The Irish Abortion Referendum: But How?

The Irish Abortion Referendum: But How?

What Oliver Cromwell could not do, what an Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger) could not do, what hundreds of years of Anglo-Protestant persecution could not do to the Irish Catholic people — namely, rob them of their faith and morals — the one-two punch of the sexual revolution and the doctrinal-liturgical revolution in the Church have accomplished, with the more-or-less enthusiastic complicity of the Irish people themselves, clergy and laity. Joe Doyle, our 100% Irish go-to man on all questions Hibernian, has compiled a sad and sorrowful litany of this national apostasy, as well as a summary of its most recent manifestation — with two codas here and here. (Joe was good enough to speak with me about the tragedy for my latest Reconquest“Ireland’s ‘Bloody Friday.’”)

We speak here of a nation that was a Catholic powerhouse since its conversion by Saint Patrick in the fifth century. A nation where, at one time, one out of four men was a monk, she sent missionaries abroad: Saint Columbkille († 597) to Scotland, and Saint Columbán († 615) to the European mainland, where he and his fellow Irish monks helped restore and extend the Church after the social chaos caused by the collapse of the Western Empire in 476. Abbeys like Bobbio (Italy), Luxeuil (France), and St. Gall(Switzerland) remain monuments of his and their accomplishments.

(The mystery and hokum that surrounds the so-called “Celtic Church,” which many moderns erroneously hold to have been independent of the Holy See in Rome, are the subject of two articles on this site by Charles Coulombe.)

In the high Middle Ages, the, Dominicans and Franciscans established themselves in Ireland.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Erin produced numerous martyrs (thanks to Oliver Cromwell1and his associates), like Saint Oliver Plunkett, whose severed head one may venerate at Saint Peter’s Church in Drogheda.

In more recent times, the Emerald Isle gave us great Catholic educators like Blessed Edmund Rice, founder of the (Irish) Christian Brothers, who should not be confused with the (French) Christian Brothers of Saint Jean-Baptiste de la Salle. She also continued to send out foreign missionaries as members, e.g., of such missionary congregations as the Holy Ghost Fathers and the Society of African Missions. Here in America, the lilting Mayo brogue of Venerable Patrick Peyton taught millions to pray the Rosary. This Holy Cross Father, affectionately known as “the Rosary Priest,” always his audiences that “the family that prays together stays together.”

And how could we forget Frank Duff, whose lay organization, the Legion of Mary sanctified so many of the faithful and helped advance the mission of the Church in so many places, including Africa and China?

With such a glorious past that we have only summarized in the scantiest detail, how did Éire come to suffer these late troubles?

Let us begin to answer that question by going back to an episode in the Old Testament, all the way back to the Book of Numbers. It involves one of the “dark passages” of the Bible, specifically, that related in Numbers 31, which narrates the war against the Madianites. In this war of God’s own vengeance against Madian (vs. 2-3), when the victorious Israelite army of 12,000 slew only the men, Moses was angered and ordered the slaying of all the male children and all the women who were not virgins, whereas the virgins were allowed to live (vs. 17-18).

Why was this?

We read in the Douay commentary for Numbers 31: “Women and children, ordinarily speaking, were not to be killed in war, Deut. 20. 14. But the great Lord of life and death was pleased to order it otherwise in the present case, in detestation of the wickedness of this people, who by the counsel of Balaam, had sent their women among the Israelites on purpose to draw them from God.” Balaam (of “Balaam’s Ass” fame) well knew that one way to gain victory over the Israelites was to send in the women, not as warriors obviously, but as seductresses who would morally and religiously corrupt Israelite men, as Jezebel would later corrupt Ahab. The wicked stratagem worked. As the relevant article at Fisheaters.com summarizes it: “Balaam later led Israel into idolatry by sending women to seduce the men of Israel away from the faith. God punished Israel for this by plague and war — a war in which Balaam got his comeuppance and was slain.” The matrons represented a threat to Israel, but clemency was shown to the virgins, who were not guilty of luring Israelite men into sin.

The heinousness of the fornication committed with the daughters of Moab lay in its admixture with the obscene worship of Beelphegor (or Baal-Peor), as related in Numbers 25:1-3, which the Rabbis tell us was not only impure, but grotesque as it involved also the worship of excrement. Saint JohnSaint Peter, and Saint Jude all consider Balaam as something of an epitome of the false prophet who works for the sake of money (he was paid for his services).

False religion and apostasy from the true God seem to have been behaviorally and conceptually joined with evil sexual morality in the Old Testament, so much so that the expression fornicating after strange gods” (Deut. 31:16) seems to include both these things: religious infidelity to God, and conjugal infidelity by way of sexual immorality.

What does all this have to do with Ireland?

Since the early twentieth century, if not before, elements inimical to Catholic morals have tried to revolutionize the public and private morality of the Irish people. For many years, an aggressive campaign from the EU, the UN, and the Council of Europe sought to loosen public morality in Ireland. The so-called “Church of Ireland,” something of a low-church species of Anglicanism has, since the Lambeth Conference of 1930, if not before, been a fifth-column within the Republic to accomplish this end. The Irish Times, the voice of liberal anti-Catholic ascendency, has also assisted the project, constantly reminding Irishmen of their backwardness and inferiority to more progressive nations of Europe and America.

All this proved effective. By the late 1960s, a feckless Irish administration relaxed the nation’s censorship laws, resulting in the importation of American and British pornography into Ireland. The spreading of pornography will certainly lead to a breakdown of public morality, so it is no surprise that in the succeeding decades, the prohibitions against contraception and divorce were gradually weakened.

But where was the Irish hierarchy? Sadly the weak resistance of the Irish bishops in the 2018 abortion referendum and the 2015 homosexual “marriage” referendum had earlier precedents, such as the supine resistance of their predecessors in the matter of the nation legalizing contraception in 1979. Prior to that, in 1972, the Irish hierarchy willingly embraced the repeal of Article 44 of the nation’s constitution, which acknowledged “the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of citizens.” While that wording was not strong enough for Father Denis Fahey, I doubt that the great Apostle of Christ the King would approve of its removal, which is what 84% of Ireland’s populace voted for in a 1972 referendum.

This dismantling of Ireland’s constitutional recognition of the Church would seem to have resulted from two things, first, Pope Paul VI’s policy of weakening the historical ties between Church and State in such places as Colombia, Spain, and the Swiss Cantons of Ticino and Valais, all in keeping with the novel doctrine of Dignitatis Humanae. Second, the Irish episcopacy did not attempt to defend Article 44 because it was proposed that North-South Irish political union could be achieved if the Republic dropped this constitutional acknowledgment of the Catholic Church. But that unity has never happened; in fact, the Catholic-versus-Protestant state of war in Northern Ireland (“the Troubles”) continued all the way till 1998. In short, the Irish were sold a bag of goods.

Not surprisingly, the next year, Ireland began its gradual acceptance of contraception, by what seems to be the camel’s nose under the tent, in 1973, of allowing the use of contraceptives without allowing the sale of contraceptives. As contraception and abortion inevitably go together — morally, medically, legally, historically, and psychologically — the work of legalizing abortion had begun. There were Protestant “missionaries” who brought contraception with them to Ireland in their attempts to spread Protestantism in the Republic. A convert I know recently informed me that some of his own family members were among these missionaries.

As Baalam well knew, and as Dr. E. Michael Jones has throughly documented, sexual “liberation” is a means of political control, social manipulation, and religious breakdown (cf., Dr. Jones’ books Libido Dominandi and Degenerate Moderns, as well as the online article “Masters of Porn” if you dare to wade through some lurid documentary details). The Cultural Marxists have been well aware of this method as a helpful tool for deChristianizing Europe and America.

In bringing up Balaam in ancient Israel, and the Cultural Marxists of modern times, I am not claiming that Ireland’s selling of her Catholic birthright is the result exclusively of a conspiratorial plot from outside, though it certainly is true that the forces of organized naturalism, like George Soros, have helped:

Through his Open Society Foundations, the Hungarian-born Soros has already provided three pro-abortion groups in Ireland, including Amnesty International’s Irish branch, with a combined total of around $400,000 (£295,000). The other two groups are the Irish Family Planning Association and the Abortion Rights Campaign.

A leaked document from the Open Society Foundations revealed the reasons behind the funding. It said it was so that the three groups could “work collectively on a campaign to repeal Ireland’s constitutional amendment granting equal rights to an implanted embryo as the pregnant woman”.

It continued: “With one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, a win there could impact other strongly Catholic countries in Europe, such as Poland, and provide much needed proof that change is possible, even in highly conservative places.” [Source]

While there have certainly been plots at work here, we need not make this the only explanation, nor ought we make the effort to weave it all into a grand coordinated conspiracy. But consider: If such diverse men as Baalam, Guiseppe Mazzini (“we corrupt in order to rule”), Willi Munzenberg, (“we will make the West so corrupt that it stinks”), György Lukács, and his fellow travelers at the Frankfurt School understood that “sexual liberation” undermined Old-Testament and Christian social order, doesn’t the devil know this too? I doubt that those guys are smarter than he is. The only “grand conspiracy” is the one that Satan himself implements, and all these people, however clever or brilliant, are merely his acolytes, his useful idiots.

All of which suggests that there is a war on. Ireland’s internal and infernal enemies have brought a new famine upon her, but a famine of a different sort: “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will send forth a famine into the land: not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).

But it seems that Ireland’s churchmen are, for the most part, attempting to make peace with this apostasy — to “manage” the situation by rearguard actions at best, or joining the other side at worst.

Now that Ireland is once more mission territory, she, like the rest of the former Christendom, needs courageous Catholics who, believing that Catholic faith and morals are necessary for salvation, work to give the undiluted Religion to her children. Without fear of lawsuits, arrest, public humiliation, prison, or being shunned for their backwardness, the new Irish apostles need to recover the missionary spirit of Saints Patrick, Columbkille, Columbán, and all the rest. They, with innumerable multitudes of blessed Irish in heaven are looking down to see who will take up the cause.

“And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us” (Heb. 12:1)

  1. My friend, Joe Doyle, would no doubt want me to add that focusing on Cromwell too much lets the Anglicans and their monarchy off the hook, and they are able to portray Cromwell as an exception, an anomaly, and an outlier. Even Winston Churchill goes on about “the curse of Cromwell” in his History of the English Speaking Peoples. Catholic priests were executed, for being Catholic priests, under every English monarch (with the exceptions of Mary I and James II) from Henry VIII in 1534 to George III in 1766. The man-made famine under Elizabeth I killed nearly as many people as Cromwell. The Anglicans often say that it was Cromwell, not Cramner, who smashed the altars and shattered the stained glass, and what a terrible iconoclast he was. It is all very convenient.
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4 comments on “The Irish Abortion Referendum: But How?

  1. Most of the damage was done on the inside. Starting with Vatican I, we were emphasizing too much on the Papacy and its infallibiity, many started to feel secure and comfortable on the false premise that we do not have to think by ourselves, just rely on every word if the Pope as infallible and you remain without thinking responsibilty.

  2. Ghebreyesus has made a distinct point with which eminent churchmen fully agreed, and emphatically so, for over 60 years, following Vatican One.
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    Nevertheless, and as per usual, the VITAL distinctions between the circumstances surrounding true obedience and those that call for measured discretion were eventually transformed into a form of widespread, indiscriminate “belief” that every utterance, document and (by the time the Revolution of 1962-65 hijacked the levers of Vatican power) any “act” by any pope under any circumstance was “perfectly Catholic” (sic!) – no matter how heretical, unjust and / or schismatic it might be.
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    Voila!
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    Behold, the result: the Nervous Ordeal “rites”, ecumaniacal catastrophe and mass apostasy!
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    Bishops are the first line of defense, the very men God established in His chain of command, to prevent disaster whenever a pope and / or a number of their fellows fall into error or even shaky ideas. That did not occur prior to, during or after the Revolution of 1962-65. And, it became an even more disastrous situation than in the days of St. Athanasius because, way back then, papal infallibility was an implicit belief (and most correctly so) but it wouldn’t be codified for another 1,300 years. Add mass media propaganda to the mix and just how so much evil could do so much harm in so short a time becomes shockingly comprehensible.
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    The Revolutionaries twisted obedience to the pope into a work of papalotrous cultic manipulation, to their own evil ends. And, in only 60 years, they now have convinced 98% of the faithful to go along with what a child can plainly see is not Catholic at all,

  3. Is Pope Francis an Oracle?
    A Primer on the Pope’s Authority for Puzzled Protestants and Worried Catholics
    Public Domain


    A 19th-century anti-Catholic cartoon, suggesting that Catholics blindly follow papal orders on every political issue.
    By JOHN ZMIRAK Published on May 17, 2015
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    Like many popes before him, Francis has used his bully pulpit to explain world events, contemporary problems and social issues in the light of the Gospel as he reads it. He has promised to issue a document on the environment and climate change. He has spoken passionately on immigration and economics, and recently finalized Vatican recognition of a Palestinian state. He has reached out to Castro’s Cuba, and condemned global inequality as unjust, implying that governments ought to forcibly correct it.
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    Catholics and non-Catholics alike are confused about how to interpret his statements. As the author of four books explaining Catholic doctrine, I’d like to lay out precisely what the Church claims concerning papal authority — and what it doesn’t. This is not an attempt to defend the Catholic understanding of the pope’s authority, but only to explain it.
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    Faithful Catholics believe that the core moral teachings dating to the days of the apostles are unchangeable, and each pope has only the power to pass them along and explain them — not alter them. Each papacy and each doctrinal crisis that arises in history is a test of this promise in action. Right now on divorce and remarriage we can watch the experiment in real time.
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    But what about the myriad questions we cannot answer by simply looking up what the Church has consistently taught in the past? When the pope gives his personal opinion about technical issues of economics, immigration or ecology, are Catholics obliged to agree with him? To piously stay silent? To put the most positive “spin” on statements which in private make us wince?
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    To answer these questions, and help explain the church’s complex view of papal authority, what follows is a straightforward Q&A. Like my recent Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism, it takes a lighthearted tone. The questions are posed as if by a curious, skeptical friend.
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    Q: Is the pope infallible?
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    A: The safe answer is No.
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    Q: What do you mean by “safe answer”?
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    A: That if you say No, you will be right some 99.99% of the time. If I asked you, “Are American women in labor right now?” your answer would be the same. But in both cases there would be rare exceptions. A tiny percentage of American women are giving birth as you read this, and an even tinier percentage of statements made by popes throughout history were infallible.
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    Q: Which ones?
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    A: We aren’t entirely sure.
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    Q: You’re kidding, right?
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    A: No. There are only two statements that popes have made which the Church explicitly labels as infallible. There is a list of six other statements that are probably infallible, and a raft of teachings that some people claim are infallible, while others disagree.
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    Q: That seems … less than helpful. Which two statements are Catholics sure about?
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    A: In 1850, Pope Pius IX taught that all Catholics must accept an ancient Christian belief about Mary, the mother of Jesus: that God granted her a kind of baptism at her conception. Since God stands outside of time, he could give her the graces of Christ’s redemption in advance. So when she was born, she was just like Adam and Eve at their creation: free of original sin. She had a blank slate, instead of the toxic inheritance of warped will, blinkered reason and constant temptation to sin that afflicts the rest of us. She was still nothing more than human, and was completely free to sin. But unlike Adam and Eve, she never did. Without this special gift from God, she absolutely would have sinned, just as the rest of us do. So there’s nothing special about Mary in herself; she is simply the most transparent example of God’s saving grace in action.
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    Q: I don’t buy it, but go ahead. What’s the other one?
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    A: It’s tied to the first teaching. Because Mary was spared, through the grace of Christ, the stain of original sin, she was also spared one of its consequences: her body dying and rotting in the ground. Instead, at the moment of her death, she was assumed into heaven — in much the same way that the Old Testament teaches Elijah was. Again, this is an ancient Christian belief, which Pope Pius XII declared in 1950 was not just an opinion but fact.
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    Q: What about the other six, the probably infallible statements?
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    A: They address complex questions of faith:
    the natures of Christ (He has two—divine and human);
    the two wills of Christ (ditto);
    what happens to your soul after you die (you are judged right away);
    the role of free will in salvation (it’s decisive);
    and the authority of the pope over local bishops, despite the interference of secular monarchs (bishops get their authority from God via Rome, not through politicking).
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    Q: So is the rest of Christian doctrine and morality up for grabs — er, I meant to say, “left to the individual conscience”?
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    A: Absolutely not. Almost all of the central teachings that Catholics believe, which most faithful Orthodox and Protestants share, came from teachings at councils of bishops in the early church. The bishop of Rome presided over some of these, played a role in others, and approved still others from a distance. These councils (such as Nicaea and Chalcedon) were the key means the church used to figure out which books to accept as authentic books of the Bible, and how to interpret what they mean. We believe they were protected by the Holy Spirit from error, and hence their statements on faith and morals were infallible.
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    Q: Okay, so you people believe that these Church councils were universal and could declare infallible teachings?
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    A: Yes. Our Orthodox brothers argue that there were no such infallible councils after the Eastern and Western churches split, whereas Catholics hold that the councils of the Western churches continued to be infallible. And ever since the next-to-last such council, Vatican I which ended in 1870, we believe that on rare occasions, the pope can act alone with the same authority as a council. This doctrine of papal infallibility was very controversial in its time, and many Catholics opposed the idea. They argued that such a doctrine was unnecessary, divisive and an obstacle to reunion with the Orthodox.
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    Pope Pius IX, however, thought that infallibility was essential to shore up the authority of the pope in an age when nationalism was sweeping through the West, including the church, pitting French cardinals against Germans, and Catholics were becoming more loyal to their nation-states than to the church. Of course, as we’d see in 1914, such bishops on both sides of the war would bless the armies marching to the trenches, and speak of the war as a holy crusade. So Pius IX had a point: It would be very hard to run the church via councils of bishops after that.
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    Pius IX had rather inflated ideas of what that infallibility would mean. Had Pius had his way, Vatican I might well have made virtually every papal statement on any important subject binding on every Catholic — enshrining the pope as a kind of oracle. But the Holy Spirit does guide ecumenical councils, and what Vatican I approved was much more modest. It taught that in a narrow set of very special circumstances, when the pope explicitly announces that his statement is infallible, then Christ will grant him protection from error.
    /
    Q: So on those occasions what he says is considered divinely inspired, almost prophetic?
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    A: No. We don’t think that of councils either. Catholics believe that God wouldn’t let a council or a pope solemnly teach heresy. He’d simply prevent it, as he prevented the Church from accepting forged documents as Gospels. Think of it as a divine veto power, which might take the form of a still, small voice in a pontiff’s heart. Or maybe a sudden heart attack (see video below):

    Q: What about when the pope writes or speaks on politics and economics?
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    A: Most of the time, those topics involve specific disputes about how to apply moral principles, statements of fact or arguments over what’s prudent. Infallibility can’t apply to any of those. When he’s writing on those subjects, the pope is just an ordinary man — although in most cases a wise and learned one, whose ideas we should take seriously. For instance, when Pope Paul VI wrote in Populorum Progressio that the right way for rich countries to help poor ones was to tax their citizens and send money to Third World governments, that was a suggestion worth considering. But faithful Catholics can disagree. Many have noted that there is now an extensive track record of such foreign aid, and all too often it ends up in Swiss bank accounts or being spent to prop up corrupt regimes. Pope Paul VI made a prudential judgment, and faithful Catholics are perfectly free to reject it. The same applies if a pope speaks out on immigration policies, welfare programs or Middle Eastern politics.
    /
    Q: A lot of Catholics seem to disagree with what you just said. They suggest that the Holy Spirit picks who’s elected pope, then protects his everyday statements and policies from error.
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    A: The Church has never said any such thing — out of deference to the First Commandment, and perhaps to avoid becoming the laughingstock of even Catholic historians.
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    If the Holy Spirit directly picked the popes without human agency, we’d have to ask why He picked so many illegitimate children of previous popes; so many cardinals who bribed their way to the throne; or — my favorite example — the pope who so hated his predecessor that he dug up the old pope’s corpse and tried it for heresy, before dumping it in the river. We’ve done much better with choosing popes since the Council of Trent, but the process never became magical. Sometimes the cardinals pick a weakling, a coward or a bully. Popes do have original sin. The Holy Spirit oversees the process, of course, but allows a lot of room for human freedom and folly.
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    The pope can’t infallibly predict the weather, draw up the U.S. budget or tell us which wars are just or unjust. Think of the five “crusades” which Pope Martin V launched against cities full of Christians for “heresy.” Popes misused their authority so often and so egregiously that it helped cause the Reformation.
    /
    Q: What about when the pope does teach about faith and morals, but doesn’t invoke the divine-infallibility veto you’ve spoken of?
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    A: Catholics view every other papal pronouncement in context — the context of previous solemn church teaching on an issue. So if a pope reiterates some previous teaching, with roots in the Bible and the councils of the church, we defer to his interpretation. If he says something that seems new, we judge it against those previous teachings and are free to disagree — respectfully, of course. You shouldn’t mock the nakedness of your father. But you don’t have to bring him another skin full of wine.
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    If one pope contradicts another, or either contradicts a council, you can rest assured that none of the statements is infallible, and the issue is still open for debate.
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    Q: Are there examples of popes speaking fallibly at cross-purposes with one another?
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    A: Lots of them. I’m sure that I’ve already tested your ecumenical patience, but if you’re really interested, read this piece. In it, I explore conflicting papal statements on slavery, lending at interest, torture and religious freedom.
    /
    Q: Those aren’t petty issues.
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    A: No, they aren’t. But the Church has never pretended that Jesus made each pope a magical fountain of new divine revelations and brilliant policy ideas. We do the church no favors by inflating the papacy’s claims like a balloon. Our history is full of needles which could pop it.

  4. The Pope Is Not an Oracle and the Church Is Not a Party
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    Serviam [not AQ’s Servium]- 8/23/17
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    This is the last piece I’ll write about what Catholic Social Teaching isn’t. I promise. Unless Pope Francis writes something new and alarming. In that case all bets are off.
    /
    I hope to be helpful here. To deflate a few Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Float-sized misconceptions that have slipped loose and are hurtling down Fifth Avenue. They’re threatening to crush Santa Claus. Or at least his elves.
    /
    A few years back I published a piece with a fun (that is, willfully provocative) title. I called it “The Myth of Catholic Social Teaching.” That phrase attracted attention. It raised readers’ hackles. But it also limited its influence. So Stream executive editor Jay Richards thought I should rehearse the article’s arguments here under a harmless generic title. (But he wouldn’t let me call this essay “Harmless Generic Title.”)
    /
    I didn’t mean that Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is a myth, per se. But there are many myths encrusting it. In fact, almost always when I’ve heard some use those three words together, they were pointing to some jumped-up, exaggerated, or false idea. It’s like when someone tells you, “It’s not about the money… .”
    /
    The field is full of imposters. Imagine that a real Santa Claus in fact existed. But we’ve got the job of distinguishing him from all of his “helpers.” In such a case, your sad task almost all the time would be to point to some bearded man in a red suit and say, “Not him.”
    /
    Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is a set of natural law principles and their general applications. So they should be comprehensible to any person rational enough to believe in God and orderly thought. They ought to be persuasive, at least potentially, to any sober citizen. You should argue for them from reason, not from authority. The latter will only (sometimes) persuade people who already docile enough to bow to that authority. Or, if your arguments are obnoxious enough, it will instead lead them to doubt it. Pope Francis’ sweeping, idiosyncratic statements on immigration, economics and the environment are having this effect on many Catholics.
    /
    The core of the argument I made in “Myth” was that several grave misconceptions float around in the Catholic world. They throw us into confusion and discredit us to outsiders. I’ll devote a section to each, quoting sections from the original article as needed (sometimes with tweaks for context).
    /
    MYTH ONE: GOD’S PARTY PLATFORM, 2017
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    Some people think that a prescribed, detailed Catholic political and economic platform exists. It’s written between the lines of past papal statements. Our job as believers is to identify it, advocate it, and impose it on our fellow citizens. In light of it:
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    Defenders of market economics, or opponents of mass immigration, can be tarred with the same brush as those who favor women’s ordination or homosexuality. Indeed … we are led to believe that we can actually build up a detailed Catholic political economy that is a “third way” between capitalism and socialism, which bravely “cuts across” the lines dividing Left and Right, and between America’s political parties….
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    There are smart, sincere people out there who struggle seriously with the idea that the papacy is a 2,000-year-old Delphic oracle, that a “spirit-led Magisterium” inspires and guards from error the statements of popes about economics and politics. Even if such statements are not infallible, we are obliged to grant them a docile “religious submission.”

    /
    But politics and economics are not very much like doctrine. Nor is empirical science. They weren’t revealed from heaven. So they don’t just develop. They change. Sometimes radically. Revelation ended with the death of St. John on Patmos. Every single article of Christian faith was present, at least implicitly, among the apostles. That isn’t true of economics, politics or other fields such as natural science. Those fields find out new things and overturn false beliefs. Like the law of supply and demand. The time value of money. The centrality of individual rights. The earth revolving around the sun. Those are radical discoveries. Even innovations. In doctrine, the correct word for an innovation is a “heresy.”
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    There’s a price for treating the papacy as an oracle that settles every question.
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    We can (and must) use basic moral principles known via natural law to understand economics, politics, even natural science. Those areas obviously aren’t value-neutral, to be left to technocrats. They affect most areas of life. Most times, popes have had wise and insightful things to say — because they were intelligent men, operating within a sophisticated tradition. Not because they were popes.
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    MYTH TWO: FATHER KNOWS BEST
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    I’ve seen solid and sensible people, even wise priests, suggest the following: Your local bishop (in theory at least) serves as the authoritative teacher on divinely revealed doctrine. So he can serve the same role on Catholic Social Teaching. Even better if dozens of bishops in your country get together. They can compare notes and issue public statements. Best of all if a pope weighs in and issues a political manifesto. As this plays out among Catholics trying to build a Church party platform:
    /
    We can start, of course, with Belloc and Chesterton, who laid the groundwork for an “officially” Catholic system of economics, distributism. We can move forward bravely by reading the fruits of bishops’ conferences and statements by the Vatican’s various social justice officers. As we proceed, compiling divinely approved answers to each burning current question, we can fill in the empty spaces of politics and economics, then present it to a rudderless world like a completed crossword puzzle. …
    /
    The big problem with bishops and popes weighing in on immigration, economics, or climatology: It’s outside their competence. They have no special knowledge. Or authority. So they become like a traffic cop who stops you — to offer you orthodontic advice. Or like a Hollywood starlet testifying before Congress. The human temptation in such situations: shrill and reckless moralism instead of morality.
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    Let’s say that all you understand about an issue is the part that you’re upset about. Sometimes it works to pound your fist and insist that it’s the only part that matters. That’s human, all too human. Not divine.
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    Even on moral issues, bishops and popes only claim protection from error in a few narrowly circumscribed situations. To wit:
    /
    When they repeat, almost verbatim, some apostolic teaching (like the Church’s ancient abhorrence of abortion). And
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    When they invoke the protection of infallibility in a council or ex cathedra statement.
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    There has never been a papal ex cathedra statement on politics, economics, or empirical science. There probably never will be. The pope or the bishops might be right to (say) condemn socialism or approve of immigration. But there’s no divine guarantee.
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    MYTH THREE: OCEANIA HAS ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH EURASIA
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    Some people crave divine certainty. Others feel tempted to make Catholicism into an all-purpose ideology. Or the creed of a pugnacious tribe. So they make mistakes typical of tribalists and ideologues. They stuff inconvenient facts down the Memory Hole. They pretend that outright reversals are “adjustments” or “developments.” They imagine that when the facts don’t match the theory, so much the worse for the facts.
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    On a decent-sized list of subjects, popes and councils over the centuries have taught plainly different things. Those teachings are different because the Church is not a rigid ideology but a living body. Hence She’s capable of learning. When the underlying realities of economics or politics change, the Church responds — if slowly.
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    That doesn’t happen with fundamental doctrines. Those were taught to us from heaven. They reside there, unchanged and unchanging. But it does happen with real-world applications of core moral principles.
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    Whole books have been written on each of the following subjects. But as my old article said: It’s only honest to say that the Church’s application of moral principles changed radically on the following:
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    Lending at interest. Condemned for centuries by popes and councils (Clement V; Lateran II, III, IV & V) as usury, a sin against nature akin to sodomy (Dante, following Aquinas, put bankers alongside pederasts in Hell). …. Pius VIII and Pius XII each allowed for lending at interest, and the Vatican runs its own bank, which charges interest.
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    Several popes (Gregory I, Urban II, Nicholas V, Paul III) explicitly allowed for the owning of slaves by Christians and Pope Pius IX’s Holy Office was still defending the moral licitness of slave-owning as late as 1866. … The Catechism of the Catholic Church now calls the practice “intrinsically evil.”
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    Religious liberty. A long list of papal statements in the 18th and 19th centuries … reaffirmed the positive duty of Catholic rulers, whenever prudent, to repress and punish heretics. This is completely contradicted by the Second Vatican Council.
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    In service of the repression of heresy, countless popes were knowingly complicit in the use of torture to extract confessions, and a means of execution (burning at the stake). Pope Innocent IV explicitly called for such use of torture. The Catechism of the Catholic Church now teaches that torture is intrinsically evil (2297
    ).

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    Is the fact that the Holy See changed course on such issues a scandal? It shouldn’t be. The Church is not an oracle that produces new divine revelations. Nor did Christ issue popes a crystal ball to see the future. Popes do their best to apply revelation and the rationally-knowable principles of natural law to particular cases. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes the facts change radically, and new answers are needed.
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    SOME QUESTIONS ARE OPEN. MANY ARE CLOSED.
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    The way we know the limits of divine guidance over Church statements is by looking back retrospectively. The Body of Faith that all Catholics should believe (sometimes called the Ordinary Magisterium) consists of beliefs that meet one of two criteria:
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    They were taught infallibly by a council or pope. Or:
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    They’ve been affirmed universally by the Church since the age of the apostles.

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    Let’s say that something has never been decided infallibly. We might still consider it settled. But a Church council or pope could come along and reexamine it. That in itself would disrupt the consensus of the ages. It would tell us that the subject is not part of the Body of Faith. It’s open to question, development, and change. That’s what happened on each of the four political or economic questions listed above. The Church can’t change its teaching on dogmatically settled issues. We consider some cases closed because of the witness of the Bible, the apostolic Church, and infallible Church statements. Those include abortion, polygamy, same-sex marriage, and genocide.

    None of this is a sign that the Church is incoherent. It just means that Church is alive. Wits used to quip that the Bourbon monarchy “learned nothing and forgot nothing.” That’s not the governing principle of Catholic Social Teaching.

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