Covering the Papacy(Reprinted from the issue of May 26, 2005)
A few days ago I picked up two very readable but liberal and anti-Catholic magazines, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, both of which featured long articles on the papacy. I didnt expect any surprises, let alone a happy one.
The piece in Vanity Fair was a long, tiresome attack on the papacy of John Paul II. The author, billed as an expert on the Vatican, was John Cornwell, famed for his book maliciously portraying Pius XII as Hitlers Pope an epithet that would have startled Pius, whom Hitlers own circle dismissed as a mouthpiece of the Jews for his protests against racial persecution.
Cornwells new article merely continues the assault on John Paul that was already begun in Hitlers Pope. It complains that the late Pope didnt fulfill the promise of the Second Vatican Council a promise that only liberals heard, a promise to repeal the very teachings the Council expressly reaffirmed.
Among other things among many other things Cornwell accuses John Paul of Gnosticism. Now I know just enough about Gnosticism to see that Cornwell doesnt understand what it means; and I doubt that he really cares. A Gnostic Pope? Preserving orthodoxy isnt exactly a liberal priority; and Cornwell shows a certain audacity in objecting to the Polish Pope for being too traditional and unorthodox at the same time.
By now it should be obvious that liberals are forever beating around the bush. They complain about the Vaticans doctrine on birth control or divorce or women priests when they really want to deny that Jesus rose from the dead. But of course that would give the game away, so they confine their criticism of the Church to narrower questions, even as they write books on a fictional historical Jesus who never said or did the things He has always been worshiped for.
This same mindset naturally gives centrality to an equally fictional Vatican II that interrupted, rather than continued, the Churchs Tradition. And so the Church is said to betray or reverse the Council whenever she affirms that Tradition.
The Lost Power of Liberalism
After reading Cornwells piece, I turned to The New Yorker article with foreboding. The Popes U.S. Strategy, boomed the cover headline. Benedict XVI wants a more fervent, orthodox, evangelical Church even if it drives people away. Will Americans go for it? Peter J. Boyer reports. Uh-oh!
The article began more or less as I feared and expected. Boyer spoke of the fundamentalism shared by John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger; cited the usual opinion polls showing that most American Catholics favored liberalization on contraception, married priests, divorce, and so forth; and quoted the usual suspects, Charles Curran and Richard McBrien, making waspish comments about John Pauls pontificate.
But by the end of the article I was elated. Boyer also let the orthodox have their say, and the sheer force and cogency of the quotations from Archbishop Charles Chaput (one of the worst bishops appointed by John Paul, says McBrien), Fr. Benedict Groeschel, and other enemies of watered-down Catholicism shifted the balance of the whole piece.
Boyer himself candidly acknowledged that liberal churches, including the mainline Protestant ones, have been declining in appeal, while the most orthodox and demanding have been gaining. (Is there such a thing as a lapsed Episcopalian?) Fr. Groeschels strict reform community of the Capuchin Franciscans has hardly been able to accommodate all the new members it has attracted.
Liberalism has lost its power to inspire young people, and this fact still baffles liberals. What they once assumed was the wave of the future has turned out to be a fad of the past among the novelties Cardinal Ratzinger warned against, a novelty that can now be seen for what it always was, even at the peak of its vigor. Permissiveness may excite and seduce, but it cant really inspire.
Boyer is the only liberal journalist Ive read who grasps the relevant nuances. He doesnt accuse John Paul II and Benedict XVI of rejecting or reversing Vatican II; he understands that Catholics have been divided over the real meaning of the Council, and he never assumes that the liberal interpretation must be the right one.
The result is a piece of journalism that is both accurate and stimulating. In fact Boyer notes that it was a Francis X. Murphy, under the pseudonym Xavier Rynne, who by 1965 had promulgated an influential but misleading picture of the Council in The New Yorker itself. Yet even Rynne had admitted that the Council had made no radical changes in the Church, though he hoped that in the course of time it would remake the face of Catholicism. This has been the hope of liberals ever since.
One striking fact about the liberal and orthodox Catholic voices Boyer quotes is that one side appeals to progress to the alleged spirit or atmosphere of the Council while the other appeals to fidelity to Christ. One side speaks of social progress, the other of personal sanctity. Its probably unnecessary to say which is which.
A political footnote to the above is that in 2004, the Methodist George W. Bush got more Catholic votes than his nominally Catholic opponent, John Kerry, who apparently got his understanding of Catholicism from the secularist liberal press, where social progress is everything and personal sanctity is nothing. He thought Catholic voters wouldnt mind if a divorced, pro-abortion Catholic candidate (remarried outside the Church) went to Communion.
They minded. Maybe some of their bishops didnt mind, but the people in the pews did. And the Democrats are finally realizing that the Catholic vote isnt entirely a thing of a bygone era. As Boyer reports, Bush himself has credited his re-election to the influence of the bishops appointed by John Paul II.
(McBrien complains that there are a lot of Catholics who probably thought it was a sin if they voted for Kerry.)
Recall that in 1992 the Democrats wouldnt allow Pennsylvanias Catholic, anti-abortion governor Bob Casey to speak at their national convention. They wont make that mistake again. From 1928, when they nominated the Catholic Al Smith, to 1960, when they nominated John Kennedy, the Catholic vote was not only theirs, it was the partys electoral backbone.
After that, they contemptuously frittered it away as the Republicans became the Catholic-friendly party. Now the Democrats want the Catholics back.
So one of the seismic effects of the papacy of John Paul II has been a partial realignment of American politics. He was unmoved by what the opinion polls said American Catholics wanted, and his indifference to politics his emphasis on sanctity has changed political reality in this country. This is the opposite of what John Cornwell would have us believe he says John Paul was a media hound who courted personal popularity but Peter Boyer has proved a far better reporter.
SOBRANS salutes a forgotten giant of Hollywoods golden age. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.
Already a subscriber? Consider a gift subscription for a priest, friend, or relative.
|Copyright © 2005 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission
Archive Table of Contents
Return to the SOBRANS home page
Wanderer is available by subscription. Write for
SOBRANS and Joe Sobrans columns are available by subscription. Details are available on-line; or call 800-513-5053; or write Fran Griffin.
|FGF E-Package columns by Joe Sobran, Sam Francis, Paul Gottfried, and others are available in a special e-mail subscription provided by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. Click here for more information.|