After I posted my essay on the real problem with American nuns last week there was discussion in the combox about whether or not I was exaggerating. Mark Shea said that a single photo of nuns with Santorum does not necessarily mean that they are died-in-the-wool Americanists. You would think that Mr Shea would know better than that; after all he has long butted heads with Americanists on his own blog. Perhaps none of them happened to be religious sisters.
Or perhaps he was reacting to my admittedly strong language. After all, I did accuse them of “bowing to the god of Americanism” and called them “… sisters whose first religion is America, who endorse candidates whose political positions fly in the face of Catholic social teaching.”
Let me clarify. I don’t think you will find a conservative Catholic, nun or not, who would agree with my description of them. Indeed, they would be horrified. In their minds they are devoted “orthodox Catholics” who love God and Jesus Christ above all things. To suggest that their real god is America would offend them deeply.
Allow me to submit that they deceive themselves. I chose that language for its shock value. I am of the Flannery O’Connor school: sometimes you have to talk REALLY LOUD to the hard of hearing. But the language is also accurate. When conservative (or liberal) Catholics disregard something that Christ or His Church clearly teaches it can only be because they value something else more than Christ and His Church. But if you value something more than God, doesn’t that show your true priorities?
For conservative Catholics, rejecting the Church’s clear teaching on war, nationalism, torture, economic justice, etc comes too easily. They fall back on the claim that these things are “not taught infallibly”. But this magisterial minimalism leaves them in a very precarious position, for they have long denounced those on the left who make the same “non-infallible” argument when rejecting the ordinary magisterium on birth control or women’s ordination.
In fact, the only things that are taught de fide are those that were defined by an ecumenical council, or formally defined by a pope. If you held only to those relatively few things you would still have the basics of the Catholic Faith, but it would hardly resemble the wholeness of the lived Tradition, which includes wide areas of non-infallible teachings and practices, the things that put flesh on the bare bones of infallibly declared dogma.
In fact, the Church teaches that the ordinary magisterium is to be received with faith, and this includes not only things like liturgy and traditions of prayer, but the clear Mind of the Church on social issues. Catholic social teaching is just applied moral theology.
But of course not all conservative Catholic who reject Catholic social teaching admit it. Some, like Fr Richard Sirico and Congressman Paul Ryan, do so while claiming to adhere to that teaching. This would be laughable were it not for the fact that they convince those eager to be convinced that this is indeed the case.
I’m sorry; no one is claiming that Catholic social dogma can only result in one particular social order. It can be interpreted in many ways. I personally interpret it in the most radical way, but I don’t argue that other, more moderate interpretations can be valid.
However, there are basic principles that cannot be denied. You may argue for social democracy and be in accord with those principles, or you may argue for distributism. You may wish to see a well regulated market economy. But nowhere in Catholic social teaching can you find justification for the sort of free market ideology that has ruled in this country, and increasingly around the world, for thirty years. You can nowhere in the Catholic tradition find justification for torture, or assassinating foreign enemies, or invading a country because you claim that they may be a threat.
If you claim otherwise, excuse me for doubting your faith.