The Bride and the Dragon
Catholic Neocons Fail Attempt to Fit Popes Into Factional Mold
Beginning especially with George Weigel's biography of the late John Paul II, Witness to Hope, Catholic Neoconservatives have tried to fit the last two popes into their Neoconservative ideology, but in each case have utterly failed. Whether we are considering the unjust war in Iraq or the matter of their advocacy of laissez faire economics, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have resisted any such saddling. This has left many of them squirming for breathing room and sometimes downright irritated.
When the Iraq war was still in the planning stages Neoconservatives---specifically Michael Novak, a former liberal--- according to reports went directly to Rome in an attempt to win over the Vatican to the US rationale for "preventive" war. Novak, reportedly at the behest of the State Department, presented his case for war to lower Vatican officials in what is said to have been a two hour symposium. It is no wonder then that there was consternation when the then head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (today Pope Benedict XVI) was to famously say:
"There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war'."In an interview with the journal he founded, 30 Days, Ratzinger said:
"This judgment [against the invasion of Iraq] of the Holy Father is convincing from a rational point of view also: reasons sufficient for unleashing a war against Iraq did not exist. First of all it was clear from the very beginning that proportion between the possible positive consequences and the sure negative effect of the conflict was not guaranteed. On the contrary, it seems clear that the negative consequences will be greater than anything positive that might be obtained. Without considering then that we must begin asking ourselves whether as things stand, with new weapons that cause destruction that goes well beyond the groups involved in the fight, it is still licit to allow that a "just war" might exist... When I said that the Pope's stance is not a question of the doctrine of the faith but is the outcome of a judgment made by an enlightened conscience, and that has its own rational perspicuousness, I meant to say just that. It is a position of Christian realism that, without doctrinal quibbles, assesses the factors in the real situation by keeping in mind the dignity of the human person as the highest value to be respected." (emphasis added )This was doubly disappointing for Novak and Weigel as well as the editors of the premier Catholic Neocon magazine First Things (to say nothing of National Review and Fox News) because in almost all matters theological the Cardinal was clearly their favorite and was often set up as a very powerful counterpoint to liberal Catholics as well as Catholic peace activists. Still, the Neocons strained against hope to spin the facts but without success, losing considerable credibility in consequence. For if the Neocons could not get Catholic theological principles straight when it counts the most---in the matter of war, where blood, bone and justice itself are at stake---it makes it all the more difficult for them to be taken seriously when speaking of lesser matters, at least relative to geopolitical events.
John Paul II called war "a defeat for humanity" and urged diplomatic means as the only just solution. In a speech to the Vatican Diplomatic corps, the pope in 2003 caused the Neocons a bad case of heartburn when he said:
"What are we to say of the threat of a war that could strike the people of Iraq, the land of the prophets, a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo? War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations. As the Charter of the United Nations Organization and international law itself remind us, war cannot be decided upon, even when it is a matter of ensuring the common good, except as the very last option and in accordance with very strict conditions, without ignoring the consequences for the civilian population both during and after the military operations." (emphasis added)Those "very strict conditions" are the Just War criteria which this preemptive invasion could not meet. In an interview with the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle, several years after the war began, Ratzinger, by now Pope, made matters all the worse for the already dismayed faction which chacterized itself as the Catholic elite, leading thinkers in the public square:
...we want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace. There's a strong Christian community in Lebanon, there are Christians among the Arabs, there are Christians in Israel. Christians throughout the world are committed to helping these countries that are dear to all of us. There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: it's up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last. ---- Deutsche Welle in August 2006, emphasis added
If space did not prevent, one could go on piling quotation upon quotation stretching from before the war up to today. All of this, moreover, on top of one Vatican official after another from the beginning urging the White House not to invade Iraq lest the US be seen as an unjust aggressor in the Muslim world and thereby increase, rather than decrease, worldwide terrorism which the Church also clearly deplored:
Would that the Catholic Neocons had heeded even tradition of old when the Jesuit Cardinal, St. Robert Bellarmine, whose life spanned parts of the 16th and 17th century, wrote with considerable wisdom:
"As a second condition for legitimate warfare, a just, certain and not doubtful cause is required" De Officio Principis, Cap XXI ; and, "A powerful ruler is not a good judge, however, concerning the justice of his own [war] cause against a weaker ruler. His desire of expansion may influence him to presume a good cause to be present, when in reality it does not exist. Nor can he rely too much upon his own domestic counselors. Foreign, disinterested and impartial judges are better qualified to make such decisions." (quoted in Grotius, De Jure Belli et Pacis, Bk 1. Ch III).As we know today, the "intelligence" which Washington disseminated throughout the world was very far from "certain". It was extremely "doubtful" ---and this was pointed out time and again by many world bodies and leaders---but the administration would not be deterred.
What is worse is that the Catholic Neocons and their fan club were seen to in effect cavalierly belittle papal warnings by reducing them to a certain arbitrary interpretation of "mere" prudential judgments which one, it was implied, could take or leave, even though Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the pope's judgements in terms of its "rational perspicuousness," even saying outright "reasons sufficient for unleashing a war against Iraq did not exist".
This was particularly troubling to most Catholics since papal prudential judgements have never been viewed in Catholicism as off-the-cuff sound bites, but, especially relative to war, as very important rational conclusions based on 2,000 years of infallible Catholic moral principles and reasoning, and which the popes publish only after very careful and weighty analysis.
And we have seen just how prescient this prudential wisdom was in the unfolding of an horrific war which has killed, according to reputable estimates, possibly up to three quarters of a million Iraqis, though this administration strategically suppresses death counts.
All of this has hardly made the world safer from terrorism, but has rather increased that threat exponentially. Had Mr. Bush stuck to seeking to bring to justice the perpetrators of the awful crime which befell this country on September 11, 2001, he would more likely have sustained the support and goodwill which was ours after the inexcusable event.
Saddam Hussein was a jealous tyrant who considered religious fanatics like al Qaeda to be a serious threat to his regime. US Intelligence did not know that?
Then there is the matter of economics. Despite the fact that Pope John Paul II from his youth rejected both classical Marxist economics and laissez faire capitalism which so often provoked proletarian revolutions throughout the world due to extreme poverty and exploitation, Mr. Weigel in the aforementioned biography of John Paul II attempted to dismiss the pope's judgements regarding the Church's "preferential love for the poor". John Paul's adamant teaching in this regard was a balm for the millions of poor across the world who were being viewed as cheap labor for American and other Western corporations where money, not the dignity of the human person, is the bottom line:
"I cannot fail to note once again that the poor constitute the modern challenge, especially for the well-off of our planet, where millions of people live in inhuman conditions and many are literally dying of hunger. It is not possible to announce God the Father to these brothers and sisters without taking on the responsibility of building a more just society in the name of Christ." ----October 28, 1999This was a long way from the economics of Neoconservatives and those at the Acton Institute which was touted as the Think Tank for Catholic advocates of laissez faire. Mark and Louise Zwick were among the first to critique Weigel's bitter assessment:
Weigel claimed that Centesimus Annus was a complete break with the language of his previous encyclicals about a just wage and just distribution of the world's goods, universal destination of the world's goods.. John Paul II responded on November 3: "May the market agents know that in the process of economic globalization it is not possible to save oneself alone!" The Pope asked for a "new way of looking at wealth in terms of the common good," stated strongly that it is "not proper to subordinate ethical principles to economy," that "abusive speculation and exorbitant interest" must be avoided.---The Biography of Pope John Paul II by George Weigel Falls Short, Houston Catholic Worker, 1999
The Holy Father said explicitly,
"We have seen that it is unacceptable to say that the defeat of so-called Real Socialism leaves capitalism as the only model of social organization” (Centesimus Annus n. 34)For John Paul II unbridled capitalism was no answer to Marxist errors but was in fact partly responsible for provoking them with all their dreadful consequences.
Catholic Neoconservatives chafed under the leadership of a pope who had studied so deeply the multi-faceted traumatic errors of the past and who insisted that the timeless Catholic principles enunciated in Rerum Novarum (the 19th century encyclical 'On Capital and Labor') were to be organically developed in our time in new contexts. John Paul's Centesimus Annus was written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum.
"Leo XIII is repeating an elementary principle of sound political organization, namely, the more that individuals are defenseless within a given society, the more they require the care and concern of others, and in particular the intervention of governmental authority. In this way what we nowadays call the principle of solidarity, the validity of which both in the internal order of each nation and in the international order is clearly seen to be one of the fundamental principles of the Christian view of social and political organization. This principle is frequently stated by Pope Leo XIII, who uses the term 'friendship,' a concept already found in Greek philosophy. Pope Pius XI refers to it with the equally meaningful term 'social charity.' Pope Paul VI, expanding the concept to cover the many modern aspects of the social question, speaks of a 'civilization of love.'"
"It is not possible to understand man on the basis of economics alone, nor to define him simply on the basis of class membership. Man is understood in a more complete way when he is situated within the sphere of culture through his language, history, and the position he takes towards the fundamental events of life, such as birth, love, work and death. At the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God. Different cultures are basically different ways of facing the question of the meaning of personal existence. When this question is eliminated, the culture and moral life of nations are corrupted."Globalization
With respect to modern corporate globalization, the Pope was always consistent and adamant:
"America's 'neoliberalism' is a system based on a purely economic conception of man -- with profit and the law of the markets as its only parameters." (1999) . "Globalization 'a priori'," wrote the Holy Father, "is neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it. No system is an end in itself, and it is necessary to insist that globalization, like any other system, must be at the service of the human person; it must serve solidarity and the common good... (2001)
"In today's world, it is not enough to limit oneself to the law of the market and its globalization," the Holy Father said. "Solidarity must be fomented, avoiding the evils that stem from capitalism, which put profit above the person and make [the latter] the victim of so many injustices..."A development model that does not take into account and address these inequalities cannot prosper in any way," he said. "Those who always suffer most in the crises are the poor. This is why they must be the special object of the vigilance and attention of the state," the Pope continued. " (2003, emphasis added)In a world where 2 percent of the rich own half (!) of the world's wealth, John Paul affirmed that not only personal business behavior but corporate and governmental "structures of sin" must be replaced with those structures which foster human solidarity and the common good beyond capitalist individualism.
Man receives from God his essential dignity and with it the capacity to transcend every social order so as to move towards truth and goodness. But he is also conditioned by the social structure in which he lives, by the education he has received and by his environment. These elements can either help or hinder his living in accordance with the truth. The decisions which create a human environment can give rise to specificstructures of sin which impede the full realization of those who are in any way oppressed by them. To destroy such structures and replace them with more authentic forms of living in community is a task which demands courage and patience. (emphasis ours, Centesimus annus, #38; Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Poenitentia (December 2,1984),16:AAS 77 (1985), 213-217; Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Quadragesimo Anno, III: loc. cit., 219. )
"Human promotion must be the logical consequence of evangelization, which tends to the integral liberation of the person," the Holy Father said in the address he prepared for the occasion, quoting words he spoke in Santo Domingo on Dec. 12, 1992, on the fifth centenaryof the start of the evangelization of the Americas. (Zenit DEC. 15, 2003)Benedict XVI in Brazil, May 2007
Finally, John Paul's successor in his visit to the world's largest Catholic country reaffirmed as he has done many time before,
"The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit," he said in his opening address at a two-week bishops' conference in Brazil's holiest shrine city aimed at re-energizing the church's influence in Latin America...He also warned of unfettered capitalism and globalization, blamed by many in Latin America for a deep divide between the rich and poor. The pope said it could give "rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness...
"Capitalism and Marxism promised to find the right path towards the creation of just institutions and they claimed that those, once established, would function on their own," he said. (AP may 13, 2006) "They also claimed that not only would there be no need for an individual moral conscience, but that they would provide a common morality. This ideological promise has been shown to be false." (BBC, May 14, 2006)"The Catholic Church has thus disappointed Neoconservatives precisely because they wedded themselves to the present age. The Church transcends time-bound materialist political systems and its wars, opting rather in favor of just principles which foster the common good---which is far more than a materialist concept---and the dignity of the human person, who "God so loved," that he "gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life" (Jn 3:16). ---May 14, 2007