Faith in Jesus Christ, who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), calls Christians to exert a greater effort in building a culture which, inspired by the Gospel, will reclaim the values and contents of the Catholic Tradition. The presentation of the fruits of the spiritual, intellectual and moral heritage of Catholicism in terms understandable to modern culture is a task of great urgency today, in order to avoid also a kind of Catholic cultural diaspora. Furthermore, the cultural achievements and mature experience of Catholics in political life in various countries, especially since the Second World War, do not permit any kind of “inferiority complex” in comparison with political programs which recent history has revealed to be weak or totally ruinous.
— “Participation of Catholics in Political Life,” Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
I am fortunate in my service to Human Life International’s global mission to have the frequent opportunity to visit the Philippines—a place I consider a second home. While there, HLI’s team and I conduct missions to educate the population about pro-life and pro-family issues and equip them with the tools they need to fight the anti-life agenda. This past week Dr. Brian Clowes, Dr. Ligaya Acosta, and I have been traveling around the Philippines delivering pro-life and family talks and meeting with local bishops, priests, religious, and civil leaders. As always, I have found the experience an uplifting one. Though many Filipinos face daily hardships, I am always struck by their authentic joy, which in many cases is clearly the natural expression of their deep and hope-filled faith.
On the other hand, I increasingly find myself distressed by the way that the poison of secularist Western values is beginning to seep into this country, quietly eroding the fundamental truths that have so far protected the Philippines from the worst aspects of Western decadence: no-fault divorce, radical sex-ed, legalized contraception and abortion, so-called same-sex “marriage,” etc.
Globalism has ensured that Western entertainment is ubiquitous in the Philippines, with its pervasive (and often-glamorized) depictions of sexual libertinism and the mindless pursuit of pleasure and wealth. Meanwhile, many Western-led NGOs and other nonprofits have intentionally targeted the Philippines, seeing in this staunch Catholic country a holdout against, and even a threat to, the triumph of progressive values.
Today, HLI’s team had a front row seat from which to view the impact of this campaign to “modernize” the Philippines. We just returned from a full day at a Catholic all-girls high school. Sadly, we learned there how far the rot of the Culture of Death has gone. A strong contingent of the student body at the school expressed its discontent with Church teaching on issues like homosexuality, transgenderism, and gender ideology. These students made it clear that they disagreed with what we presented on the subjects.
It was evident to us that the students are being coached by progressive-minded teachers, home environments, peers, and a growing secular culture. I wish I could say this experience was our first, but tragically, it was not. Indeed, it was evident from the students’ questions and positions that they are being indoctrinated and propagandized. It was amazing to hear them speak of “self-determination” and “self-identification” as being the highest values. However, they demonstrated a distressing ignorance of the negative consequences that this radical individualism has on the lives of individuals and the health of society as a whole. When we didn’t agree with their position, comments were passed among some students saying we were hateful and deserving of being punched in the face.
What is evident in the Philippines is a tragic desire to be like the West—embracing its ideologies, philosophies, and agendas. Moral certitude is rejected for individualism, relativism, and materialism—and the individual is the sole architect. Though the faith is still observable, it is threatened by the same elitism and progressivism we see in the West.
Like in the US, many of the Catholic universities and institutions have compromised their apostolic mandates—to teach, express, and defend the faith. Young people, instead, are receiving worldly ideologies and teaching, being confirmed in secularism and modernism, but not Catholicism. At HLI, we experience this consistently in seminars and workshops in which we participate. This has made proclaiming and upholding the Church’s perennial teaching on family, life, and marriage more and more difficult.
The Cost of Catholic Weakness
The experience at the girls’ school drove home once again the truth that when Catholics fail to live their faith courageously, to express that faith in the public square, and to transmit that faith to the next generation, there are very real and very grave practical consequences.
Unfortunately, our ideological opponents are masters at covering up the misery that their doctrines have wrought, instead painting a whitewashed picture of unfettered “freedom” and “autonomy.” Furthermore, believing Christians are told that they must not “impose” their beliefs on others, but rather embrace “tolerance”; we are told “pluralism” is a de facto good, regardless of the particular beliefs we are told we must tolerate.
Meanwhile, however, behind this whitewashed facade we find millions of dead preborn babies, innumerable women scarred, families disintegrating or torn apart, and youth robbed of the perennial truths about human nature that would equip them to live meaningful, healthy, and productive lives.
As the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith put it in a 2002 document about Catholic participation in political life:
The value of tolerance is disingenuously invoked when a large number of citizens, Catholics among them, are asked not to base their contribution to society and political life—through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy—on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good. The history of the twentieth century demonstrates that those citizens were right who recognized the falsehood of relativism, and with it, the notion that there is no moral law rooted in the nature of the human person, which must govern our understanding of man, the common good and the state.
Discouraging Numbers in EWTN Poll
As Catholics, we have every reason to have pride and confidence in our faith and its impact on the political and social sphere. Unfortunately, however, many self-described Catholics demonstrate a greater loyalty to the values of the age than the perennial truths of their faith. This is demonstrated quite clearly in a recent poll commissioned by EWTN.
Of the 1,521 Catholic registered voters interviewed for the poll, just 13% said that they agree with “all” of the Church’s teachings and try to follow those teachings in their lives. Another 38% said that they “generally” accept most of the Church’s teachings, while another 42% either said that they reject some of the Church’s teachings or that their faith only has a minor impact on their lives.
The laissez-faire attitude of US Catholics toward Church teaching is not some morally neutral expression of personal autonomy. It has real consequences. This is clear in the respondents’ answers on the question of abortion. If any Church teaching is 100% clear, it is the teaching against abortion. And rightly so, for if anything goes against Christ’s admonition to “do unto others,” it is the senseless murder of innocent, preborn babies.
Unfortunately, only 11% of Catholic respondents to the poll said that abortion should “always” be illegal. Another 33% said it should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the life of the mother. However, another 51% either said it should be legal, except in cases of late-term abortion, or that it should always be legal. That is, a full 84% of self-described Catholics thought that the killing of preborn babies should be allowed at least some of the time. No wonder we haven’t overturned Roe v. Wade yet!
Strangest of all, perhaps, is the way that many of the respondents seemed unconcerned with the ability of their fellow Christians to live out their faith unmolested by the state or progressive ideologues. An astonishing 40% of self-described Catholics responded that Christian owners of businesses that provide wedding-related services should be forced to provide those services for same-sex weddings! The exact same number said that faith-based adoption agencies should be forced to adopt children to same-sex couples.
A Wake-Up Call
Now, one might respond that one way to read the poll is simply to acknowledge that many self-described Catholics just aren’t Catholic at all—at least not in any really robust sense of the term. Maybe they were baptized but never really taught their faith, or maybe they come from an ethnicity with a strong “cultural” Catholic identity, but that’s about it. I think there’s quite a bit of truth to that. Indeed, as EWTN’s own analysis of the poll notes, there seems to be a stark and growing chasm between Catholics who adhere to their faith and those who give lip service to their Catholic identity, but practically ignore that identity in most daily situations. “There are virtually two Catholic communities in the country,” EWTN noted.
Nevertheless, as the article also states, the fact that this is the reality is no great comfort. “This new poll is also a diagnosis of failure in articulating Church teaching clearly and effectively to Catholics on such vital moral issues that involve intrinsically evil acts—abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide,” noted EWTN. After all, if we can’t expect self-described Catholics to know and appreciate the teachings of their Church on critical moral issues, how can we expect the broader culture to know and respect those teachings? If we in the Church had been living out a strong, Christ-like witness to the faith, and taught clearly what the Church teaches and why that teaching is good, there would not be so many self-described Catholics who feel so free to dismiss Catholic teaching out of hand.
My hope is that this poll will awaken our bishops, pastors, and spiritual leaders to the gravity of our failure to make a compelling case for the perennial truths encapsulated in Catholic teaching on the dignity of the human person and on intrinsic evils such as contraception, abortion, euthanasia, and attacks on the family and religious freedom. I fear that without the bulwark of truth to defend them, many of those girls at the school in the Philippines will learn the hard way what misery and emptiness Western secularism leads to. Meanwhile, they are robbed of the riches of the Church’s teachings, which show how to live a self-transcendent, meaning-filled life that leads ultimately to the eternal joy that comes with the vision of God. Without a robust defense of these truths, I fear that the innocent will continue to suffer, we will be doomed to repeat the horrific errors that marred the 20th century, and souls will be lost.