In this day of proliferating litigation, whether due to an excess of lawyers or a general mood of contentiousness — everybody seems to be suing everybody — I have begun to wonder whether I have a cause of action against the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Christian Brothers and the Jesuits. You see, they all had a hand in my education during the 1930’s and 40’s and in forming my conscience. Their herculean labors helped instill a combative faith in me and an unshakable trust in the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
But as I view with dismay the drift of the Activist Church in America — observed perhaps more vividly in Washington, D.C. — it crosses my mind that all those benevolent clergy were pushing me in the wrong direction, filling me with at least misplaced values, and stocking my mind with hopelessly old-fashioned notions about eternal verities and unchanging principles.
Sacred Scripture (now cheerfully called “The Good News”) does predict that at some time “even the elect will be deceived”, but I can’t figure out whether I am one of the elect and have endured deception or whether the high churchmen whose frequent pronouncements resonate to liberal acclaim are the deceived elect.
Remembrance of meatless Fridays is one mark of late middle-age, but I still believe there was something important in all Catholics around the world enduring a small sacrifice together, in unison, and offering it up in reparation for the sins of the world. I have always thought there was merit in habitual virtue — getting up on a cold Sunday to go to Mass, not because you really want to get up and go out, but because you know you ought to perform your religious duty, and that performance was more important than your comfort.
But it would be redundant to catalogue here the instances where modern high Churchmen are leading the Church — my Church as well as theirs — towards the secular left. This has been done by James Hitchcock, a professor of history at St. Louis University in a booklet as brilliant as it is disturbing called “The Dissenting Church.” Professor Hitchcock, in responding to the criticism that the Church is still a “monolithic bastion of authoritarianism”, points out that “… it would be difficult to find a major institution more internally disorganized, more ideologically divided and less effective in its governing structures than is the Catholic Church.”
Professor Hitchcock’s booklet is essential reading to grasp the force and momentum of the Church’s left turn.
Another sign of senior citizen status is to call communism communism, and not the newly fashionable term Marxism — but old habits don’t yield easily.
I learned early that dialectical materialism denies the existence of God and all things spiritual. Conventional morality to a communist means that which furthers the class struggle and nothing more. The American Church’s tolerance and even cordiality to Marxism in Central America is a source of serious consternation to those of us who doubt that the Christian lamb can survive lying down with the Communist lion for any length of time.
Once a few months ago, I questioned a prominent priest at a Congressional hearing on human rights and the Church in Central America. This clergyman is a most influential advisor to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and is said to have written much of the controversial pastoral letter on nuclear warfare. I recall having great difficulty in getting him to tell me how a priest can be a Marxist. “We can dialogue with Marxists” he told me, and finally, after much verbal sparring, conceded that “in the purest sense” a Marxist priest was an anomaly.
My files are filled with newspaper clippings accumulated over the years, and periodic culling of them is always enlightening. After the hearing with the prominent priest, I dug out a six-year-old news item from the National Catholic Register dated June 5, 1977 relating an interview with Mr. Thomas Quigley, assistant director of the U.S. Catholic Conference’s Office of International Justice and Peace, and himself an important advisor to the Bishops and clergy.
In speaking of the Church in Latin America, Quigley is quoted as saying: “These people are influenced by sociological studies of their societies based on Marxist orientation. I doubt if they are serious Marxists in an ideological sense. However, they approach reality in the light of Christian teaching.” I have difficulty imagining a study of reality in the light of Christian teaching filtered through the materialist lens of Karl Marx. Mr. Quigley told his interviewer that the present Latin American “National Security State” will be replaced by some form of Socialism. The article states: “In discussing just what form of socialism will evolve, Quigley spoke favorably of the situation in Cuba today, which, he said, ‘is on the way to becoming a more acceptable socialist state. There is less repression in Cuba today than in many countries of Latin America,’ he asserted.”
This interview with an important official of the U.S. Catholic Conference brought to mind the remarks of Armando Valladares, a Cuban poet and a prisoner of Castro’s for 22 years until released last year. On July 11, 1983 he received an award from the Institute on Religion and Democracy and had this to say:
“During those years, with the purpose of forcing us to abandon our religious beliefs and to demoralize us, the Cuban communist indoctrinators repeatedly used the statements of support for Castro’s revolution made by some representatives of American Christian churches. Every time that a pamphlet was published in the United States, every time a clergyman would write an article in support of Fidel Castro’s dictatorship, a translation would reach us that was worse for the Christian political prisoners than the beatings or the hunger.
“While we waited for the solidarity embrace from our brothers in Christ, incomprehensively to us, those who were embraced were our tormentors.
“Castro’s political police have used these statements of support for Castro with such skill and for such a long time to confuse the prisoners and population in general, that today the Christians in Cuba’s prisons suffer not only the pain of torture and isolation but also the conviction that they have been deserted by their brothers in faith.
“It is for this reason, dear friends, that I said that this distinction you give me will be very important for all Cuban prisoners. When it is known in Castro’s political prisons, and it will be known, they will all be filled with joy. They will feel they are no longer alone; that they have not been forgotten; that their brothers in Christ support them from afar.
“Also the insidious pamphlets the political commissars read to them containing articles signed by American religious leaders, do not represent the opinion of American believers — but the point of view of a small group. We also have to forgive this small group, because they probably also … know not what they do.’
“The lack of religious freedom in Cuba is not fully known. Freedom is an all-encompassing concept; either there is freedom or there is no freedom at all.”
Catholics who still recognize communism as the mortal enemy of Christianity may well express their indignation at the words of the Nicaraguan priest (and Sandinista’s Minister of Culture) Ernesto Cardenal, who has said, “Christians are not only able to be Marxists but, on the contrary, to be authentically Christian, they ought to be Marxist”. (Quoted in James V. Schall S.J., Liberation Theology, pg. 5, Ignatius Press, San Francisco — an excellent book!)
I recall attending mass in Havana on New Year’s Day 1978. There were three people in the church besides the celebrant, an elderly Spanish Augustinian priest, and myself. After mass I talked to him in the empty parking lot and he told me that the Church is tolerated but those who are known to practice their faith endure severe discrimination in jobs, housing and education. Every religious holiday, he told me, Castro has a secular celebration to divert attention from the Church.
The manipulation of the terms liberal into “moderate”, and conservative into “right wing” has had its effect in politics and particularly in political journalism. If I am not a moderate does that mean I am immoderate?
Semantic gymnastics cannot erase the fact that the left has cleared the way for measureless suffering and loss of freedom and human dignity. Indochina — how many millions have died fleeing from their Communist rulers? South Vietnam was a largely Catholic country before darkness fell. Do you ever hear of ringing pronouncements from Churchman about the “Church Suffering” in Indochina? I suppose they are too involved in clearing the way for the left in Central America,
In condemning the left for the trail of suffering and freedom lost that follows in their wake, one need not excuse the excesses and brutalities of the right when and where they exist. Surely human rights under the Shah were abused. The American left exulted when the Shah abdicated, but what far worse barbarism has filled the void. The Ayatollah’s persecution of the Bahai faith is as deadly as any persecution in history. The well-meaning activist left helps tear down the imperfect governments of the right and then averts its eyes from the often bloody shambles that follow. The perfect is the enemy of the good, and every revolution doesn’t always improve matters.
It is a consolation to remember that our Church is broad, catholic as well as Catholic, and that one may still espouse traditional conservative values without automatic ex-communication. Providence has sent us a truly great Pope in this era of disappointment, if not despair.
There are so many saintly persons yet among us — whose names and activities don’t appear in the religious columns of Sunday newspapers. They are quietly and effectively doing the Lord’s work and thereby purchasing for the rest of us a little more time to work out our own salvation.
Whenever I get depressed by the words of Father Cardenal and the rest of the liberal theologians, I pull a photograph from my desk mailed to me by a Mr. Ernest Lee of San Anselmo, California. This snapshot shows about thirty Vietnamese pulling their little boat from the water in Thailand, and I read the scribbled note on the back: “Please send this to Congressman Hyde whom I admire — on our beach, pulling in another ‘freedom boat’, by my boat people. Quote H. J. Hyde ‘They are not fleeing War — They are fleeing Peace Without Justice!’ My own motto because of many deaths from pirates: Some of us are here, God took the rest. Father Joe Devlin, S.J.”
God be with you, Father Devlin!