Recognising evil for what it is
Father James Martin SJ is one of America’s most prolific Catholic priests, and his thoughtful contribution to the public discourse does a lot of good.
I admire him for his committment to ‘small-c Catholicism,’ especially in the context of the US culture war, which at its worst would conflate Catholicism — and indeed, the Gospel — with right-wing ideology.
But sometimes I think Fr James straddles the partisan divide at the expense of clarity. His column on the US vice-presidential debate is a case in point:
Both Mr. Ryan and Mr. Biden are obviously serious about their Catholicism. Can anyone doubt that? They also offer a kind of Rorschach test for U.S. Catholic voters. Mr. Ryan is a Catholic who is clearly opposed to abortion and not so clearly in support of programs that would directly help the poor. Mr. Biden is not so clearly opposed to abortion and clearly in support of programs that would directly help the poor. They represent, in a sense, two distinct types of “Catholicisms” alive in our country today. It’s a big church, as an elderly Jesuit I know likes to say.
Their commentary last night (and beforehand) also points out that no one party fully embraces the entirety of Catholic teaching. And for those of you who would say that abortion is the only “intrinsic evil” that is at issue in this campaign, I would point you to Blessed John Paul II’s great encyclical Veritatis Splendor, in which he speaks of a great many intrinsic evils, many of them often overlooked today, including “whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit.”
That is spurious. The Democratic platform explicitly endorses intrinsic evil in the form of free access to abortion on demand. Nowhere in the Republican platform will you find an explicit endorsement of intrinsic evil in the form of subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, etc.
Fr James wishes to avoid “the murky waters of politics,” and claims only “to point out the impossibility of ascertaining who is the ‘better Catholic'” between Biden and Paul. Well and good. Who are we to judge the better Catholic? Moreover, a case can be made against reducing the presidential election to a referendum on abortion. But I repeat it’s nothing short of spurious to attribute moral equivalency to the Democratic and Republican party platforms.
I choose my words carefully:
Spurious (adj.): not being what it purports to be; of a line of reasoning apparently but not actually valid.
Closer to home, here’s a timely clip of Saturday’s anti-abortion rally in Melbourne. I wasn’t there, but I applaud everyone who was.
And another, from Youth For Life: