Editorial: Domesticated Catholic Politicians

It is as if A Man For All Seasons were being rewritten with Cromwell in the role of hero, the triumph of the trimmer being presented as a model of Catholic behavior. Thomas More, a pitiable figure, imagines that his conscience should dictate actions and omissions in the public order. He would actually prefer saving his soul to being chief tax collector in Wales. Mario Cromwell knew better, of course, and a theological monitum from Teddy Kennedy seals the matter. Thomas More, saint, martyr, is merely the delayed victim of his own intolerance.

The domesticated Catholic politician is a phenomenon one would like to pass over in decent silence, but the beast insists on going about seeking whom he/she might devour. Weakness is widespread and it would be un-Christian not to forgive a fall from grace. But this is weakness claiming the name of strength and courage. The Catholic politician now does our enemy’s work for him and expects to be honored for his treachery.

In the United States today, there are Catholic politicians who go before the electorate and solemnly avow that their religious beliefs will not lead them to do anything your run-of-the-mill secular humanist would not do. They participate in the not too subtle campaign which sees religious belief as a menace to society. The buzz word (cf. Theodore Kennedy, S.T.D.) is “intolerance.” The domesticated, assimilated Catholic politician agrees that religion is a danger to the republic, including his own religion, especially his belief as a Catholic that abortion is a sin and a crime. He unctuously assures the massed media that, while he firmly believes with his coreligionists that abortion is wrong, no one need fear that he will stop the carnage.

Consider, by way of comparison, Hilaire Belloc when he first ran for Parliament in a riding not known for its openness to Catholics. The episode is recounted in Robert Speaight’s biography and quoted in A.N. Wilson’s more recent one.

The clergy had warned him that the religious question was going to be very tricky for him, and that he had better say nothing about it. He proudly disregarded their advice. He rose to address the packed audience and spoke as follows:

“Gentlemen, I am a Catholic. As far as possible, I go to Mass every day. This (taking a rosary out of his pocket) is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative.”

There was a hush of astonishment, followed by a thunder-clap of applause.

Belloc won the election.

It will be said that that was in another country, that times have changed. It could well be said that Bellocs are rare in any time. It is doubtful that he, any more than St. Thomas More, appeals to the domesticated Catholic politician as a model. Think of what mincemeat Belloc would make of Mario Cuomo’s self-justification. The Governor portrays himself as not morally justified to impose his moral beliefs on others. Alas, his condition is otherwise. He is acquiescing in the imposition on him of the moral beliefs of others, moral beliefs he holds to be profoundly wrong. If his only recourse as Governor of New York is to implement the policy of abortion or resign, it is clear what he should do. Belloc again:

My religion is of course of greater moment to me by far than my politics, or any other interest could be, and if I had to choose between two policies, one of which would certainly injure my religion and the other certainly advance it, I would not for a moment hesitate between the two.

Surely it is a libel against the republic and the state of New York to say that all legal efforts to stem the tide of abortion jeopardize some mythical common consensus which holds the domesticated Catholic politician in thrall as the teachings of his Church do not. The fact is that the DCP does not want to change the law. Mario Cuomo argues that every effort, by way of legislation or constitutional amendment or referendum, must be eschewed. Because we are all abortionists now. It is national policy.

One who believes that abortion is a sin and a crime will not waste his time devising apologias for it.

One should not trade his soul for the whole world. But for Wales? But for New York?

  • 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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