A Case Study in Sophistry:
Bishop McElroy of San Diego on the Last Election
by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 7, 2017
“Sophistry” is “subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation… that seems plausible on a superficial level but is actually unsound, or reasoning that is used to deceive.” The word is derived from the Greek sophistēs, the clever “wise men” with whom Socrates had to contend during the dialogues in which he so methodically exposed their errors.
Sophistry, sad to say, has become the stock-in-trade of the liberal American bishops who, for the past half-century, have acted as pallbearers for the Church Militant in this country, essentially reducing the Church’s role ad extra to what Antonio Socci has called a “social assistant” to the New World Order.
Thus, while carefully skirting the restrictions imposed by the Johnson Amendment, the liberal bishops, meaning almost the entire American episcopate (of course there are noble exceptions), did all they could to undermine Trump’s candidacy while boosting the prospects for Hillary’s election. For that task a great deal of sophistry was required to disguise what these bishops were really doing: advancing the candidacy of a rabid proponent of the mass murder of children in the womb, even at the very moment of their birth.
Exhibit A: Bishop Robert W. McElroy, whom Pope Francis elevated to his status as the new Bishop of San Diego. McElroy is known as one of the “Francis bishops” with whom Pope Bergoglio is systematically seeding the world episcopate. A “Francis bishop” is one who, following Francis’ own words on the subject, is not “obsessed” with the intrinsic evils of “abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods.” No, a Francis bishop is “obsessed” with other matters, such as immigration law — borders must be open! — equity in employment, and “racism,” which is supposedly everywhere. As for the slaughter of innocents demanded by evil figures like Clinton… Well, not so much.
And so, during the last presidential campaign McElroy, with consummate sophistry, argued that it is “simplistic” to say that “Catholic teaching demands that political opposition to intrinsically evil acts, like abortion, euthanasia and embryonic experimentation, must be given automatic priority over all other issues for the purposes of voting.”
Now, “simplistic” is one of the sophist’s favorite words. He deploys it whenever he seeks to belittle a proposition that, in fact, is simply true. And, of course, it is true that the Catholic voter must give priority in voting to the “life issues” and that the duty to oppose politicians who support the legalization of murder is paramount. In fact, as Pope Benedict XVI taught in the context of the political process, the Church’s teachings on life, marriage and family are all non-negotiable:
“the principal focus of her [the Church’s] interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable. Among these the following emerge clearly today:
“- protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death;
“- recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family — as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage — and its defence from attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization, obscuring its particular character and its irreplaceable social role;
“- the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.”
Francis, not surprisingly, disagrees with Benedict (as well as all of Benedict’s predecessors). As Francis declared during one of his innumerable press interviews: “I have never understood the expression non-negotiable values. Values are values, and that is it.”
With all due respect, that statement is itself sophistical. Obviously, some values are negotiable because they are of a lower order than the value of human life. For example, the value of justice in employment relations, while a key element of Catholic social teaching, is nevertheless subject to reasonable negotiations between employer and employee or business and government on matters such as wages, profit-sharing and working conditions. On the other hand, the value of human life, which is infinite, is not subject to compromise under any circumstances; the directly intended killing of children in the womb is always and everywhere evil. The sanctity of life is thus, precisely as Benedict says, non-negotiable.
But McElroy, being a “Francis” bishop, follows the line of the one who installed him as the ordinary of San Diego. Thus, concerning the “simplistic” prioritization of the issues of abortion, contraception and euthanasia in Catholic voting — all intrinsic evils Catholics must oppose — he writes:
“The list of intrinsic evils specified by Catholic teaching includes not only abortion, physician-assisted suicide and embryonic experimentation but also actions that exploit workers, create or perpetuate inhuman living conditions or advance racism. It is extremely difficult, and often completely impossible, to find candidates whose policies will not advance several of these evils in American life.”
That is some skillful sophistry. Notice the conflation of “abortion, physician-assisted suicide and embryonic experimentation” — all forms of murder — with mere unspecified “actions that exploit workers, create or perpetuate inhuman living conditions or advance racism.” Which actions? What does McElroy mean by “exploit workers” or “racism”? Which living conditions are “inhuman” as opposed to tolerable, however poor — a standard, moreover, that varies from locale to locale? How would one know which, if any, of the “actions” McElroy has in mind are really intrinsic evils as opposed to debatable public policies such as immigration restrictions or a minimum wage?
Notice also how McElroy smuggles under the same umbrella of “these evils” three forms of direct murder on the one hand and rather amorphous social justice issues on the other — as if they all directly involved intrinsically evil acts by individual actors on the same moral plane. This is also a cleverly disguised confusion of categories, between deliberately willed human acts by one agent toward another, such as murder, and the arguable effects of public policy positions on purely contingent matters such as immigration controls. (Legalization of abortion, of course, is not in the latter category, as it involves the directly intended killing of innocents).
But McElroy goes into sophistical high gear with the following specious argument:
“Even more important, a fatal shortcoming of the category of intrinsic evil as a foundation for prioritizing the major elements of the political common good lies in the fact that while the criterion of intrinsic evil identifies specific human acts that can never be justified, it is not a measure of the relative gravity of evil in human or political acts.
“Some intrinsically evil acts are less gravely evil than other intrinsically evil actions. Intrinsically evil action can also be less gravely evil than other actions that do not fall under the category of intrinsic evil. For example, telling any lie is intrinsically evil, while launching a major war is not. But it would be morally obtuse to propose that telling a minor lie to constituents should count more in the calculus of voting than a candidate’s policy to go to war.”
To put it colloquially: Give me a break! The argument is laughable: because some intrinsic evils are less serious than others, no intrinsic evil, no matter how heinous, can determine a vote against its political proponent. But a politician who lies can hardly be compared to a politician, like Hillary Clinton, who promotes the butchery of helpless, innocent children even as they are leaving the birth canal. Nor does “launching a major war” constitute an intrinsic evil act if the war happens to be just. Whether to wage war is also an eminently debatable matter of prudential judgment, as the Church has always taught. Indeed, McElroy undermines his own sophistry by pointing out that some intrinsically evil acts, such as the usual lies of politicians, do not rise to the level of abortion and euthanasia and thus could not reasonably be dispositive of voting decisions.
So what is the bottom line of McElroy’s sophistry? To the discerning reader it should be obvious: a Catholic need not vote for a pro-life candidate like Trump given his stand on such matters as immigration and “racism,” but can vote for a pro-death candidate like Clinton given her stances on immigration and “racism” because — so the sophistical argument goes — all of these issues are morally equivalent. Or stated otherwise: A Catholic can vote for a politician who calls for the mass murder of innocents and even demands that taxpayers subsidize the slaughter, so long as that same politician makes social justice noises that appeal to the liberal American episcopate, including the call for “open borders” and condemnations of “racism” — one of the most abused and meaningless epithets in American political discourse. In short, go ahead and vote for Clinton — which I would wager the majority of American bishops did.
With bishops such as McElroy, the Church’s prospects for prevailing in the American Kulturkampf are less than zero. By that I mean they are actually aiding and abetting the persecution of the Church by America’s equivalent of the Bismarck regime. Even after Trump’s victory they are still militating against him and in favor of the political establishment Obama represented. Accordingly, not a word of praise have we heard from these episcopal dupes concerning Trump’s pro-life decisions since his election, but we have heard plenty of moaning from them about his immigration policy.
Thanks be to God, however, the Church is no merely human institution. The Holy Ghost will ultimately remedy the harm inflicted by these men — and even the harm inflicted by the Pope who dared to install them as successors of the Apostles.