Quodlibets: Needing More Mores

A generic thing to be said in favor of the recent pastoral letters of our bishops, those published and those dying of a dozen drafts, is that they are efforts to stand in judgment on the world, to assess and appraise economic activity and weapons systems in the light of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.

It will be said that this has been less of a task because, in these matters, the bishops seem to have joined forces with the odd anti-Americanism that characterizes the media and thus may seem to have sided with one secular force against another, even with one politically partisan viewpoint against another. But let us for the moment dismiss such speculation as churlish.

It is a holy and wholesome thing for the Roman Catholic Church, the peculiar vehicle of mankind’s salvation, to make itself heard against the world. If we have had some of this, we need a good deal more. We particularly need it in areas where some Catholics seem to join the enemies of the Church and suggest that it is Christianity that is impeding the progress and happiness of the race.

The tragic Charles Curran goes on fighting for the view that self-abuse, marital infidelity, sexual promiscuity and perversion, even abortion and euthanasia, somehow fit into the commodious Christian ethic. He stands in increasing isolation now, and we must not cease praying that he stop for a moment and listen to what he is saying; but it is not easy to dismiss his plaintive claim that many others teach what he has taught. What is the nub of that teaching?


That Christian morality, as traditionally understood, as taught by the Church, stands in the way of human happiness and fulfillment.

Dear God. The condition of man’s salvation an impediment! Secular defenders of Father Curran have pointed out that he is in the modern mainstream, that his views sound perfectly ordinary, and so they do, to secular ears. So they do to the world that finds the good news a hard saying. There is nothing new in that. What is astounding is that some Catholic moral theologians have adopted the view of the world and portrayed the faith as the problem.

A similar situation obtains in the reaction of the heads of Catholic institutions of higher learning to the schema Cardinal Baum circulated, a sketch for an authoritative document on the nature of Catholic colleges and universities. What has been the response?

That Cardinal Baum has confronted these institutions with a tragic choice between being universities and being Catholic.

Once again, the faith, the magisterium of the Church, is seen as an impediment, this time to the pursuit of truth. No more vivid proof could be had of how advanced is the secularization of the minds of Catholic intellectuals. The Roman Catholic Church, the mother of universities, an obstacle to an institution’s being a university in the full sense? What on earth is meant by that?

Perhaps our presidents have accepted the secular notion that there is an enmity between the truths God has revealed and the truths that can be discovered by our natural powers? One misses the robust faith of a Jacques Maritain who took almost as a motto the phrase Philosophandum in fide. The intellectual life flourishes in the ambience of the faith, as an aspect of the spiritual life. The use of the mind does not call for schizophrenia in the believer, faith on one side, learning on the other, and never the twain shall meet.

But there is worse. The resistance to the schema invokes the specter of the loss of public funding. Having echoed the secular notion that the university enjoys a total autonomy, we are told what the courts will permit our universities to do, if we are to receive public funding.

Prisoners, we are told, develop a twisted affection for those who torture them. It is a feature of political trials that the accused outdoes the prosecutor in vilifying himself. These analogies may seem extreme and perhaps they are. Perhaps they are not extreme enough.

Catholic moral theologians defending people from the obstacle of salvation.

Heads of Catholic institutions accepting the view that the faith, the magisterium, the Roman Catholic Church, is a threat to the university.

We have so many Cardinal Wolseys now. Is there to be no St. Thomas More?

Ralph McInerny


Ralph McInerny was a popular writer, philosopher, and teacher, as well as the co-founder of Crisis Magazine. He passed away on January 29, 2010.

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