In classic Russian fiction the writer often conceals the exact location and even the name of a character. In any story by Chekov or Dostoyevsky, you run across memes like this: It so happened last autumn that an officer on leave, Captain N., missed his footing while stepping off the train in the town of Z.
This obfuscation might be just a tip of the hat to literary convention, but it could also serve prudence, especially in a roman à clef when the persona might be traced to a person. Czarist Russia—and later the USSR with that wolfish ferocity characteristic of communist states—relied on the secret police. If a poor Captain N. raised the suspicion of the Czar’s Okhrana, he could forget about that next promotion; should he irk the KGB, he could spend the rest of his abbreviated life on ice in the Gulag Archipelago. Then as now, the deep state “had twenty ways from Sunday of getting back at you.”
Following the Russian mode, let me say that one Sunday after Mass in the provincial town of B., Father K. was guilty of a politically incorrect quip.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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As he was closing the narthex doors, I asked his take on the corona virus, not yet a “national emergency.” He replied with the habitual “prévenance” (thoughtfulness) that used to be “a leading characteristic of the Catholic clergy” if we can trust Sir Walter Scott’s preface to Quentin Durward. Well, the virus was one thing, but what really worried Father K. were “the Democratic Party disease and the Chinese disease.” With two parishes in his charge, and having to get on the road to Saint Y., he didn’t have time to explicate, but his point was taken.
This is not the kind of thing Father K. says from the pulpit, nor should he. With me, he knows he can be elliptical and sardonic. I won’t be triggered, and he won’t be reported or harassed. Detractors, on the other hand, might misconstrue “Chinese disease” as an ethnic slur. They would err. Father K. has no simple-minded prejudices, but he knows what any adult has no excuse for not knowing. Like all communist states, the Chinese hate and persecute Christianity. The “disease” is godless ideology, not ethnicity.
Just so with the Democratic Party disease: it has its own godless ideology. Just as Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo pretends that China is the nation that best fulfills the Church’s social doctrine, our diocesan newspaper lauds the Democratic Party’s social programs. When it comes to a Catholic’s duty to reject pro-abortion candidates, the tone is measured, nuanced, and pastoral. Let your nay be nay bluntness is not the style. Resorting to such archaic language might provoke nasty letters to the editor. It might even cause the federal goose to stop laying; about 40 percent of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’s budget for its social programs depends on those lovely golden eggs.
How much safer it is to focus on the party’s concern for the climate and migrants, and not raise a stink about the “preeminent” life issue that is now Trump’s by default. Thus, under the USCCB’s “Do’s and Don’ts Guidelines During Election Season,” we encounter this insufferably high-minded brag: The Church does not and will not engage in partisanship. She will exhibit no bias for or against any party. Thus, even when Agent Orange addresses in person the March for Life, or cuts the allowance of Planned Parenthood, he isn’t accorded the honor of a pun, let alone an approving editorial. This on the one hand/on the other hand balance tips the scales in favor of the party of death. A perplexed layman who looks to official Catholic media for guidance might conclude that opposition to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is no more problematic than withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords. If bishops were to deny communion to Democrats for promoting abortion, wouldn’t they, respecting their resolute non-partisanship, have to withhold the Eucharist from Republicans who enable Trump’s energy policy?
Regarding the modern Democratic Party ideology, Father K. also knows what any Catholic should know but may have an excuse for not knowing due to the reticence of their leaders: it is a contagion virulent enough to enfeeble the reasoning power of Catholics, roughly fifty percent of whom vote Democrat. Good doctrine may be the best inoculant against bad and destructive ideology, but too many priests and bishops are unwilling to bear witness to the preeminence of life issues for fear of appearing partisan. They thereby absolve themselves from administering the vaccine that could block rule by the party of death.
This reticence provides the rationalization for that half of the Catholic electorate who routinely vote Democrat in presidential elections. It is true that you still find, amidst the communiques and position papers churned out by the USCCB, those “non-negotiables.” Over the protests of Blase Cardinal Cupich and Bishop Robert McElroy, who found such language foreign to the “magisterium” of Pope Francis (despite the fact that Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City claims the Holy Father told him that abortion was preeminent, as he told Catholic News Service on January 16), all but a third of the conference named abortion “preeminent” among life issues. But, if they meant it, wouldn’t they deny communion to Catholics like Biden and Pelosi? One expects Schumer to unleash the whirlwind against those who oppose abortion, but devout bead-counting “Catholics” like Biden and Pelosi? Shouldn’t bishops who consider abortion “preeminent” warn that voting for its promoters requires confession? And shouldn’t their Faithful Citizenship media reflect the bishops’ concern? But not only is abortion not “preeminent” in these videos it isn’t mentioned.
Neither does Father K. mention the Democratic Party from the pulpit, but his homilies often remind the congregation that many positions fobbed off by its leaders as Christian could only please such deities as Moloch and Baal. If such clarity were common, the Catholic vote might be a reality to be feared and courted.
In a typical Catholic advice column of a national publication (which needn’t be identified for their name is legion), I read a letter from a muddled subscriber. “Muddled” was bothered by what he considered undue fixation by Catholics on just one of many life issues—abortion. You would expect the priest columnist to disabuse Muddled of his misconceptions. Instead he is told how complicated things are, that neither party completely reflects the social teaching of the Church, that Republicans tend to be better on abortion, but on other social justice issues such as immigration and poverty, the Democrats’ platform is more in line with Catholic teaching. The columnist concludes inconclusively that the answer to such a question “is rarely an easy matter” and leaves his interlocutor to wrestle with his well-formed conscience. We can guess who won.
There are questions that would tax the ability of the subtlest casuist to resolve. This isn’t one of them. Some things are in their nature mutually exclusive. A red king can’t be a club; a vegetarian can’t be a cannibal; oil and water won’t mix. So let’s not complicate it overmuch. You may either describe yourself as a “devout Catholic” or enable the party that promotes abortion, same-sex marriage, gender anarchy, and the descent into paganism of post-Christian America. It’s not a head-scratcher. Only one party has a passion for this degraded ideology. It’s not the stupid party, weak and feckless as it sometimes is.
As Bertie Wooster advised the would-be fascist dictator Sir Roderick Spode, some things remain stubbornly either or. Spode, with his brown shirt and funny mustache, aspires to be a fascist dictator. But his other passion, unbeknownst to his storm troopers, is designing lingerie. No, no, my dear Spode, cautions Bertie every time the strongman snaps his stiff salute, You really must choose. One or the other, not both. We’ve come to a strange pass when we need to look to Bertie rather than our bishops for such clarity.