by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This column will follow on last week’s where there was not enough room to round out the topic – the misuse of religious sites and symbols for political purposes. The issue, I believe, is important for Pax Christi USA members and for us as a national Catholic peace movement; not that we would let ourselves be manipulated in any such way, but for us to be aware of and respond to the struggle this represents in Church and society today.
It has been reported that Archbishop Wilton Gregory has received some 4000 messages protesting his strong condemnation of those who allowed Mr. Trump to make a public visit to the St. John Paul II Shrine.
The strange Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano took serious issue with Archbishop Gregory for his rebuke and praised President Trump. In an (alleged) letter directed to Trump on June 7, he wrote, “For the first time, the United States has in you a President who courageously defends the right to life…” [I use “alleged” here because I find it difficult to believe that, whatever we think of Vigano, he would actually write such a letter. It would be good if one had the time to find where LifeSite, a hard-right supposedly Catholic news outlet, got hold of it.]
Another bizarre statement was reported recently in the National Catholic Reporter. Fr. Frank Pavone, leader of the anti-abortion organization, Priests For Life, said, in reference to hearing Trump speak: “It’s the Emmaus experience: ‘Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us?’”
All of this to say that there is serious push-back from sectors on the far-right of the Church against what all of us consider compelling insights derived from Catholic Social Teaching. The danger in the American context is that large numbers of good Catholics agree with this opposition thinking that it defends the right to life. This may well translate into a sizable segment of Catholics voting for Trump and others like him as pro-life candidates in this year’s election. In a wider sense it is another ominous example of Christian people allowing themselves to be used for political purposes. Pax Christi USA, I believe, has a clear obligation to continue insisting by speaking, writing and acting on what is sane and healthy Catholic teaching, in this case about what pro-life really means. So, a few data by way of refreshing our memories.
Catholic moral teaching speaks of “intrinsically evil” actions or situations. Too often this phrase has been applied exclusively to one or two issues, principally abortion. However, given the Catholic view of “a consistent ethic of life” as our fundamental principle in these matters, the following guidelines for judging what is intrinsically evil are set out from no less an authority as the Second Vatican Council (The Church in the Modern World).
They are: whatever is hostile to life; whatever violates the integrity of the human person; whatever is offensive to human dignity.
Pope St. John Paul II in #80 of his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor, writing about actions or circumstances that are intrinsically evil, reiterates what the Council specifically named:
“[H]omicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide, mutilation, physical and mental torture, attempts to coerce the spirit, subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, trafficking in women and children, degrading conditions of work.”
Obviously similar violations of human dignity include war, sexism, racism, destruction of the planet – the list is lengthy. By this measure the current analysis of intrinsic evil on the part of the hard-right, political and ecclesiastical, falls far short of considering this complete ethic in its harsh condemnations of people who do not make the one issue, abortion, their sole criteria.
These are obviously excellent guidelines for helping one-issue Catholics and others when voting on political candidates. They seem particularly useful in assessing the pro-life credentials claimed by Trump and his administration.
All of this may strike us as elemental. We know these things. However, I believe that it’s important to recall and review this Catholic teaching, just as we periodically revisit all our important convictions and beliefs.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.