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Mark Shea: A cautionary tale from America

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US President Donald Trump addresses thousands of pro-life supporters during the 47th annual March for Life in Washington. PHOTO: CNS, Leah Millis, Reuters

The conclusion of a three-part series on heresy

We’ve been talking in this space about heresy and the Catholic Both/And approach to the Church’s social doctrine.

One of the common complaints we hear about questions of orthodoxy vs. heresy is that all such discussions are remote and abstract: “angels dancing on pinheads” etc.  In fact (and especially when it comes to Social Teaching, which is the most concrete and practical part of Catholic theology) nothing could be further from the truth.

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GK Chesterton remarked that “if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless.”

America, in the past forty years, has become a living laboratory demonstrating the truth of this.  Time was when an American bishop attempted to assert the classic Catholic both/and position with respect to the Dignity of the Human Person.  His name was Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and he called it the Seamless Garment.

His point, as Catholic teaching has always said, was that the unborn are related to, not the opposite of, all the other forms of human life threatened by poverty, environmental disaster, war, capital punishment, racism, and all the other evils to which flesh is heir.  It was absolutely nothing new and stands in a Catholic Tradition stretching back two millennia.

But then American politics got to work on it.

On the Left, it was quickly seen that rights for the unborn (who do not vote) interfered with support from advocates of choice (who do vote).  So the decision was made to abide by the post-Roe status quo established by the GOP appointees who have dominates our Supreme Court for fifty years.

Meanwhile, on the Right, the party that was 100 per cent responsible for establishing and entrenching our abortion regime with the Roe and Casey decisions decided on a more subtle strategy: pretend to care about the unborn and use that carrot to lure Christians, not into defending the unborn, but into fighting the rest of the Church’s teaching whenever it conflicted with evils the GOP wanted to inflict on human beings.

The strategy was brilliant (in a diabolical sort of way) and has worked for thirty-five years.  Every election year “prolife” Christians were told that next year for sure the GOP was going to magick away abortion.  All Christians needed to do was accept the lie “Let us do evil that good may come of it” and their wildest dreams would come true.

And so they cooperated more and more deeply with willing evil as time went on.

Unjust war?  We will support it because the GOP will reward us soon with the abolition of abortion.  And we will lie to ourselves that “prudential judgment” means having the liberty to decide whether, not how best to obey the Church’s clear teaching.

Torture?  We will fight the Church’s clear condemnation of it because the party authorising it promises that abortion will soon be gone.  And we will lie that since the victims are not cute babies we may support this grave intrinsic evil.

Universal health care?  We will fight it despite the clear teaching of the Church that demands it because the GOP hates it and we therefore need to pit the sick against the unborn instead of seeing them together as humans in need of love.

Pandemic?  What are 400,000 dead Americans when the President wants to ignore them and we want to lie to ourselves that he is the Most Prolife President ever?

The disaster of the “prolife” heresy we embraced was, as ever, that we took an important truth—the sanctity of preborn human life—and weaponised it against the rest of the Church’s teaching.

And all because we stopped letting the Church’s Tradition guide our politics and started listening to our politics first and letting it cannibalise the Church’s teaching for only those scraps useful to us.

Learn from us, Australia, and don’t repeat our mistakes.

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