Further Comments on Grasping for Political Relevance

My post from earlier this week discussed briefly the tendency in American Catholicism to chase after political relevance, even at the cost of following what the Church actually teaches with respect to society, economics, and politics. It would be a mistake to read my remarks as focusing solely on older generations of Catholics who buy into one form of liberalism or another. Yes, they are the most visible and, arguably, politically influential, but they are hardly alone. A very modest amount of footwork can quickly reveal a contingent of younger Catholics (though some are now entering their 30s and 40s) who ostensibly claim to reject liberalism (however defined) in favor of some quaint fusion of very generalized Catholic principles with some form of socialism. Ignoring glibly the social magisterium’s routine condemnation of both socialism and communism, this group of Catholics take on the socio-political postures of mainline college activism and dress them up in worn-out vestments leftover from the days of “social Catholicism.” Instead of positing the salvation of souls as the highest end, they prefer instead to rail against “social injustices” while setting to the side pelvic matters which, they fear, will somehow undermine their mainline political credibility.

Granted, this shift is not exactly new in Christianity. Starting at least eight years ago, in the run-up to Barak Obama’s election, a significant contingent of evangelical Christians, many of whom were once disposed toward upholding traditional “Life” issues, started to speciously expand the menu of such issues to include,¬†inter alia, the environment, poverty, war, the death penalty/criminal justice system, etc. In other words, they looked for a way to circumvent making abortion a supremely important political matter in order to get behind candidates and policy platforms which many evangelicals traditionally considered morally problematic. Sure, some of these young evangelicals still spoke of abortion “as bad” and sometimes whispered that “gay rights” and so-called “same-sex marriage” weren’t “ideal,” but by and large they acclimated themselves to what the Democratic Party promotes — and they’ve never looked back. If anything, they have drifted further to the Left, embracing more radical social ideals and economic reforms which, even if intended to ameliorate concrete evils, often seek to do so illictly. But, without a magisterium to guide them, it is not entirely unsurprising that these well-meaning Christians have lost the way in the name of retaining¬†some modicum of political relevance.

Not so with Catholics. As Fr. Robert Taft, S.J. has stated repeatedly, if one wants to know what the Catholic Church teaches, look it up. Google it. Do what is necessary; it shouldn’t be hard. Even though certain forces have conspired to obscure the Church’s social magisterium, that teaching has not been lost — and it certainly has not changed. The only thing that has changed (or is changing) is the willingness of Catholics living under the horizon of secular-liberalism to take that teaching seriously. Admittedly, that’s not always easy, especially in today’s fraught political climate, but no Catholic has the right to dissent from the truth; no Catholic can ignore what is plainly taught in favor of political relevance or, worse, social-media posturing.



  1. Aethelfrith
    August 5, 2016

    Love her or hate her (I’m ambivalent), but Ann Barnhardt gives a succinct reason for why would-be activist Catholics strike these poses:

    “They don’t really believe that b___ s___.”

    (Church teaching, that is).

  2. Zeb
    August 5, 2016

    Who are you talking about? I’m 37, and of course this is totally subjective and anecdotal, but the Left-ish social justice Catholic I encounter who are 10 years younger than me are very orthodox and outspoken about “pelvic issues’ while those 10 years older than me tend to be very compromised or just liberal. In the early 2000’s I was very involved in Pax Christi and anti-death penalty/war/globalisation activism and about half the people with me have turned out liberal and half very orthodox.

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      August 12, 2016

      I am speaking only of a minority of the minority. While I don’t doubt the internal orthodoxy of the youngish Left Catholics of the moment, they appear to be highly selective in what they are willing to talk about openly. So, for instance, you can get a Left Catholic darling like Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig going on and on about what the government should be doing for the poor (e.g, large transfer payments) but very little (if anything?) about the evils of abortion. Moreover, when Left Catholics do discuss abortion, it is often in the context of other social evils (poverty, racism, unemployment), almost as a way of masking the actual horror being perpetrated. I certainly don’t see them calling for abortionists or those who procure abortions to be tried and duly punished for their crimes against God.

      1. Capital Punishment seems to be Proper for Abortion as a Grievous Crime(both the Surgeon and the Woman who freely consents).

  3. Stephen
    August 8, 2016

    You know the old saw – “What’s the difference between a dissenting Catholic and a Protestant?”

    The Protestant has integrity for being intellectually honest.

    Always rang true to me. If you don’t believe what the Catholic Churches, go find your own and make one up. Heck, if you die for my sins and come back from the dead in power and glory with the promise of my salvation, I’ll worship you too.

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      August 12, 2016


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