About a dozen years ago, in the wake of the sex-abuse scandal that descended on the Archdiocese of Boston, a group known as Voice of the Faithful (VOF) was formed. Ostensibly, its purpose was to work for greater accountability and justice for victims – all worthy goals. But VOF was soon captured by the usual gaggle of dissenters, who saw in VOF a platform to push their left-liberal agenda on the Church: women priests, popular election of bishops, changes in the Church’s teaching on sexuality, and so on. In response, I formed a little local group called Fidelity Forum. We saw it as our mission to write editorials and attend VOF’s public meetings in order to witness to the authentic teaching of the Church on matters that had nothing to do with accountability or justice for victims.
A nearby parish had become something of ground zero for VOF in our area. At one meeting, the discussion topic was doing away with the Petrine office, which the moderator claimed was a fourth century innovation. I stood and made a case for the papacy based on Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and admonished the priest who was hosting the event. The moderator, a layman, got very angry and accused me of wanting to “take the Church back to the Dark Ages” in order to “kickstart the Inquisition.” He explained to the group that I was an Ultramontanist who didn’t understand the spirit of Vatican II, and was in all likelihood fixated on my “daddy figure” in Rome.
These caricatures and accusations were not unexpected, of course. It’s what liberals of both the right and left do best, particularly when confronted with the disconnection between their secular, rationalist vision of the good society and the truth about what the West has become and, more importantly, where it’s headed. They really have the same story to tell, and the formula for telling it is always the same: “Catholicism minus the Enlightenment equals the Inquisition.” Sure, the objects of liberty are different for left-liberals and right-liberals: the former are focused on sexual and social liberties, while the latter are largely consumed by economic and political rights. But what they share is a common vocabulary as well as a philosophical anthropology, which Pope Paul VI summed up neatly as “an erroneous affirmation of the autonomy of the individual in his activity, his motivation and the exercise of his liberty.”
Given their superficial differences, it is perhaps no surprise that both camps fail to recognize each other as brothers beneath the skin. So, in order to facilitate a breakthrough moment of clarity, I offer a formula of my own: classical liberalism equals modern liberalism. The former is the feedstock of the latter, providing both a point of view, as well as a lexicon for expressing it. And the two often overlap: just consider this choice nugget from Murray Rothbard, economist of the Austrian School and co-founder of the Ludwig von Mises Institute:
“The proper groundwork for analysis of abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the fetus … Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.”