We must meet sinners where they are, says Pope Francis, and that’s true. But where are they now, in the Western world? The Church is a field hospital, he says, and that’s true. But what are the patients dying of? We must accept the documents of Vatican II, he says. I accept them. They are far better than I had feared. They did not ignore the tectonic shift the world was undergoing, the shift that has left cultures, parishes, families, and individual persons in ruin. They did not make light of the collapse in sexual mores that I have called the Lonely Revolution.
Many people say that if we evaluate Vatican II by what it claimed to be, a pastoral council, aimed at evangelizing an increasingly secular and therefore inhuman world, it was a failure. The statistics speak for themselves, they say. Its defenders are left in an awkward position. They must claim what they cannot know, that the Church would have been far worse off otherwise. I do not dwell in the counterfactual subjunctive. I do not know what would have been, nor am I sure that such a thing exists as an object to know.
The lifeline for a benign view of the Council, as I see it, has been a negative: the Holy Spirit protected the Church from casting its lot with what has been a colossal failure, one that has exceeded the worst predictions of the gloomiest pessimists then alive. The Western world abandoned a moral vision regarding marriage and family—a vision that was lofty, noble, rational, effectual, constructive of culture, bountifully conducive to the common good, and apt to direct the minds and hearts of individual believers to things divine—for a vision that is base, cowardly, irrational, dysfunctional, solvent of culture, destructive of the common good, and apt to mire the minds and hearts of half-believers and unbelievers in things earthly, transient, disillusioning, and dead.
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But now it appears that that connection is going to be made, nearly sixty years later, when all the evidence is in. Change the field of action from sex to bloodshed. Imagine that we had collapsed back into training slaves for gladiatorial combats, for the amusement of millions. Would we then say we must understand that any given gladiator, trainer, slaver, popcorn seller, swordsmith, blade sharpener, ticket taker, and fan may be so intricately involved in the deeds that he might not be culpable in the eyes of God? Perhaps—for that is nothing other than saying that we do not judge souls.
Would we go further, and say that you can be a good spreader of sand on the spilled blood, and God may praise you for it? Would we have special Gladiator Days in church? “Flavius!” says the priest in the vestibule. “How good to see you! Great sword you’ve got there. And is this your little Marcus? Not so little anymore! In training already? How time does fly!”
Those who wish to make the fatal connection between Vatican II and the Lonely Revolution say they have not rejected any teaching of the Church. But to decline to reject, in words, is one thing, and effectively rejecting, in commission or omission, is another. They will say they soft-pedal the sin because they do not want to put people off. We must not give Flavius the idea that he must choose between Christ and his living. Get Flavius into church first, and then—what? Where are the doctors then, to work on that terminal case?
But because they focus only on the individual sinner, and only to exculpate him or to give him the comfortable feeling that he is not much to blame—he might even merit praise, Flavius might—they miss four critical things, which I shall enumerate here.
First, they miss the reality of the evil, and the work it must necessarily do upon those who embrace it. You may not be entirely to blame if you eat poisoned food, but the poison will work. Flavius has a clear conscience, that is to say a dormant conscience, about his bloodshed. He is not guilty of conscious hatred of God. But he is still a killer, and his soul is steeped in it, like dye. He is not at all the man he would be if he lived in a genuinely Christian society, even a society full of sinners. His imagination is formed and deformed by what he has done. He sees the blood spurting in his sleep.
Second, they miss the victims of the evil. In Flavius’ case, it is hard to miss all the victims; there is that corpse in the arena to deal with. But with the Lonely Revolution, it is apparently easy to miss all the victims. Unborn children are cut to ribbons mostly out of sight, and then the remains are deposited in biohazard bags. The children of divorce are pressured to say all the pleasant things about a parent or parents who have sawn them in half. The boy never grows up to be a real man; he sinks into lassitude, sullenness, or crime; and then he is but a statistic.
Young people who do not violate the moral law can hardly find someone decent to marry; their color on the rainbow is ultraviolet, because they are quite invisible. The moral structure of pedophilia, as I have said, is that the welfare of children must be subordinated to the sexual pleasure of adults. When you put it that way, we all look like a filthy and sorry lot.
Third, they miss the implications of the evil, which are both logical and social. Evil dissolves its makeshift container. The evil premise of the Lonely Revolution was that whatever consenting adults, man and woman, do with their bodies is morally permissible, and so it is none of anyone else’s business. It is solipsism and idiotism to the tenth power. It has not been contained.
The principle of utter selfishness has infected other features of our no longer common life. Old television commercials sold goods on two grounds: they worked, or they would make you happy. New television commercials sell goods to narcissists: if you buy this, you will express yourself. You want what you want, and you need not consider anybody else. You are the center of your world.
Just as the world that pats Flavius on the back and lets him take Communion one day after a memorable performance in the Colosseum is going to be a hard-hearted and cruel world, regardless of what it thinks about itself, so the world of the Lonely Revolution has come to be crass, ugly, confused, and dispirited. Men and women are so far now from looking upon one another with gratitude for the other sex that our eight-hundred-year-old tradition of love songs seems to have come to an abrupt and angry end. Ask a young person to sing a tender love song. “A what?” he says, as if you had asked him to get up a horse and buggy.
Finally, they miss the evil of the evil, its falsehood, its attempt to say, in the heart, that there is no God. When you are in the presence of something holy, the right response is to submit to it, to be taught by it, to take your direction from it, to regard it with awe, honor, reverence, and gratitude.
The human body is holy: it was fashioned by the hand of God. Its being-male and being-female is holy. The sexual powers are sacred because they are aimed toward bringing into being a new human person, a being endowed with a soul that can find its fulfillment only in God. It is a tremendous power, to shelter in your body the capacity to engender that new person, the power of fatherhood, the power of motherhood. How do we treat this power? With a shrug, with contempt. Tools for pleasure, that’s all. Now try, just try, getting someone contemptuous of the holiness marked upon his body to sense the holiness of the God he cannot see.
The Council itself—I mean the documents, which are all that I am held to—was guilty of none of this. If the official Church now takes this path of accommodation to a culture that no longer is one, if the Church will bind herself to a lie, then it is she who is in schism with the Council, and with the truth.
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