Ex Cathedra

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POLITICS APRIL 6, 1992

Ex Cathedra

If Patrick Buchanan is anything, one might think, he's a good Catholic. Unlike other miscreant politicians (Mario Cuomo, for example), he's clearly true to the faith, loyal to the authority of the Church. Buchanan, like the Jesuit teachers of his youth, is often portrayed by the secular media as one of "the pope's Marines," fearlessly vying for the Church Militant against its foes. The man who has been quick to accuse other Catholics of straying from the faith is presented as beyond theological reproach.

He isn't. In fact, Pat Buchanan is profoundly at odds with the teachings of his Church on a host of social issues, from the role of women to the role of the Church in society. By comparing the candidate's positions with those affirmed by the Church during and after the Second Vatican Council -- the central affirmations of contemporary Catholicism -- one can see that Buchanan has rejected or ignored the full counsels of his faith. He's no more upright -- indeed he is far less obedient -- than most American Catholics in several critical areas.

Women. Buchanan's oft-cited comment that women are "less psychologically equipped to handle the business world" is made in opposition to the witness of his Church. For even as the Church has upheld monogamy and the nuclear family as inviolable and refused to ordain women as priests, it has endorsed the notion of women's equality. Vatican II, while affirming the traditional Catholic view in which marriage and motherhood are fundamental to women's "particular nature," nonetheless noted with approval that modern women "claim parity with men in fact as well as in rights," and saw in "these claims ... the sign of a deeper and more widespread aspiration," namely that to holiness. Stating the "Urgent Duties of Christians in Regard to Culture," the council called "everyone to see to it that woman's specific and necessary participation in cultural life be acknowledged and fostered." Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Vatican II position in a 1987 encyclical, stating further that "the Church gives thanks for ... women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened with a great social responsibility." And in the second preliminary draft of their forthcoming pastoral letter on women, the U.S. bishops deplored instances of "unequal treatment [of women] in the marketplace" as "unjust actions contradictory to the vision of rights and freedoms Christ offers" and even credited the women's movement as representing in part "the universal call to holiness." Admittedly, the release of the pastoral has been delayed by disputes between liberal and conservative prelates about the nature and scope of its message; even so, the words of the second draft suggest the depth of support for women's rights even in the moderate-to-conservative Catholic hierarchy that has emerged under John Paul II.

Jews and Judaism. Buchanan's claim that Jews entertain "group fantasies of martyrdom" and his praise of Hitler as "an individual of great courage" are by now notorious. Regrettably, these remarks have been seen by some as explicit evidence of Catholic anti-Semitism that they have discerned or encountered elsewhere. Not only anti-Semitism, however, but insensitivity toward Jews is deplored by Buchanan's Church. In Vatican II the Church urged its people "to enter with prudence and charity" into dialogue with members of other religions. In particular it spoke of Catholics' relations with Jews; acknowledging the "common spiritual heritage" of Christians and Jews, it called for shared biblical and theological inquiry and for "friendly discussions." A subsequent Vatican document lamented the "frequent confrontation" of the past 2,000 years, and stressed that "the mass media" are vital means of interreligious education. Buchanan, in contrast, has often depicted Catholic-Jewish relations -- especially over sensitive issues such as the Holocaust -- in almost pugilistic terms.

Racial minorities. Vatican II put forth the vision of a universal church, and with it a human society, in which "no inequality arising from race or nationality, social condition or sex should exist." Subsequent statements by the Vatican and the U.S. bishops have spelled out the demands of such a vision upon the Church in the modern world -- demands with which Buchanan's views are wildly at odds. While Buchanan has suggested that Zulus would find it hard to assimilate into American society and derided a (presumably black) Washington resident for playing "bongo drums" on the sidewalk, the 1988 Vatican document The Church and Racism called for all peoples to "recognize the diversity and complementarity of one another's cultural riches," and John Paul II, in an address titled "To Build Peace, Respect Minorities," stressed that "the right of minorities to preserve and develop their own culture" must be safeguarded. Whereas Buchanan has lamented the "flood tide of immigration" that has transformed the Washington of his youth, John Paul II celebrated immigration throughout his 1987 U.S. pilgrimage, citing California, for example, as "a haven for immigrants, a new home for refugees." In a homily at Dodger Stadium in 1987, the pope applauded Los Angeles precisely for its diversity, noting that "today in the Church in Los Angeles, Christ is Anglo and Hispanic, Christ is Chinese and black, Christ is Vietnamese and Irish, Christ is Korean and Italian ..." The Church has also called U.S. immigration policy "neither workable nor morally acceptable," and urged Congress to liberalize immigration laws so that they might "truly reflect the American commitment to social and economic justice for all."

Homosexuals and AIDS. Here, contrary to much secular impression, Buchanan is also way out of line. In a column about "Catholic-bashing" and last year's St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City, Buchanan proposed that about "male sodomy and lesbianism, the traditional Catholic teaching is well known"; in an earlier column, he didn't even bother to invoke Catholic teaching, reviling "sodomites" on the basis of "common sense and the wisdom of the ages." Had he developed the Catholic teaching in any detail, however, his own position would have crumbled. To be sure, the Vatican's 1975 "Declaration on Certain Problems of Sexual Ethics" says that homosexual acts are "necessarily and essentially disordered," grounding this in biblical injunctions against homosexuality and in the "traditional teaching that only in legitimate marriage does the use of the sexual faculty find its true meaning and its probity." But it says too that homosexuals' "culpability will be judged prudently," and that moral zeal must "go hand in hand with tolerance and charity." In particular, "all in whose hands are the means of social communication ... must be circumspect, prudent, and moderate and must display sound judgment." A 1986 Vatican document on "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" reiterates the stand against homosexual acts but deplores "violent malice" against homosexuals "in speech or in action," noting that "such treatment deserves condemnation ... [as it] reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society."

 

 

On AIDS, Buchanan is the least Catholic of all. His anti-gay views and belief that AIDS is divine retribution for homosexuality are well known. Vatican II, of course, said nothing about AIDS, but since the 1980s the Church has spoken about the subject at length, with American bishops being especially strenuous in their reflections. In 1987 Buchanan's own bishop, Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, wrote to inform priests that another priest of the diocese had died of AIDS, noting that "Father Michael's death challenges us to reach out to those with AIDS with renewed conviction and caring. This is a time for prayer, compassion, and sympathy, not judgment or sensationalism." Speaking to people with AIDS that year, John Paul II stressed that "God loves those of you who are suffering from AIDS and AIDS-related complex.... Compassion -- love -- toward persons infected with hiv is the only authentic Gospel response." And addressing diplomats in Tanzania about AIDS in 1991, the pope declared that the threat of AIDS "is so great that indifference on the part of public authorities, condemnatory or discriminatory practices toward those affected ... should be considered forms of collaboration in this terrible evil which has come upon humanity."

Positions of this sort are grounded in an essentially social model of the Church -- one that balances authority with compassion, urges the believer to undertake public acts of justice and mercy, and employs social services to meet human needs. Buchanan has derided such a model of the Church, saying that its gospel of social action must have been "picked up in the vestibule of the first church of Christ, Socialist." In this, he is in conflict not only with the Vatican II Church but with its reading of the whole Christian tradition. For John Paul II, invoking the first of the Church's "social encyclicals" and quoting from his own encyclical on labor, has said that "the social dimension was `from the beginning part of the Church's teaching, her concept of man and life in society, and especially the social morality which she worked out according to the needs of the different ages.'" With his nativism, his willingness to define tradition in the narrowest sense, his rhetorical ill will, and his dismissal of any outlook other than his as "the Church Milquetoast," Buchanan not only perpetuates an ugly stereotype of American Catholics but cleaves to a vision of the Church radically different from the Church that exists -- and to which Catholics owe fidelity -- today. In doing so, Buchanan is within his rights of dissent. But he is not within his rights to claim that he speaks for the Church, or that the views he holds are representative of Catholic orthodoxy. For the vast majority of believing American Catholics, Buchanan is an acute embarrassment. And from the point of view of Rome itself, he is in open revolt.

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posted in: politics, religion, social issues, washington, hitler, john paul ii, mario cuomo, pat buchanan, patrick buchanan, paul ii

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