It is a difficult time for pro-life Catholics worldwide, who are scrambling to figure out how to respond to the fact that the world’s most powerful politician – President Joe Biden – routinely touts his “devout” Catholic faith, while simultaneously promoting such evils as abortion and a radical form of the LGBT agenda.
In the United States, fortunately, there have been several bishops – including the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – who have issued clear statements affirming Catholic moral teaching, and pointing out areas where President Biden is failing to live up to Catholic teaching.
At the same time, however, I have been deeply discouraged at the failures of other Catholic leaders – all the way up to some at the Vatican – to be equally clear, pastoral, and courageous.
In fact, as I noted a couple of weeks ago, on Inauguration Day somebody in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State apparently intervened to delay the strong, but carefully worded statement by Archbishop José Gómez.
When that statement was eventually released later in the day, Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago took the extremely rare step of publicly criticizing a fellow bishop, calling Archbishop Gómez’s statement “ill-considered.”
While Cardinal Cupich received absolutely no public support from other U.S. bishops for his position (many, thankfully, publicly supported Archbishop Gómez), a few days later the cardinal was at the Vatican meeting with Pope Francis.
According to reports, the pope was meeting with the cardinal to discuss the possibility that he would replace Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. If indeed Cardinal Cupich is appointed to this powerful post, it would give the cardinal significant scope to shape the future of the Church globally by overseeing the selection of most new bishops, leaning upon those who are more aligned with his own theological and political priorities.
John Paul II Institute’s Facebook Page Defends Biden
On the heels of that concerning series of developments, came one that – for me at least – is truly heartbreaking. On January 20, the official Facebook page of the Vatican’s Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family posted an article from the Italian edition of the Huffington Post, entitled, “Joe Biden, a Catholic at the White House among the poisons of the American Church.”
According to the Catholic News Agency, “The article emphasized what it calls Joe Biden‘s ‘Social Gospel’ and presented a series of declarations by political scientists and theologians to support the theory that Biden’s election is complementary to Pope Francis’ election because both of them give a sort of new breath to Catholic social teaching.”
After some Catholics responded negatively to the Facebook post, the John Paul II Institute’s Facebook page doubled down. “[D]efending the right to abortion does not mean defending abortion,” the administrator on the page posted. “Overall, if we should assign patents of Catholicity on the basis of political positions, then very few politicians could define themselves as Catholic.”
It is hard to even know where to begin with nonsense like that. In the first place, these comments could not be further removed from the thinking of Pope St. John Paul II himself, who would surely turn in his grave if he knew that his name was being used to promote such theological and moral poison.
As the sainted pope wrote in Evangelium Vitae, it is diabolical even to suggest that the “right to abortion” amounts to anything like authentic freedom. “To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others. This is the death of true freedom: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin’ (Jn 8:34).” (EV, no. 20)
In light of the gravity of the violent attack on human life in abortion, there is simply no space for Catholics to defend laws that permit abortion, or the existence of a “right” to kill unborn children. Drawing a specious distinction between supporting “the right to abortion” and “defending abortion” makes as much sense as arguing that supporting “the right to engage in armed robbery” isn’t the same as “defending” armed robbery.
“I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person’s natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law,” wrote Pope St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae. “For this reason I urgently appeal once more to all political leaders not to pass laws which, by disregarding the dignity of the person, undermine the very fabric of society.” (EV, no. 90)
The fact that somebody at the John Paul II Institute, of all the institutions in the Catholic Church, would publicly minimize Joe Biden’s anti-Catholic positions on life and family, is a slap in the face to pro-life Catholics everywhere, and to the memory of the pope himself. Pope St. John Paul II personally created the Institute in 1982 to put into effect his powerful vision for how to promote the Gospel of Life.
Until a few years ago, the John Paul II Institute arguably was the single most visible and influential pro-life force within the Catholic Church. It enjoyed an impeccable record of producing thousands of pro-life academics, and leading the charge in defending and promulgating the Church’s teachings on life and family.
Sadly, all of that started to change a few years ago, when Pope Francis dissolved the Institute, and then re-established a new one in its stead, with brand new governing statutes. At the same time, several key figures in the Institute were dismissed. All told, the changes marked a significant shift towards what many pro-life leaders warned was a softer, and ultimately less orthodox, approach to life and family.
The Catholic News Agency reports the John Paul II Institute’s Facebook page has since removed the offending posts. The news agency also revealed that the man who is responsible for the Institute’s social media posts is the head of its press office, Arnaldo Casali. Casali, CNA notes, “is a professional journalist whose main fields of interest are culture, arts, and religion” who has “no background in Vatican or Catholic issues.”
It is hard to know how to respond to the fact that the Institute has appointed someone who apparently not only has no experience in Catholic issues, but is in fact opposed to Catholic teaching, to generate content for the Institute’s Facebook page. It is difficult to imagine that any pro-abortion institution would make the same mistake. Imagine, for a moment, that Planned Parenthood hired a committed pro-lifer to run their Facebook pages. This would make absolutely no sense.
Speaking Out Is Just Common Sense
Seeing these statements and actions coming from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, one of the most prominent Cardinals of the Catholic Church, and the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family, feels like living in an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Take the brouhaha over Archbishop Gómez’ statement on Inauguration Day. When I read the statement, it is almost impossible for me to understand what any Catholic could possibly object to. If anything, the statement is remarkably charitable and gentle, given the gravity of the issues at stake.
In the days since Biden took office, he has pursued what can only be described as an extremist pro-abortion and anti-family position. He has repealed the Mexico City Policy, which bans American taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortion overseas. He issued a statement celebrating Roe v. Wade and pledging to try to codify legal abortion in federal law. He also issued an executive order promoting transgenderism that pro-family activists warn will have dire consequences for privacy rights, conscience rights, and the future of women’s sports. Furthermore, he has appointed an array of anti-life and anti-family activists in key administrative positions.
We have every reason to expect that this is only the beginning of the administration’s four-year assault on life, marriage, family, and religious freedom.
In light of this, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, recently told LifeSiteNews that Catholic bishops have an “obligation” to speak out.
“The fact that President Biden identifies himself as a devout Catholic, while working to preserve and expand legalized abortion, even using tax dollars to fund abortion, presents a unique challenge to the Bishops of the United States,” he said. “We must continue to speak to President Biden, as well as all Catholics, and even all Americans, about the truth of what abortion is. Abortion is not something to be celebrated, and it is not healthcare. It is the intentional killing of a child. To participate in abortion or to promote abortion is a grave evil.”
None of this should even be controversial. As the Catholic writer Mary Eberstadt put it in a recent interview, “If we believe our Catholic faith, then the divides over abortion and related issues of Christian anthropology aren’t just about politics. They are not mere exercises in Philosophy 101. There are souls on the line.”
These include the souls of Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and every other leader who simultaneously invokes the Catholic label even as they spurn what it stands for. Meanwhile, their extraordinary public platforms raise the risks of misleading other Catholics and potential converts, all around the world. Those other people, too, have souls — and they, too, are jeopardized by false representations of the faith.
The ultimate test is this: Which pastoral approach makes the salvation of those souls more likely? The one that tells Catholic leaders their departures from foundational Church teaching are inconsequential, a matter of indifference? Or one that clarifies those teachings, including in public — thus applying the pressure that could lead to penitence, redemption and conversion?
I couldn’t have put it better myself.
I hope that you will join me in regularly praying both for our political leaders – that they will repent and return to the Gospel – and for our bishops and other spiritual leaders – that they will have the courage to defend the truth, and to act as true shepherds of souls, adhering to St. Paul’s appeal to Timothy, “[to] proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” (2 Timothy 4:2)