Let me be clear: Neither John Zmirak nor Mark Shea are saints of my devotion. The former is often a mindless shill for the liberalism of the Right; the latter too often tries to baptize the liberalism of the Left. Both also accept the neo-Catholic narrative of Church history since Vatican II, though Zmirak, like the economic liberals who haunt the halls of the Acton Institute, enjoys playing pick-and-choose with the Church’s social magisterium. Shea, under the guise of faithfully adhering to that magisterium, tries to maintain the myth that the Democratic Party faithfully represents the Church’s teachings on economics, society, and “life issues” (broadly defined).
And so it should come as no surprise that the two are butting heads over pro-life issues during this election cycle. Those interested in getting a rundown of the controversy—specifically Shea’s smear tactics against Zmirak—should check out Jason Scott Jones’s recent piece over at Life Site News. In short, Shea insinuates that Zmirak is a supporter of “Right Wing Culture of Death Priorities” related to torture, war, the death penalty, gun rights, and so forth. As Jones discusses, however, it does not appear that Zmirak really defends any of that stuff, or at least not as forcefully and clearly as Shea implies. This is not to say Zmirak “gets it” entirely right. After all, his pro-market apologetics and faith in movement conservatism’s “small government” narrative betrays an adherence to liberal principles over the express teachings of the Church. Still, Shea has a responsibility to the truth and making Zmirak out to be pro-torutre or pro-unjust war is completely uncalled for.
This spat between Shea and Zmirak won’t settle anything. The two have been going at it for years. What it does reveal, though, is the rotten state of American Catholic politics. Instead of seeing what many faithful popes and theologians knew from the 18th Century on, namely that liberalism is the enemy of a just society and the Church, Catholics like Shea and Zmirak fall over themselves to prove that one can be a “good Catholic” and a “good liberal” (albeit of different flavors)—no questions asked. The problem is that this simply not true. It is not possible to love liberalism while being faithful to divine and natural law. Is that an unsettling truth? Yes, of course it is. Few men actually desire to feel “out of sorts” with his age; many want to “get by” with as little obstruction as possible.
That is a temptation, and like all temptations it is from the devil. God has not called us to be “good liberals”; he has called us to be faithful sons and daughters of the Church. It is not our place to uphold the “rights of man”; it is our duty to uphold the rights of Christ the King in society. Read the works of Shea and Zmirak and ask yourself, “Do either of them do this?” In fact, read the works of most contemporary Catholic pundits and ask the same question. The answers you reach will be unsettling.