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The Illiberal Catholic Catechism

MatthiasKabel / Wikimedia

John Zmirak - published on 04/15/14 - updated on 06/07/17

Q: Are you saying that the state’s right to torture and execute Protestants is an infallible truth of faith or morals, which the bishops of the Church and Pope Paul VI somehow failed to recognize when they issued Dignitatis Humanae? So the Society of St. Pius X is right, and Pope Benedict XVI was defending heresy when he refused to accept them back into communion unless they acknowledged this point?

A: Dignitatis Humanae is a profoundly ambiguous document.  It is hard to tell what it means, if it means anything at all.  Remember that it states that the Council maintains the traditional teaching about the “duties of societies” toward the true religion.

Q: Are you a totalitarian? You know, along the lines of Benito Mussolini, who proclaimed, “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”?

A: Of course not. Mussolini was an anti-clerical, whose father was a Freemason.

Q: You do realize that only totalitarians equate “society” and “state.” The classical definition of society includes the family and all sorts of other voluntary associations—including the Church, but also clubs, fraternities, labor unions, and the whole rich fabric of what political scientists call “civil society.” When the Council Fathers wrote that “society” owed allegiance to the truth, they were stating a simple fact—that everyone ought to acknowledge the kingship of Christ. They were not saying that people who didn’t fulfill this duty deserved to be tortured until they confessed, then burned at the stake and put into prison.  Since in the same document the bishops of the Church, with papal approval, said that using state coercion to override people’s consciences violated the natural law—again, like adultery or perjury—isn’t it disrespectful of a universal council of the Church to assume that their statement was meaningless, or self-contradictory, or some piece of public relations that the Church would later stuff into the memory hole?

A: You are engaged in a neo-Catholic apologetic for the Americanist Catholicism of the 1950s which no longer exists, and which led directly to abortion on demand, homosexual “marriage,” and the radical imbalance of wealth in America that denies proper compensation to those who teach the liberal arts.

Q: Who would you call the authoritative interpreter of the Council—the popes who presided over it and those who came after it, and the Catechism they published? Or a network of bloggers?

A: Perhaps we serve the role of the faithful laity, which also preserved the Church from Arianism in the time of St. Athanasius.

Q: Did a Church council ever teach Arianism?

A: No.

Q: Was the only opponent of Arianism a band of schismatically consecrated bishops and illicitly ordained priests?

A: There’s a first time for everything.

Q: What confuses me is the fact that you point to the American vision of freedom as the greatest danger to the Church, when in fact the Church’s enemies are throwing that vision of freedom onto the trash heap, in order to hasten the persecution of the Church—and the Church’s friends are citing such freedom in the Church’s defense.

A: The American notion of freedom is profoundly corrupt, and lies at the heart of all the evils we face today.

Q: Is there an alternative political theory out there that anyone, anyone at all outside of infinitesimal Catholic circles, finds attractive, that would protect the Church’s liberty?

A: That is beside the point.

Q: Hasn’t the Church historically taken whatever is true in the secular world, used it as a common ground by which to approach the unbelievers, and tried to baptize and elevate it—rather than tear it all down and start from scratch in a barren wasteland. Wasn’t Augustine a patriotic Roman citizen? Or did he endorse the barbarian invasions in some text that you have uncovered from secret archives?

A: There is no call for sarcasm. The situation was different then.  The Roman state endorsed the use of authority in defense of the Good, but merely had an imperfect vision of the Good. The American system has no notion of the Good at all.  It is inherently nihilistic, and ought to collapse. Once it is gone, we can figure out what to construct in its place.

Q: Isn’t the classical liberal notion of freedom an outgrowth of the elevated Christian notion of the person, and the deep moral significance of his freedom and his conscience? Those seem to me like good things that the Romans knew nothing about. Was Pope John Paul II merely deluded when he praised those things in Memory and Identity? Was he being disingenuous when he apologized, on behalf of the Church, for the times that Catholics had violated those goods?

A: None of those statements by Pope John Paul II were infallible.

Q: But were they wrong?

A: Profoundly wrong.

Q: So do you think Catholics should stop fighting policies like the HHS mandate by citing the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty?

A: Not at all. If such arguments help advance the interests of the Church and her power in society, then it is prudent to use them—until we can cast them aside.

Q: And reveal to our Protestant and Jewish neighbors that in fact were merely wearing a kind of mask, asking for a freedom that we never intended to grant to them?

A: Yes—won’t that be a funny surprise?  “When you are the stronger I ask you for my freedom, for that is your principle; when I am the stronger I take away your freedom, for that is my principle."

Q: Of course, since our neighbors aren’t idiots, isn’t it more likely that attitudes like yours will simply help to discredit those of us who actually support religious freedom, and hasten the persecution of Catholics—including the 99 percent of us who do accept Vatican II?

A: The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.  

John Zmirakis an author and editor based in New York City. His columns are archived at The Bad Catholic’s Bingo Hall.

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PoliticsReligious Freedom
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