds with the Catholic Church and what is happening at Notre Dame.

That doesn’t work.

If you want to try to make an analogy out of this, then we have to look at what Notre Dame ought to have done, not what they actually did.

It is acceptable for a Catholic University to reach out and invite President Obama to speak at some function. 

It is not acceptable to bestow a prestigious honor on him. 

Final thoughts.

When the Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura comes to Washington, DC and delivers a crystal clear manifesto which entirely guts the America/Kmeic/Pelosi/Biden stance, don’t think he doesn’t have the blessing of the Holy Father.

Will that fact may be lost on the editors of America?

Lastly, America doesn’t like that American bishops are criticizing Notre Dame.  They want someone put that to a stop.

"But Father! But Father!", you are by now saying.  "Go above the heads of the bishops?  Above the head of the metropolitan?  Above the conference?  They want bishops to be corrected?  What happened to subsidiarity?  The primacy of the local Church?  Isn’t it a cherished liberal principle that bishops should not be interfered with by the Vatican?"

Strangely America seems only to promote subsidiarity when it suits them.

Why let principle get in the way of partisanship?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Paul Stokell says:

    Having read my copy just minutes before reading your post, it’s interesting to see how the America House Jesuits contrast with their kindred over at La Civiltà Cattolica.

    Now, if you really want to feel like you’re on a bad acid trip, flip to other side of the magazine and read some of the Letters to the Editor. (Great, merciful, blood-stained gods!)

  2. Is it just me, or have America magazine and Fr. Reese both gotten worse since his departure?

    This screed is indistinguishable from anything produced by the dissenters at National Catholic Reporter. [This piece in America aims at the same goal, but it is a little smarter.]

  3. LCB says:

    After reading that I feel a strong need to shower, and then burn the clothes I am currently wearing.

  4. Bill in Texas says:

    After today’s news here and at other weblogs (Am. Papist, Fr. George, Curt Jester), I’m thinking I need to work out a program of weekly fasting and abstinence beyond the usual Friday practice to add to the daily Rosary, frequent communion, and various pleas for intercession. It’s either that or take a vacation from reading weblogs and news and just shove my head down deep into the sand.

    This is nuts. And getting worse. Fast.

  5. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    I seems that the great ecclesiastical conflagration is just a short way down that trail and the liberals will be making it violent and bloody…and perhaps that won’t be merely metaphorical blood. But it will be short. The biological solution has been immensely helpful!

  6. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    Father the problem is that Burke’s opinion has no real weight. His position is the minority one, and is the position of very few in authority. I believe that Obama should not be given an award, but I also believe that Julian Hunte should not have been made a papal knight by the Vatican Secretary of State, to me this is much worse. [Didn’t that happen in 2004, when the Pope was very ill? Yes, I believe that was it. Just a few months before the Pope died. And could this be another case of not having used Google? Should some one have done some homework?] The behavior of the Vatican especially under the last Pope, seems to confirm that Burke’s understanding of canon law is not the same as was John Paul II, the author of the law. [No matter who promulgated the 1983 Code, the present Pope is Benedict XVI.] John Paul II gave communion to pro-abortion politicians all the time and with Hunte even went so far as making him a papal knight. [Again… that was then and this is now.]

    There is a problem when Catholics start “excommunicating” other Catholics for opinions that are within the bounds of orthodoxy. [“within the bounds of orthodoxy…” ?!?] Whether or not a Catholic Institution should honor someone who is pro-abortion falls under this category. [Within the bounds of orthodoxy? B as in B. S as in S.] I would say no, but I would never go so far as to pretend someone like JPII who did the opposite was not Catholic. However, I also have no problem saying that JPII and the President of Notre Dame made stupid, scandalous decisions, and since Fr. Jenkins is following the lead of Rome his decision may be less stupid than JPIIs. [Since no one in their right mind would say that one mistake justifies another, I think we must conclude that you are really interested in defending the decision of a Catholic university to bestow an honor on the most pro-abortion President in history.]

    Finally, I see no evidence that Burke is giving speeches with the Holy Father’s imprimatur. [Heads of dicasteries must check with the Secretary of State or Holy Father when they are going out of Rome to do something.] I certainly think the granting of a papal knighthood to a pro-abort is more representative of the Vatican’s view on this, [especially when we conveniently leave out that this was a few month’s before the death of the previous Pope.] than Burke’s speech.

  7. Brian says:

    Of, course this predictable silliness is also a desperate attempt to reassure America’s readership that it is really o.k. to claim to be Catholic while violating the Church’s fundamental moral teachings. If people actually begin to question that sinful absurdity, this rag’s invicible ladder collapses and they sink into bankruptcy.

  8. Maureen says:

    The Circumcellions also organized in bandit groups and stole or burned the property of many, including bishops. Then there were the ones who jumped off cliffs in the belief that it counted as martyrdom….

    Yeah, that’s offensive.

    On the bright side, this has revealed the existence of a new corollary to Godwin’s Law. Whoever compares his opponents to the Circumcellions first, loses! We’ll call it Possidius’ Corollary. [I like it! Possidius’ Corollary!]

  9. Cornelius says:

    Christopher Sarsfield said, “I would say no, but I would never go so far as to pretend someone like JPII who did the opposite was not Catholic.”

    I don’t think anyone has claimed that Fr. Jenkins is “not Catholic.” The issue is one of giving scandal and a certain imperviousness to correction. Have I missed something?

  10. Christopher Sarsfield says:


    See Fr. Z’s comments on my post to answer your question.

    Notice even though I say Fr. Jenkin’s action is stupid and scandalous, I am really defending the action.

    The current Pope Benedict knighted Rabbi Leon Klenicki, the Anti-Defamation League’s Interfaith Affairs Director Emeritus, who is pro-abortion and has worked in South America for the spreading of “reproductive freedom.” Of course he was not knighted for his work for “reproduction freedom,” but where did I hear that argument before?… Needless to say, I feel this act was stupid and scandalous as well. [Your argument suggested something else to me. You are saying that you think it was stupid and scandalous. Good. I hope you think that for the right reasons.]

  11. Andrew, medievalist says:

    All creatures (humans included) have a fight or flight mechanism. Most only chose fight when there is no other option.

    For a while, views such as this carefully hid themselves or flew below the radar. Now they are running out of time and space and gird themselves for a fight, which they clearly cannot win.

  12. PS says:

    It is a good indication of the desperation of America’s Editors et al. that the article holds about as much water as a sieve.

    What principles are being espoused here? Permisiveness for the sake of itself is hardly a principle when compared to a great many other such things we might find when skimming through the website of the social justice wing of our local diocese. There is literally nothing else here. Not love, certainly.

  13. Aaron says:

    How does anyone write, “Catholic intellectuals who defend the richer, subtly nuanced, broad-tent Catholic tradition,” with a straight face?

  14. Mark VA says:

    The Jesuits, as a group, were once esteemed by the faithful, and regarded as highly intellectual defenders of the Faith, even by the Faith’s enemies. I sincerely hope there still are Jesuits who live up to this legacy.

    As I read this sorry piece, I recollected the name Julien Benda, and his book “The Treason of the Intellectuals”. If there are Jesuit leaders willing to take a second look at the direction of their leadership, I humbly suggest they re-read this book.

  15. Mark says:

    Speaking of Godwin’s Law…I have to say I disagree with this notion that “Obama could speak at Notre Dame if he wasnt being awarded an honor”. Would we have given Hitler a pulpit to speak from, even if it wasnt an official “honor”??

    A leader that supports letting millions of babies be ripped limb from limb, cannot be given any courtesy by the Church.

    Someday will this Pope be called “Obama’s Pope” because of his “silence”?? [Nooo….] Not that he’s actually doing nothing, but Pius XII certainly did MORE against Hitler than our bishops are currently doing against the American Babylon, and yet even Pius XII was accused of complacency (wrongly, but that’s not the point). [“our bishops” are not “our Pope”] Our current leaders are doing LESS to stop abortion than Pius XII was to stop the Nazis. How will the future generation that wakes up and condemns abortion judge them in retrospect? I have to assume, worse than they currently judge Pius, however wrong their judgment is. Except this time the bishops should KNOW better. I thought “never again”. [You underestimate Satan.] And here we are debating abortion CIVILLY!! It’s absurd. I have to conclude they dont really believe the unborn child is a person, because if mother’s were allowed to take 5-year-olds to some place to be violently killed…I seriously doubt our response would be merely to “pray and vote”.

  16. RJM says:

    Father, you make an important point in drawing the distinction between “championing” a pure Church and recognizing the reality of the Church’s life. Augustine realized the Church was made up of both sinners and saints, and, following the example of our Lord, he never sought to purge the body of sinners, knowing that Almighty God would separate the wheat from the tares at the end of days. But, Augustine in no way “championed” this state of affairs, in the sense that he overlooked or excused sin. Holy Mother Church witnesses to the truthfulness of God’s law, while granting a certain level of freedom to her children to honor that law. The scandal of Notre Dame’s invitation to President Obama is that they are honoring a man who operates in clear and consistent violation of the natural law. This has nothing to do with sectarianism or wanting a pure Church. It has everything to do with maintaining a coherent public voice regarding the most pressing moral issues of our day.

  17. Gail F says:

    This really is a nutty editorial. I used to read and greatly enjoy “America” magazine, when Fr. Reese was editor no less. It’s been years, and I don’t have any to refer to, but the way I remember it the magazine usually presented two views on major issues, the orthodox view and a non-orthodox view. And as a pretty orthodox reader, I always thought I learned something by reading both sides. But when the big change came, the magazine published a piece called (I think) “Little Grey Cells,” which said “They can tell us what to think, but we have these little gray cells that just keep thinking and thinking,” and was one of the most arrogant things I’ve ever read. I dropped my subscription soon after, because that piece set the tone for everything else. No more two sides. The cure was worse than the disease for “America.” I know some great Jesuits and if I were them I’d be pretty angry at the magazine and the editors, and at Fr. Reese.

    My favorite line is “They scorn Augustine’s inclusive, forgiving, big-church Catholics, who will not know which of them belongs to the City of God until God himself separates the tares from the wheat.” HA HA HA. I guess all those books Against the Donatists and Against the Manicheans, and Against the Pelagians, etc., and all the letters fighting with Catholics he didn’t agree with don’t mean anything. He was just kidding!

    Finally, does anyone really believe that President Obama would like to reduce abortions? I was always taught to look at what a person DOES, not what he SAYS. And if the man were serious about reducing abortions through better health care (a dubious proposition at best), that would not mean it would be necessary to eliminate all restrictions on abortion. Who is taken in by this??

  18. Aaron says:

    “Finally, does anyone really believe that President Obama would like to reduce abortions?” — Gail F.

    I think people *want* very much to believe it, so they don’t allow themselves to do otherwise. They *like* the guy and he’s their president for better or worse, so they don’t want to think he’s a bald-faced liar or that he’s actually in favor of abortion. Maybe he’s even talked himself into believing it on some level.

    I don’t think most ordinary people realize true abortion *advocates* exist; they think the “pro-choice” side is made up of people who reluctantly keep abortion legal as a necessary evil. The alternative–that there are people who see abortion as a positive societal force–is too unpleasant to look at too closely.

  19. Some people are more interested in criticizing Catholics who are offended by President Obama’s abortion stand than they are interested in criticizing that offensive stand itself.

    Estne in imitatione Harvardiensi?

  20. Larry says:

    I’m not surprised at the position America has taken, but I am amazed at the mendacity they’ve shown in order to claim that the Kerry/Biden/Pelosi, et. al., position on abortion is somehow more legitimate than that of the knuckle dragging, reflexive Republican cheering squad of those who support the Church’s full teaching on life issues. That is truly a through the looking glass kind of argument. At some point, you almost have to wonder if this isn’t a self-parody; can the official publication of an ostensibly intellectual religious order really not see their own immense bias, and their incredible hubris to decry millions of genuine Catholics for adhering to Church teaching, while they support a few dozen politicians who stridently don’t?

    I’m a simple man, I’m sure the intellect to arrive at such a position is beyond me. I suppose we can’t all have the brilliance of such nuanced independent thinkers as Nancy Pelosi.

  21. GOR says:

    Well, here in Milwaukee the latest news is that Ab. Weakland is (finally) leaving the Archdiocese, moving East and writing his memoirs (!). As I read the America article I was struck by the thought: “Rembert could have written that!”

    I’m sure we will be encountering his ‘memoirs’ in the “broad-tent” pages of America Magazine…

  22. Mark says:

    “[“our bishops” are not “our Pope”]”

    Fine, but the Pope is doing even less, frankly. Words words words, and fewer words than the American bishops who are at least forced to directly address the issue every so often. Still, all words. That’s all. At least Pius was actually hiding Jews, funding resistance movements, etc…in other words, doing something materially proactive. And yet he is thought by many to have not done enough. Will we really be able to say this Pope did all he could to save babies?

    Or are babies in their mother’s womb somehow different than born people in how proactive we should be to save them? Because our “resistance” seems like nothing compared to what people did to save lives from the Nazis. Holding prayer vigils and passing out pamphlets and writing letters to our congressman…just doesnt seem to give the issue the same urgency that resistance to Nazis was given by the actions of those resisting them, even though they tell us the objective slaughter is much worse.

    So why this sort of armchair resistance? We speak only of “changing hearts” when there is a real baby on the line. We speak of “long term” plans, but when a life is on the line, doesnt that take immediate precedence to any abstract notions of “long term” solutions. Does tomorrow matter when one might not even see the end of today? Were those resisting the Nazis in the darkest hour, materially resisting, concerned about whether their actions would contribute to the “long term” downfall of the Nazis, or whether that was even possible? Or were they concerned immediately about protecting those lives they immediately could which were immediately threatened?

    Would anyone looking back say that responding “Well, we have to pray that the holocaust ends, and try to change the hearts of our Nazi leaders, but ultimately we cant take it into our own hands”…would have been an intense enough response to what was happening? I think the bishops, and the Pope, are making a distinction between a government that actively murders innocents and one that “merely” tolerates it to avoid having to call upon Catholics to DO anything. It’s been reduced to all talk. Even excommunications of Catholic politicians havent happened en masse. For fear of losing our tax exempt status, I assume. That’s cowardice and corruption, plain and simple. And someone should call them out.

  23. Ben D. says:

    Mark, there may not be any significant moral distinction between abortion and other forms of homicide, but there is an important legal distinction.

    It would be impossible to have a functioning civil society if adult citizens were permitted to kill each other at will. That’s a description of a war or a riot zone, not a polity.

    As horrific an evil as abortion is, it simply does not have an immediately disruptive effect on civil society.

    So a government that permits abortion is sick, no question. But a government that intentionally permits acts more commonly called murder– or worse, engages in such acts itself — is a contradiction in terms. It is no longer governing. In other words, there’s a vast, real difference between Nazi Germany and the modern United States, and that difference calls for a different response from us who live in America today.

  24. Ben D. says:

    “I sincerely hope there still are Jesuits who live up to this legacy.”

    There certainly are, and I’ve been blessed to know several of them. The Jesuits who do St. Ignatius proud tend to be fairly old or relatively young. But Fr. Joseph Fessio is the one of the highest-profile examples and he’s squarely in the Baby Boomer generation, if I’m not mistaken.

    Many others are quietly enduring white martyrdom and building up the Church by their labors. There was a powerhouse parish near my hometown — perpetual adoration for decades, reverent liturgy, the only indult Mass in the diocese back when an indult was needed, etc. Come to find out when the founding pastor retired–a vibrantly saintly man if ever I’ve seen one–that his spiritual director was an old Jesuit who was best known to the public at large for his shockingly corny jokes. He fairly radiated sanctity.

  25. Mark VA says:

    Ben D and Mark:

    Ben D: thank you for your reply – it’s good to know that the Jesuits still have a chance to recapture the essence of what once they’ve been. In my view, the evil we face today is more sophisticated and better camouflaged than in the past. We need a spirited but also a highly sophisticated defense against it, one that is able to deconstruct the deceptive language, and offer a convincing Christian alternative. I hope the Jesuits, as a group, will reconsider their AWOL status.

    Mark: I agree with Ben D’s reply to your questions regarding abortion – the battle ground is the disordered life of many individuals, especially the addiction to sex, fueled by pop culture. I’ve personally seen this scenario replay itself several times – a woman decides to give a man (using the word loosely) all the benefits of marriage, but without him having to assume any duties of a real husband. After several months or so, she desperately wonders why he’s not willing to marry her. If she’s good for sex and cooking, why not also for marriage? At this stage, he’s already bored with her, and is being driven to his next conquest. In time, she’s dumped, sometimes while expecting. Thus the stage is set for the next act in this tragedy.

    It seems to me that the pro-life movement tries to prevent this in several ways – in the beginning, by teaching morality and abstinence to both sexes, and at the end, by offering material and emotional support (including adoption) as alternatives to abortion. Additionally, recognizing that civil law is also didactic, effort is continuously made to make it conform to moral law in this respect. Finally, thru public witness by prayer. To me, this is not “armchair resistance”.

  26. Matt says:

    Truth be told, I don’t think Archbishop Burke was speaking for anyone but himself. Haven’t we learned our lesson that a dicasterial head speaking is not always speaking ‘for the pope’?

    And while the article is not without flaws, I do not think that there is anything about subsidiarity being the problem. In fact, it may be the opposite, perhaps the only bishop who really had a ‘say’ in the matter was Bishop D’Arcy….and at best the president of the conference. 50 bishops going on about this seems to only look like spotlight grabbing, with some exceptions, the exceptions being folks who actually seem to have thought out their written positions (DiNardo, Dolan for example). As opposed to those who wrote in a way that was redolent of some sort of bastardized version of charity and faith I don’t recognize (Doran, Bruskewitz).

    It’s the same thing over and over and over again….the ‘conservatives’ seize moral high ground that was never in question.

    As someone who works at a university, I actually find it funny that we have decreed an honorary degree to be a ‘prestigious honor’…I think USC gave one to a downhill skier with no college education a few years back…it’s just part of the commencement exercises….

    This whole sordid episode feels planned out to me…I think Fr Jenkins knew what he was getting into….I think the President knew….and I certainly think the Cardinal Newman society has been gearing up for something like this for years….now we get to see it all play out….

  27. taad says:

    It seems that the “big tent” or “moderate” arguments only apply to those who are
    orthodox or conservative. These terms are never used to attack the liberal
    side even though they exclude and attack anyone who disagrees with them.

  28. RBrown says:

    As someone who works at a university, I actually find it funny that we have decreed an honorary degree to be a ‘prestigious honor’…I think USC gave one to a downhill skier with no college education a few years back…it’s just part of the commencement exercises….
    Comment by Matt

    By definition, an honorary degree is an honor. Whether or not it’s prestigious depends on the prestige of the university.

    If you look at the USC site on honorary degrees, it is obvious that it is an honor.

  29. Mark says:

    “But in the case of abortion, what else can we do? The mother herself is complicit in the murder of the child she carries within her own body. So long as the act is legal in the civil realm, only a change in the mother’s heart can prevent the murder—and to procure the grace necessary for that change of heart, prayer and fasting are our best bet.”

    I am not advocating any crazy unilateral action, so don’t freak out.

    BUT, as a thought experiment (because this issue is one I have doubts on)…what if the Pope WERE to call for a real Crusade against abortion?

    Surely there’d be at least tens or hundreds of thousands of faithful Catholics (out of the 60 million nominal Catholics) willing to be part of the Crusading army. What if we DID have the Church’s permission to destroy the means of abortion, the clinics, the instruments, etc…as long as there was no notion of “pre-emptively” attacking the doctors, as long as we were instructed not to hurt any people?

    What if one night, the Church orchestrated the destruction of every free-standing abortion clinic, and the next morning people woke up to find they were all gone?

    Would this be a “long term” solution? Well, certainly abortions could always be rescheduled, moved to hospitals (which couldnt be attacked because they have innocent patients with legitimate purposes too), etc…but especially for some babies very close to birth, might this not save them? And might it not cause fear in a lot of other women who might then reconsider their abortion? And, most importantly, would it not cause a CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS in the United States that would force people to declare themselves, finally, either loyal to the Church, or loyal to the evil State?

    Would anyone have blamed someone for blowing up a gas-chamber in Nazi Germany as a vigilante? Sure, it might have had no chance of bringing down the Nazis in the long run, but it might save a few lives that day, it would at least certainly buy some time. Can any of you honestly say you would have condemned someone who blew up the gas chambers in Nazi Germany??

    Ben, I think this distinction between “murdering adults disrupts civil society and makes the government illegitimate” and “murdering infants in the womb doesnt disrupt society” is artificial mental gymnastics. Nazi Germany was not chaos like Rwanda or whatever. For the “aryan” Germans, life continued day to day. It was quite ordered, quite structured, the Jews just disappeared and their businesses and possessions were given to Germans like they had never existed, that is what was so scary about it. If it had remained “internal” and an external War hadnt broken out, it would have been quite “civil” and orderly. In fact, in Nazi Germany people werent allowed to “kill each other at will”, it was only the government allowed to (though they’d probably be lenient if a private citizen killed a Jew). Here, in America, is actually more chaotic in that sense, because adults can kill babies at will, there isnt even anything systematic or governed about it.

    So why do we make a distinction for the unborn? Sure, “there is no obligation to seek out evil to stop it”…but could not the same be said for people who werent actively helping during the holocaust as long as they didnt actively participate? And yet there seems to be a perception that they do are culpable to some degree (ala the “First they came…” poem).

    The mother’s are complicit in the murders. Well, again, just a thought experiment…what if groups of people, authorized by the Church, began grabbing women going to get abortions and holding them at safe-houses until they gave birth? Like hiding Jews in attacks. Would save some lives. And it would force the government to make a choice. Because, sure, soon enough they’d just have police and stuff at abortion clinics 24-7 and the tactic would become impossible, but at that point…the government really is not merely “tolerating” private citizens doing it, but actively engaging. I mean, a building where people are killed surrounded by police sounds like a concentration camp to me. And then the government really would be illegitimate and…well, Pius V’s bull about Elizabeth, anyone?

    But I think most bishops dont want to have face real persecution like that. I think they truly believe that the State could destroy the Church, so we better not mess with the State. So, Words words words…and 50 million dead…

  30. Supertradmom says:

    America and some of the comments make me sad. If orthodox Catholics are going to succeed in bringing about the necessary changes in order to stave the otherwise inevitable collapse of Western Democracy, then we have to see moral issues clearly and publicly stand against these. There is a real danger of the United States Government destroying religious freedom and freedom of speech. This issue of Obama at Notre Dame is the tip of the iceberg. The 60 plus bishops who are so courageous in stating clearly the evil and stupidity of this honor see what can follow very quickly-the complete capitulation of religious authority to the State in some sort of compromise for existence. Abortion is one of the issues which will cause many of us to be persecuted. Some of us already have been, by losing jobs, being passed over in promotions, because of the “tyranny of relativism”. Please let us not kid ourselves as to the dangerous position Father Jenkins and others like him have put us in. Why cannot the editors of America see the trend of anti-Catholicism and anti-religion? Will America be the only, lone, relativistic Catholic journal left in the desert of political suppression of freedom of speech?

  31. pjsandstrom says:

    This editorial is a good example of what caused ‘jesuitical’ to be a word of opprobrium.

  32. Mark VA says:


    Your apparent zeal misses the nature of the pro-life struggle – the battle ground is the human soul, specifically our conscience, not the instruments of abortion. Your proposed solutions are naive, romantic, and lead nowhere.

    Nota bene: in the struggle against communism, there were a few hotheads (some of them plants) who clamored for action along your proposals. They were all rejected and thrown out by the Church hierarchy. The struggle continued on the moral plane. In the end, communism collapsed in a miraculously peaceful way.

  33. Mark says:

    You say the battle-ground is the human soul, and ultimately I agree that the nature of abortion as mortal sin (and the loss of the soul of mother and provider) is obviously worse, from a religious perspective, than any temporal suffering or physical death of the child.

    BUT, at the same time, we have claimed to the world that our desire to illegalize abortion is NOT based on these purely religious grounds, that is to say, the sinfulness of it, but rather out of a natural concern to protect innocents from incredibly cruel, horrific, painful deaths that even a materialistic atheist should empathize against and understand it is the duty of society to protect against.

    As such, we are not just dealing with a question of “immorality” here, which is what many of the bishops seem to treat it as. We are supposed to believe, there is a REAL PERSON who is a REAL VICTIM with a REAL LIFE on the line. Even if the mother’s soul were still lost, the reason we are trying to end abortion is, on one level, stopping the suffering of babies ripped limb from limb and having their brains sucked out etc.

    And though the spiritual concerns theoretically “should” be primary, I think that anyone’s gut-reaction concern, at least in the immediate situation, would actually be the baby and the horrible death it has to die.

    Abstracting some “nature of the pro-life struggle” as anything but immediate concern for the millions of babies being brutally murdered each year…is what is naive. Ending the abstract “system,” in both the struggle against poverty, abortion, and all forms of oppression…is a remote concern that takes a back seat to the immediate saving of lives and immediate alleviation of concrete immediate suffering. Yes, we need to end the system too, but we cannot sacrifice lives in the present to some vague notion of an ultimately solution in the “long term”.

    Turning the pro-life struggle into some sort of philosophical mysticism…is something I have seen too many pro-life activists disturbingly turn to. No, it must be utterly practical and utterly immediate. It is about saving real lives. Not some Gandhi-esque mumbo-jumbo that ultimately is about ennobling OUR souls whether we succeed or not. If we dont succeed, we’d better die trying.

    Would you condemn someone who during the holocaust blew up a gas chamber?? Dont get me wrong, I am not ultimately advocating vigilantism or anything like that. But I think WHY we dont (and there are good reasons) is something that must be immediately addressed.

    I have worked outside abortion clinics before at vigils, protests, sidewalk clinics etc…and one thing I hear from people sometimes is, “If you really believed it was a person, you wouldnt just be sitting here, you’d force your way in their and stop it, you’d blow this place up. I would, if I believed it was a human being”…or things along those lines.

    And, honestly, there is some cognitive dissonance we need to address in that regard, because, as someone said, if they knew that a BORN person was being killed…surely there is a right to use proportional force to defend innocent life in immediate danger, and surely we’d do it if we saw someone being stabbed on the street, or heard screams coming from our neighbor’s house.

    And yet, most pro-life activists act like it’s just “obvious” that we’d never even consider force to end abortion. It isnt obvious. I probably agree that ultimately we shouldnt, but we shouldnt just “not even think about it,” which is what the attitude of most pro-lifers seems to be.

    In fact, why nonviolent means are used should be the FIRST question addressed in abortion pamphlets. If we are to convince people of how TERRIBLE abortion is, we at least need to admit it’s the kind of thing that is worth considering using force to end, even if, after careful consideration, we decide against it.

    But answers like “violence to fight violence doesnt make sense” is a cop-out, as we do admit that force may be used to defend oneself or an innocent. But we shouldnt act like we never even considered it. I have seen only one article that really addresses why, from a philosophical moral theology standpoint, we dont use force to end abortion. [NO. We will not here discuss using violence. Clear? This is not going to be a discussion.]

    Otherwise, when I bring the issue up, people act like it’s just “obvious” or that someone is wrong to even consider it. But if abortion is not so serious that we cant even CONSIDER force to end it, then it’s not that serious.

    If we dont use force (and we shouldnt) then explaining WHY should be our first message. Otherwise, people dont take us seriously. “Well, if you’re not even willing to really fight for it, you must not really believe what you say about them being real suffering humans”. Because there IS a disconnect between the fact that we’d be morally permitted go fight a murderer if we heard our neighbor screaming, but wouldnt in the case of an abortionist.

    What if someone ran in there during a partial birth abortion, kicked the doctor in the crotch, and delivered the baby’s head so that the doctor couldnt kill it legally? Would you be against that? These are questions we need to answer the public so that they understand why, if we allegedly take it so seriously, we arent using the type of force that, if a born victim were involved, would be people’s first instinct to use and considered morally permissible.

    Again, I am not advocating violence. I am saying that we need to explain better WHY we dont use violence, given that “run in there and stop it with force” is (or SHOULD be, at least) people’s gut reaction to “what can I do if I know a murder is going on in the room next to me?”. Pretending like it didnt even ever occur to us…makes it seem like we dont take abortion as seriously as the murder of born people. I think we need to drive home that we believe that abortion is of the gravity that WOULD justify using force IF force could be used practically. Of course, the fact that the baby is inside the mother complicates that infinitely. We cant hide them in attics like the Jews. And even if we burst in during the procedure and temporarily debilitated the doctor, its not like the baby can run away. BUT, IF it could, we would do that. We should make that clear.

    Some pro-life activists even are against blocking doors. They have totally missed the point.

  34. Mark VA says:


    A line has been crossed – this blog belongs to Father Z, and I’m not altogether certain he wants to turn it into a debate on violence. I defer this question to the owner of this blog.

    As for myself, I’ll follow what the Church did when struggling with communism – I emphatically reject any violence, and will not be baited into even discussing it. I hope no one else who is pro-life will, either.

  35. Supertradmom says:

    Going back to Archbishop’s Burke’s Breakfast Manifesto, one does not see any call to violence, but a clear stand for this serious moral issue from all Catholics, and non-Catholics alike who believe in natural law. Whatever action we take should be peaceful, and for the most part, has been. Any dissent will be taken by the anti-life media as “disruptive” or “disrepectful”. What has been planned for the day at ND is a beautiful testimony to the sincere spiritual depth of those involved: Adoration, the Rosary, prayer at the Grotto, Mass, etc. Archbishop Burke is helping all of us focus on the reality of the seriousness of the spiritual battle, which expresses itself in the murder of innocent babes. At any other time, in a Western nation, people would have seen what we are doing legally as horrific and unbelievable. We cannot be complacent. We must be peaceful, but vigilant. Is this not the time for prayer with fasting and some peaceful action?

  36. Supertradmom says:

    Going back to Archbishop\’s Burke\’s Breakfast Manifesto, one does not see any call to violence, but a clear stand for this serious moral issue from all Catholics, and non-Catholics alike who believe in natural law. Whatever action we take should be peaceful, and for the most part, has been. Any dissent will be taken by the anti-life media as \”disruptive\” or \”disrespectful\”. What has been planned for the day at ND is a beautiful testimony to the sincere spiritual depth of those involved: Adoration, the Rosary, prayer at the Grotto, Mass, etc. Archbishop Burke is helping all of us focus on the reality of the seriousness of the spiritual battle, which expresses itself in the murder of innocent babes. At any other time, in a Western nation, people would have seen what we are doing legally as horrific and unbelievable. We cannot be complacent. We must be peaceful, but vigilant. Is this not the time for prayer with fasting and some peaceful action?

  37. Supertradmom says:

    sorry, having connection problems-read the second one-no spelling errors there! :)

  38. Mark says:

    Mark VA,

    [We will not be discussing it here. I am editing out the rest of this comment and will lock you out if you drag this down the badger hole.]

  39. Phil Steinacker says:

    That seems clear enough, Father.

    BTW, I like the lateral upgrade to “badger” hole.

    Is a badger hole deeper than a rabbit hole?

    Just askin’. ;-)

    [I am not sure about the depth. Actually, “depth” and this digressions seem a contradiction in terminis. What I mean is that when you go in this sort of hole, you don’t find a fluffy bunny at the end….if you know what I mean!]

  40. Thomas in MD says:

    Isn’t it time for the Jesuits to be supressed again? I mean, its been 236 years…

  41. fh in Houston says:

    “if you know what I mean!]”

    Great picture of Nancy Pilosi!

  42. joe says:

    It is something of a “thing” with me to point out there are more — possibly “far more” — Jesuits who are in full adherence to the Magisterium of the Church, and are good and holy priests (and brothers!) and have no truck with what Fr. Mitch Pacwa, SJ calls “the weirdness.”

    These exemplary men usually are not on the Rolodex of the major media outlets, they are usually not presidents of Universities, they usually are not editors of magazines. But they are out there, assiduously working for the salvation of souls.

    Men like Fr. Fessio (as mentioned above) and Frs. Pacwa, Mankowski, Baker. Abp. Prendergast of Ottawa, Cdl. Urbano Navarrete. Sadly, they don’t get the “airplay” that do those who might espouse more…uh…controversial views.


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