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Cowardice in the Chancery

by Christopher A. Ferrara
Nov. 18, 2008

Father Jay Scott Newman of Greenville, South Carolina in the Diocese of Charleston celebrates Mass facing the Altar — that is, facing God rather than the people — and believes in sacred music that is actually sacred. He also caused a nationwide furor when Associated Press reported that he advised his parishioners by a letter in his parish bulletin that “Voting for a pro-abortion politician when a plausible pro-life alternative exists constitutes material cooperation with intrinsic evil, and those Catholics who do so place themselves outside of the full communion of Christ’s Church and under the judgment of divine law. Persons in this condition should not receive Holy Communion until and unless they are reconciled to God in the Sacrament of Penance, lest they eat and drink their own condemnation.”

Father Newman made it clear to the AP reporter that he would not actually refuse Holy Communion to parishioners based on their votes in Election 2008, and that he had left it to them to examine their own consciences before approaching the Sacrament, but AP forgot to report that part of the story. Father Newman’s letter further stated: “Let us hope and pray that the responsibilities of the presidency and the grace of God will awaken in the conscience of this extraordinarily gifted man an awareness that the unholy slaughter of children in this nation is the greatest threat to the peace and security of the United States and constitutes a clear and present danger to the common good.” That bit of pastoral eloquence was likewise lost in the shuffle.

At first the Diocese of Charleston was supportive of Father Newman, as it should have been. Monsignor Martin Laughlin, apostolic administrator of the Diocese (which is currently without a bishop) stated in an email: “Thank you for your statement. I wish the bishops would have been as forthright. Why did they not speak before the election?” But under pressure from the hounds of political correctness — and probably assorted craven bishops — Laughlin promptly caved. He issued a statement repudiating Father Newman’s remarks: “As Administrator of the Diocese of Charleston, let me state with clarity that Father Newman’s statements do not adequately reflect the Catholic Church’s teachings. Any comments or statements to the contrary are repudiated.”

Nonsense. Father Newman’s statement reflects Catholic teaching perfectly. Indeed, it reflects the teaching of a number of courageous bishops, such as Serratelli of Paterson, who, in the days before the election, warned Catholics about the moral duty not to vote for a pro-abortion candidate. The truth is that Laughlin quailed when the pressure was on. But this cowardice in the chancery is the norm rather than the exception in America, and indeed throughout the West.

In America we are fed from infancy what the lawyer and theologian Kenneth Craycraft, Jr. calls “the American myth of religious freedom.” The reality, however, is that what contemporary man calls Liberty requires the subordination of spiritual authority to temporal authority according to the thinking of the co-founders of “classical liberalism”: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. This subordination of religion by the state was the great liberal “cure” for the liberal disease of Protestant factionalism. As the constitutional scholar Walter Berns puts it: “The origin of free government in the modern sense coincides with, and can only coincide with, the solution of the religious problem, and the solution of the religious problem consists in the subordination of religion.”

The reality as opposed to the myth is that the “age of democratic revolution” that began in America and France has rendered the Catholic Church impotent before state power in virtually every Western nation. Today Catholic hierarchs in America quake in fear at the threat of being denounced by public opinion or losing their precious federal tax exemptions simply for doing their apostolic duty to condemn evil and warn their sheep to avoid it. If this is “religious freedom,” then words have lost their meaning. But then, a loss of meaning is at the heart of the crisis that threatens the very existence of our civilization.