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Assessing The Contra-Catholic Scene Candidly – Part 1

“The contra-Catholic scene” is a broad-to-the-point-of-vague expression, but its breadth is appropriate for the breadth of subjects on which Catholic principle is manifestly and diametrically defied by law and public policy. Anyone to whose mind examples do not come immediately, effortlessly, and regretfully will not find much interest in this essay, so if you are such a person your time would be better spent on something else.

If “the contra-Catholic scene” means something to you, you may have noticed some recurrent trends in comments on that scene, or on aspects of it in which you are particularly interested, and wondered which of such trends is/are correct. The purpose of this essay is to consider the latter question.

Don’t Rock the Boat – Say Nothing

Perhaps the most widespread trend is to say nothing about adverse circumstances – i.e. any which are contrary to Catholic principle, especially those which are grossly contrary to it. However, saying nothing has no place in an essay about recurrent trends in “comments,” so this section will have to refer to comments which ‘de-fuse’ a subject by throwing a generally-worded ‘cloak’ over it so that it becomes either invisible or at least more difficult to recognise in its true light. That can be done by saying as little as possible, or by the use of under-statement and/or ‘gloss’. For example: “the Catholic Church is not a dominant minority or not even a hugely strong influence in the culture. We, from our earliest days, learn how to live in a situation that doesn’t naturally give support to all the desires that we have.”

A worse variant of that is the tactic of finding something positive to say about an intrinsically-undesirable situation, portraying it as either not too bad, or even not bad at all, or even potentially good. For example, “We should be cautious not to adopt a wholly negative attitude towards secularism and we should distinguish it from secularisation. Secularism can certainly have some negative impacts but [it] can also offer a new freedom for the Gospel to be proclaimed.”

As you look around, is your impression that there is a new freedom for proclamation of the Gospel? Are the mainstream communications-media co-operating in such proclamation? Which proclamations are receiving the most enthusiastic publicity? Are they Catholic ones, or ones which contradict and excoriate anything Catholic? The prestigious and pitifully-complacent person who advised against being wholly-negative towards secularism ‘needs his head examining.’ Catholics should be wholly-negative towards it because it is wholly-negative towards Catholicism. It has a long history, but is no less deadly for that. Its devotees are now in government, behaving not “as ministers of divine providence”[1] but engaged busily in “cast[ing] down the Church of Christ from power and place” and striving “to supersede religion altogether, as far as it is external or objective, as far as it is displayed in ordinances, or can be expressed by written words – to confine it to our inward feelings, and thus, considering how variable, how evanescent our feelings are,…to destroy religion.”[2] It will not be defeated by exasperatingly-relaxed people who find positive things to say about it. They are giving scandal.[3]

A spectacularly-contra-Catholic and ubiquitous phenomenon is artificial contraception. The intrinsic sinfulness of that is affirmed unequivocally,[4] but seems something which ordained members of the Church, at all levels, are unwilling even to mention, far less to profess (so it is in the “say nothing” category mentioned above). If comment on it is unavoidable, it is likely to be accompanied by a misleading reference to ‘conscience.’[5] Responsibility for scandal is thereby risked.[6]

The contraceptive mentality has led to another egregious sin, abortion. That, too, is the subject of a ‘low-key’ policy which reflects the chasm between Catholic principle and the practical reality prevailing throughout the world. The principle having been rejected in law and public opinion, it seems to be asserted very rarely and very mildly.

Legal abortion in Ireland is, by comparison with other countries, a novelty. As it gradually settles down into a deeply-rooted norm, its opponents are likely to become unsure of how best to assess the situation. They may derive encouragement from America, where despite fifty years of legal entrenchment (recently weakened, thanks to help from President Trump) the subject remains ‘alive’ and the pro-lifers have considerable political influence. Probably more likely, however, is that the matter will ‘drift,’ similarly to how it has done in Britain, where anti-abortion campaigning is miniscule by comparison with that in America. It seems indicative of the pervasive languor that a national tour to mark fifty years since statutory abortion came into effect had to be cancelled due to lack of interest.

Pro-lifers in Ireland may well find that opinion becomes divided regarding ‘how we stand,’ the ‘message’ which should be conveyed, and whether any progress can be made (most of this article’s second Part will examine comments made on those questions in Britain).

Whether in the U.K., Ireland, or the other countries in which Catholic principles are at all levels systematically contravened, an over-arching question is what should be our mind-set as we assess the situation. Should we be optimistic despite reality, or pessimistic because of reality, or honest (and candid about it) regardless of whether our opinion is welcome?

Some people seem to believe, or at least to assume, that Christianity requires its adherents to be optimistic and that pessimism is automatically un-Christian. Whether those beliefs are correct depends on the ‘end-vision’ of the optimism or pessimism. Both optimism and pessimism are matters of expectation; i.e. they refer to what the relevant person expects to happen. Therefore, for example, expectation that Christ’s kingdom will ultimately come in its fullness and vanquish eternally the works of Satan is a fundamental requirement of Christianity; pessimism that it will happen is close to the sin of despair, and certainly would be a sin if it related to one’s own eternal destiny.[7] There is, in contrast, no obligation to believe that a particular legal or social change will occur within a specified time, and pessimism about such an occurrence is not contrary to Christianity.

Christians are, however, required to seek the truth, to act compatibly with it, and to bear witness to it.[8] So it is contrary to Christianity to give a deliberately-false impression, and similarly-un-Christian to cultivate a policy of doing so. Therefore we should be, above optimism or pessimism, honest in assessing whether circumstances are contra-Catholic; like a jury, we should give our verdict according to the evidence. If the evidence shows contra-Catholic circumstances, should that fact be suppressed, ignored, or minimised for fear of causing discouragement? No, because a good intention does not justify a bad means for achieving it.[9] Alternatively, does fear of causing discouragement justify the suppression of a pessimistic opinion, or the falsification of it in order to mitigate the discouragement? No, because the suppression or falsification is a bad means of achieving a good intention; it is a misrepresentation of fact – i.e. the fact of one’s mind, and (as a judge once said) the state of a man’s mind is as much a fact as the state of his digestion.[10]

To face facts when assessing a situation can be a regretful task, and to express candidly a pessimistic judgment can add unpopularity to the regret, but to be unpopular because of being considered a ‘defeatist’ (there is a difference between expecting defeat and wanting it) is a smaller matter than to avoid it by being ridiculously optimistic.

[1] “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraph 1884.

[2] St. John Henry Newman, “The Time of Antichrist” in “The Patristical Idea of Antichrist.”

[3] “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” paragraphs 2284-2287.

[4] “Humanae Vitae” and paragraphs 2366 and 2370 of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church.”

[5] Paragraph 1782 and the first sentence of paragraph 1790 of the “Catechism” seem to have been asserted much more than the final sentences of paragraphs 1783 and 2039.

[6] Ibid.; see also paragraph 1868.

[7] cf. Judas, and see “Catechism of the Catholic Church” paragraphs 1864 and 2091.

[8] “Catechism of the Catholic Church” paragraphs 2467, 2470-2472.

[9] Ibid., paragraphs 1759 & 1789.

[10] Lord Justice Bowen, in Edgington v. Fitzmaurice (1885) 29 Ch. D. 459, at p. 483.

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