April 02, 2007

If the Antichrist will be a pacifist, as Giacomo Cardinal Biffi (following Vladimir Solovyov) argued in his recent Lenten meditation for the papal household, is the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, positioning himself as the Second Coming?

Santorum made his name as a social conservative, championing traditional positions on abortion, homosexuality, and marriage, and not a few viewed him and former Virginia senator George Allen as the great conservative hopes for the 2008 presidential election”€”that is, until their defeats in the 2006 midterm election by antiwar Democrats Bob Casey, Jr., and Jim Webb.

Santorum was a “values” candidate, but he had blurred those values back in 2004, when he supported Arlen Specter, the incumbent, in the Republican primary for senator from Pennsylvania.  Specter’s opponent, Pat Toomey, had impeccable pro-life credentials; Specter is radically pro-abortion.  And, in the midst of the 2006 race, Santorum cosponsored a bill with Specter that he claimed would fund adult stem-cell research, but which pro-life leader Judie Brown revealed would actually legalize human cloning for the purpose of harvesting embryonic stem cells.

Most Catholic conservatives who bothered to take note were all too eager to explain away Santorum’s shifts on social positions, because, like him, they supported the rather antisocial positions of President Bush on the various conflicts in the Middle East.  Perhaps sensing this, Santorum ran his entire 2006 campaign as a referendum on the war in Iraq, culminating in the delivery of his “Gathering Storm” stump speech on the floor of the Senate on December 6, 2006, after his defeat:

Are we going to allow the wicked to rearm?  We paid a terrible price for waiting . . . If we learned anything from the 20th century, it should be this
lesson: When leaders say they are prepared to kill millions of people to achieve their goal, we must take them at their word. . . . This is the call of this generation.  This is America’s hour.  This is the hour that we need leadership, Churchillian leadership, who [sic] had a keen eye for the enemy and a resolve in spite of the political climate to confront it.  I ask my colleagues to stand and make this America’s finest hour.

While fancying himself a modern-day Churchill, this proud son of the Church paid not the slightest obeisance to traditional Catholic just-war theory, instead casting the war in Iraq as simply one theater in a broader civilizational struggle that, in his mind, justifies total war against a myriad of enemies, from Iran and Syria to Venezuela and North Korea (and possibly even Russia), whom he classifies as simply “evil.”  (Santorum, sad to say, makes David Frum look nuanced.)

Thus, it should come as no surprise that, after his electoral loss, Rick Santorum did not search for a job promoting the Catholic “values” upon which he had risen to power and fame; instead, he has taken a position as senior fellow at the neoconservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he established, and now directs, the “America’s Enemies” program (proposed motto: “Go Abroad, Searching for Monsters to Destroy”).  There have been almost 50 million abortions in the United States since 1973; but for this Catholic “social conservative,” the greatest threats to America just happen to be Iran and Syria”€”the same threats trumpeted by many a pro-abortion neoconservative.  (One wonders what other “values” they might share.)

That neoconservative organizations can afford to help politicians such as Santorum revise their hierarchy of values just reinforces the argument that Solovyov made a century ago: “Days will come in Christianity in which they will try to reduce the salvific event to a mere series of values.”  That reduction is long complete, and we have entered the next stage: the shedding of those “values” that individual “believers” no longer think”€”or, rather, “feel””€”are necessary for salvation.

Catholic conservatives used to argue that this was a phenomenon associated with “progressive” Catholicism, but ever since William F. Buckley, Jr., in his infamous “Mater Si, Magister No!” told American conservatives that they did not need to pay attention to the Church’s teachings, the American Catholic right has slid more and more into a “cafeteria Catholicism” that simply reflects, but does not instruct, the platform of the Republican Party.  For instance, Jody Bottum, the editor of First Things, has repeatedly criticized Pope Benedict XVI for being a “social democrat” because the Holy Father doesn’t embrace all of the excesses of capitalism (even though Benedict has yet to release a social encyclical).

Bottum’s colleague, Robert Miller, joined Bottum in attacking the Vatican for being insufficiently pro-Israeli during the shelling of Lebanon late last summer.  Bottum even characterized Benedict’s call for an immediate ceasefire as (in Miller’s words “a moral equivalence between Hezbollah, which intentionally kills civilians, and the Israelis, who in attempting to put an end to that sort of thing sometimes unintentionally kill civilians despite reasonable precautions.”  Needless to say, both Bottum and Miller have been strong advocates of the war in Iraq, despite the absolute opposition of both Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

“Social-values” Catholics who defend the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Israeli shelling of civilian targets in Lebanon have a quick answer: The application of just-war theory is, in the end, a prudential judgment.  Unfamiliar with traditional Catholic moral teaching, they believe that a “prudential judgment” is essentially a nonmoral judgment; but, as Father John Hardon correctly points out, prudence “is the intellectual virtue whereby a human being recognizes in any matter at hand what is good and what is evil.”  Prudence requires taking “counsel carefully with oneself and from others” and judging “correctly on the basis of the evidence at hand.”

In other words, prudence itself would require that, when the spiritual head of Christendom opposes the war you wish to launch, you take his opposition very seriously.  We might not be surprised that a non-Catholic President would feel no compunction in simply disregarding the direct and insistent appeal of Pope John Paul II to refrain from war; but what excuse do his Catholic supporters have?

Why, “values,” of course!  President Bush “shares our values”; those who oppose the war do not.  Therefore, supporting the war is part and parcel of stopping abortion and homosexual “marriage” and embryonic stem-cell research . . . Well, OK; maybe not that last one, since the founding editor of First Things, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, found President Bush’s 2003 “compromise” on embryonic stem-cell research to be “morally defensible,” even though it clearly violates Vatican teaching about the absolute immorality of using fetal tissue for scientific research.

Once we’ve reduced “the salvific event to a mere series of values,” the slippery slope is inevitable.  What does a little embryonic stem-cell research hurt, in the broader scheme of things?  After all, if we let the Democrats back in the White House, they will be forcing women to have abortions just so there’s a steady supply of fetal tissue to create stem-cell lines!

When you start down the slippery slope, however, it’s very hard to stop before you reach the bottom, as another supporter of President Bush’s stem-cell “compromise” proved last week.  That shining Irish-American example of “conservative” Catholicism, Sean Hannity, launched a vicious attack on the president of one of the leading Catholic pro-life groups, Human Life International.  Since 2004, Fr. Thomas J. Euteneuer has been trying privately to arrange a meeting with Hannity to discuss the commentator’s public dissent from the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception, but Hannity has refused.  On March 9, after hearing Hannity issue a smarmy “apology” for accidentally eating a couple bites of a chicken sandwich before realizing that it was a Friday in Lent, Father Euteneuer finally went public with his concerns about Hannity’s dissent, asking him to apologize for a real sin instead.

Hannity’s response was to invite Father Euteneuer on the show, where Hannity refused to consider that he had been wrong and accused Father Euteneuer of defending a Church that had covered up sexual abuse”€”a stunning non sequitur if ever there was one.  (You can watch the video here.)  “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” Hannity repeated, over and over”€”a rather unexpected verse of scripture for one of the most moralistic commentators on TV to cite.

No one, Hannity believes, should dare to judge him for abandoning those parts of Church teaching that he doesn’t value, but he has no trouble judging others when the values he holds dear come under attack.  That those values match the Bush administration’s policy positions more closely than they do the teaching of the Catholic Church seems not to faze this “proud Catholic.”

Solovyov, Cardinal Biffi reminded us, believed that “The Antichrist is the reduction of Christianity to an ideology, instead of a personal encounter with the Savior.”  I wonder what he would think of a man who publicly dissents from the Body of Christ on earth, leading countless others astray, while putting his own face and name on the cover of a book over the title Deliver Us From Evil.

Scott P. Richert is Executive Editor of Chronicles Magazine.


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