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Not So Loyal, After All

by Christopher A. Ferrara

Certain "conservative" Catholics loudly proclaim their loyalty to Pope John Paul II whenever it comes to any criticism by "traditionalists" of the Church’s declining condition during the 25 years of this pontificate. But, oddly enough, these same "conservatives"  —  whom I prefer to call neo-Catholics  —  are now openly dissenting from the Pope’s clear opposition to the impending war with Iraq.

The liberal journal National Catholic Reporter hit the nail on the head with a recent editorial entitled "Conservatives dissent, but with a spin." (January 31, 2003) The editorial observes that "conservative commentator George Weigel recently opined that the Roman Catholic just war tradition of moral analysis ‘lives more vigorously … at the higher levels of the Pentagon than … in certain offices at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.’" But NCR rightly notes that Wiegel is being less than honest in his targeting of criticism, for it is not the U.S. bishops, but the Pope who is leading Catholic opposition to the Iraqi war. As NCR states: "The real outcry in the Catholic world is coming from across the Atlantic Ocean, and more precisely from the subject of Weigel’s 1999 biography Witness to Hope  —  Pope John Paul II. If Weigel should be picking on anyone, it’s the pope."

Quite so. As NCR points out: "On Christmas Day, the pope pleaded with world leaders to ‘extinguish the ominous smoldering of a conflict which, with the joint efforts of all, can be avoided.’ On New Years Day, John Paul asserted that "peace is possible and a duty…’" And on January 13, the Pope declared in an address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican: "What are we to say of the threat of a war that could strike the people of Iraq … a people already sorely tried by more than 12 years of embargo? War is never just when there is another means … for settling differences between nations."

NCR asks" "So why doesn’t Weigel fight the real enemy?" and then answers its own question: "For the obvious reason that a certain class of conservative commentators in today’s American Catholic church make their living by interpreting the mind of John Paul, and it is inconvenient when his thinking cuts against the geopolitical agenda of the Bush administration… As for the pope, the challenge is to spin away inconvenient utterances. Thus when American Catholic pundit Michael Novak arrives in Rome in early February to try to convince the Vatican of the morality of ‘preventive war,’ he will no doubt quote John Paul II approvingly, even if his aim is to draw different conclusions about the use of force in Iraq."

Bull’s-eye! While pretending to be loyal followers of the Pope, neo-Catholic pundits are actually dissenting from his opposition to the war in Iraq. That is simple hypocrisy. NCR is thus dead-on when it concludes: "[T]he Bush-friendly line being toed by Weigel and Novak, in open contrast to what we’re hearing from Rome, reminds us that there is a ‘culture of dissent’ on the right in American Catholicism too. Usually it arises when John Paul challenges America’s prerogatives in commerce or war…. [W]hen Catholics, especially those in the public eye, draw conclusions at odds with the Holy Father, sincerity would seem to require naming this for what it is — dissent from non-infallible papal statements…."

Now, when traditionalists dissent from various novelties in the Church that have caused Her manifest harm over the past forty years, they at least have the honesty to state that they are doing so, based on the pronouncements of all the Popes and Councils before Vatican II, who would have viewed these novelties with utter horror. That is, when traditionalists demur from the prevailing novelties, they rely on the teaching of the Church Herself. But the neo-Catholics who are beating the drums for war are dissenting from this Pope based on the teaching of…. George Bush!

I am standing with the Holy Father on this one, for his opposition to the war in Iraq is rooted in the Church’s perennial teaching on the just war. But true loyalty to the Pope requires me to say also, with all due respect, that the Pope would not be pleading to avert the war with Iraq had he simply followed Our Lady’s prescription for peace at Fatima. May God move him to do so soon, before the annihilation of nations is upon us.