When “Catholic Social Teaching” Becomes a Golden Calf


Over at The Catholic Thing, Robert Royal was kind enough to print my essay questioning whether there really is an official Catholic ideology, complete with policy mandates (such as open borders, a massive welfare state, etc.), that we can draw from authoritative Church statements. Or have Church statements on politics and economics been so all over the map, and so manifestly fallible, that we have to use our own intellects to apply in the real world the broad, natural law principles that popes (among others) have cited? In other words, does the “Social Magisterium” even exist? Or is it a golden calf?

Please check it out, and chime in if you’re so moved. And if you agree, please spread the word among your fellow faithful Catholics, who might be misled by ideologues who are helping the Church’s enemies in America.


Strict Justice for Illegal Immigrants Would Mean Deportation


Are you angry about immigration? I am, and that puts me (for once) in the majority. Millions of Americans feel overwhelmed, threatened, and frankly outraged at the prospect of our country being inundated by tens of millions of poor, uneducated people who carry with them the habits engrained by corrupt, authoritarian countries. We fear that they will suppress the already low wages of unskilled American workers, that many will become new burdens on our strained public welfare system, and that most of them will vote for the party that will promise them more government benefits—the party of gay “marriage” and abortion. We resent the fact that most new immigrants (including those amnestied) will benefit from affirmative action—that is, discrimination at the expense of white male war veterans who have paid U.S. taxes all their lives.

In other words, we consider the prospect of mass, unskilled immigration both damaging to our country, and unjust to the citizens of every race who already live here.

But what about justice for immigrants? Let’s examine that. As I explained in the National Catholic Register, strict justice for illegal immigrants would mean that they would be deported. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the right to enter a country is conditional on fulfilling certain duties—exactly as a worker deserves a “just wage”only if he shows up for work and performs it. To keep his conditional right to immigrate, each entrant to a country must “obey its laws” (CCC 2241). That includes a country’s immigration and labor laws. By evading border guards, working “off the books,” and often committing identity theft in order to skirt America’s laws, most illegal immigrants have sadly forfeited their moral right to be here. That’s not me talking—that’s the Church.

I suspect that it would not be prudent to grant these immigrants what the Church says that they deserve—a swift return to their countries of origin. It might not be merciful. But it would be perfectly just.

When people call for “amnesty” or a “path to citizenship,” what they are asking for illegal immigrants is not justice but mercy—just as a criminal’s relatives might petition for parole based on good behavior. The state grants parole based on many factors, including how crowded the prison is, and how likely the person paroled is to reoffend. Likewise, when we consider granting an amnesty to the millions who have squandered their right to be immigrants by violating our laws, we have to consider the concrete effects of doing so.

Given that our borders are woefully insecure, that rumors of amnesty have led tens of thousands of parents to risk their children’s lives by shipping them to America, it certainly would not be prudent to grant an amnesty any time soon. Not till our borders are tight as a drum, and employers face prison time for hiring illegal workers, would it be safe to offer an amnesty. A hasty “path to citizenship” would simply lead thousands more to die in the desert, and leave our border states on the brink of chaos—at the mercy of human traffickers and narco-terrorist cartels.

Is there a sane way forward that would allow us to offer some measure of mercy to millions of people who have mostly worked hard and obeyed (some of) our laws? I would like to think so. I would hope that the liberals and the cheap labor lobby could put aside their naked self-interest for a while, and cooperate with conservatives in securing America’s borders, mandating enforcement of workplace verification, and tracking people who overstay their visas and removing them. At that point, the justified anger of Americans might subside. We might cease to fear that our country is lapsing into anarchy. And then, with cooler heads on every side, we could reexamine the question of granting mercy to illegal immigrants.

But I do not expect such a compromise any time soon. The open-borders lobby thinks that they smell victory, that they can mau-mau Americans into leaving our frontiers unguarded, and also granting citizenship (plus welfare benefits) to some 12 million people—in return for empty promises, exactly like those that came with our 1986 amnesty. Marco Rubio’s bill in 2012, which was already insufficient in its efforts to guard our borders, was gutted by Democrats and turned into such a sham that even its sponsor had to renounce it. The cheap-vote left and cheap-labor right refuse to bargain in good faith, so the best thing that Americans can do right now is stand firm until an electoral shift brings in better legislators. I am grateful to the Tea Party congressmen and senators like Ted Cruz who had the patriotic good sense last week to block reckless bills that would have offered cosmetic solutions, and increased the influx of illegal immigrants. Let’s remember the Hippocratic Oath and “first, do no harm.”

John Zmirak is co-author of the upcoming The Race to Save Our Century: Five Core Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom, and a Culture of Life.


Churches Should Cease Pro-Immigration Push


This was originally published on June 17 by The Blaze, and is reprinted with that site’s kind permission. John Zmirak will be on the Laura Ingraham Show on June 24 to talk about it with Ms. Ingraham.

Steve Weatherbe recently reported in the global Catholic news portal Aleteia that America’s Catholic bishops are upping the pressure on Congress to offer an amnesty deal for illegal immigrants before the fall elections — which they and everyone else expect will yield a more conservative Congress.

Evangelical leaders who have hopped on the immigration bandwagon are also trying to move their more skeptical co-religionists into line with the Catholics and Democrats on this issue. It might seem ironic that social conservatives are trying to rush into law a major reform on a profoundly important national issue, lest the voters speak their minds and elect a more conservative Congress.

Is immigration an issue where Christians are morally obliged to part ways with their longtime conservative allies, because the obligations of the Gospel demand that we set aside national selfishness, and possibly even covert racist sentiments?

That is how some religious writers are casting the question. Prominent among them is Virginia Republican Party Executive Director, Shaun Kenney, ally of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who was recently crushed by Dave Brat in that state’s Republican primary, largely because of Cantor’s support for passing an amnesty deal with the support of congressional Democrats.

In the buildup to that primary, Kenney penned an astonishing article in which he demonized opponents of amnesty as “know-nothings,” “nativists” and “clowns.” Citing none of the rational opponents of amnesty, but instead a collection of anonymous xenophobic rants, Kenney portrayed Brat supporters as hateful and dangerous heirs to the Ku Klux Klan, and called for Republicans to “drive them out” of the party.

Kenney’s piece is itself one of the more hateful, violent instances of political rhetoric I have seen in many years. With supporters like Kenney backing him, no wonder Virginia’s Republican voters decided instead to drive out Cantor instead.

Do a little more digging on Mr. Kenney, and you see exactly why he regards American patriotism as suspect: He is a politicized Catholic supremacist, who suggests that his co-religionists (I am one of them) ought to abandon any concern for the well-being of our fellow-Americans, and cast our political loyalty with our church, instead of our country.

We must work for a “Catholic restoration,” and shed “worldly ideologies” such as American democratic capitalism. We should “stop being… conservative[s],” and form our political views according to whatever statements, at whatever level of authority, come out of the Vatican. When the Vatican changes its policy on an issue, we must change our minds too — like loyal Communists following the Moscow party line. (How fitting that the site where Kenney published his Catholic supremacist screed has also tried to rehabilitate Karl Marx.)

Now, I have spent almost 40 years defending the Church’s authoritative teachings on moral issues — beginning at age 11, collecting signatures for New York City’s right-to-life candidate for mayor. But as a well-informed Catholic, I know that the Church makes no idolatrous claims that the pope is a gateway into the mind of God, bubbling up like an 8-Ball with the answers to every policy question that comes along.

Our recent popes have largely been prudent and holy men, whose advice on the technical implementation of Christian ethics has often been wise. But the Church admits that popes are merely human, and that 99.99999999999 percent of statements by popes are completely fallible, subject to correction and even respectful disagreement.

For instance, consider assertions by several popes that any lending at interest is a sin against nature, akin to sodomy. (Now the Vatican runs its very own bank.) Or statements by popes endorsing slavery and the persecution of Protestants — two practices the Church now teaches are intrinsically, always and everywhere evil.

More recently, Pope Paul VI wrote in an encyclical (Populorum Progressio) that Third World poverty could be solved by raising taxes in the rich countries, and sending billions in foreign aid to foreign governments. Forty years of waste and corruption have shown that such government-to-government foreign aid was typically useless or even disastrous, much of it ending up in the Swiss bank accounts of vicious dictators.

So pardon me if I don’t expect the Vatican to write America’s immigration laws, or draw up its federal budget. That’s not part of its job description.

The Church depends on laymen to make the tough, prudential decisions about how to apply Christian principles to practical situations — indeed, Pope Leo XIII and Pope John Paul II each denied that their papal office gave them any special insight into how such principles ought to be put into practice. They were good and humble men, and did not crave the magical status of oracles that some ideologues try to attribute to them.

When the pope speaks about moral principles, we Catholics have to listen – and non-Catholics ought to as well, since these are highly educated, deeply prayerful men. But no pope, and no pastor, has a monopoly on rational thought. Christians can and should differ on how to resolve America’s immigration problems.

If the reader is interested, I have tried to defend the conservative position, drawing on Christian principles and the demands of the common good for my fellow American citizens. But I could be wrong. I’m not infallible — and on issues this specific, nobody is.

My good friend Jason Jones thinks that an amnesty plan could work — provided that it was accompanied by rock-solid guarantees of renewed border security. I fear that the Democrats and the cheap labor lobby will always find ways to wriggle out of enforcing any real border control, which means that conservatives will have surrendered on the deeply symbolic issue of illegal immigration and gotten nothing in return — except an amnesty that invites another wave of illegal influxes.

I also worry about accepting millions more future Democratic voters, whose allegiance will tend (like Boston’s Irish) to follow which ever politician promises the most generous government programs.

Whatever your position, it is clear that immigration reform is utterly unlike abortion, slavery, genocide, or other profound moral issues where Christians were solemnly called to defend the dictates of a transcendent moral order. It’s an issue we can argue about, as patriotic citizens of good will, without demonizing each other or trying to “drive out” people who differ with us. I’m astonished that the Republican Party of the Commonwealth of Virginia is led by someone who doesn’t accept that fact.

John Zmirak is co-author of the upcoming book, “The Race to Save Our Century.” His columns are archived at www.badcatholics.com.


Pope Francis, Marriage, and the “End” of Infallibility


What will it mean if Pope Francis follows the counsel offered by some of his closest advisors, including Cardinal Walter Kasper, and permits divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion?  This prospect has only come to seem more likely given the Holy Father’s much discussed phone call to the Argentine divorcee.  This subject has been much on my mind for the past few months, and now that the worthy Ross Douthat has raised its implications in a highly public forum—and a number of important  Catholic  commentators are writing about it in depth—I think it is time to lay out a few of the scenarios that come to mind. 

Because the options are all rather unsettling, and opinions are deeply divided, it seems most useful to me to present the argument in the form of a three person dialogue, with each character representing a different perspective within the Church.  In the past, some readers have objected to this genre, making assertions such as “fictional dialogues belong in fiction.”  Tell that to Plato, St. Anselm, St. Thomas More, Erasmus, and Peter Kreeft.

To make things a little easier, I will label the characters’ viewpoints right up front:

John Paul: A faithful, orthodox Catholic who attends the most reverent Mass offered at his geographical parish. 

Marcel: A self-identified “traditional Catholic” who attends the Latin Mass exclusively. 

Josip: Raised a Byzantine Catholic, he attends that liturgy. He is politically and doctrinally conservative, but somewhat skeptical of Western conceptions of the papal Magisterium.


Marcel:  Hey John Paul! If Pope Francis blows up the sacrament of marriage, will you still insist that Vatican II was a “renewal” of the Church sent by the Holy Spirit?  Or will you finally start giving some thought to the alternative?

John Paul:  This issue is completely separate from the texts of the Second Vatican Council. They are the only aspect of the Council that binds us—and none of them says anything implying that divorced, remarried Catholics are eligible for Communion.  So your question is kind of incoherent.  But go on—what’s the alternative?

Marcel: That we have been witnessing since 1960 the Great Apostasy predicted by a number of apparitions of Our Lady.  That the orthodoxy, and hence the authority, of the popes who supported Vatican II is pretty dubious.

John Paul:  You know what’s dubious?  Private revelations.  You know what’s binding?  General councils of the Church and official statements of validly elected popes.

Josip: What happens if the official statement of a validly elected pope contradicts a fundamental Church teaching?  Such as the indissolubility of marriage, based on the clear words of Our Lord, and infallibly taught by the Council of Trent.

John Paul: That could never happen.

Josip: Yeah, but what if it does?

John Paul: It’s sacrilegious even to play with such hypotheticals. It shows your lack of faith in the Church.

Josip: St. Paul was willing to consider what it would mean if Christ hadn’t risen from the dead.  Divorce seems considerably less earth-shattering than that. What will it mean if Pope Francis does what he seems to hint he will do, which his closest advisors are saying in public he should do?  According to Cardinal Kasper, the Church should give divorced Catholics a “pass” on the Ten Commandments and the words of Christ, and treat their sexual relationships with their new “spouses” as something other than adultery. That’s the only possible implication of allowing them to receive Holy Communion without vowing to refrain from sex.

Marcel:  Which is exactly what the schismatics in the East have been doing for centuries. I’ll tell you what it would mean if “Pope Francis” does this: It will mean that he has lost the Catholic faith—and therefore the office of pope.  The throne will be empty, as some say it was when Paul VI endorsed the heresy of religious liberty, and when John Paul II and Benedict went on to teach it as well.

John Paul: At Vatican I, the Council closed off the idea that a pope could lose the throne through personal “heresy.” Saint Robert Bellarmine had made that argument, but Vatican I rebuked it.

Marcel: What use is infallibility if it doesn’t prevent a pope from endorsing a Council that teaches heresy, then reiterating it in countless public statements and in a Catechism?

John Paul: What use is papal infallibility if a pope can go ahead and teach heresy—God won’t stop him—but then we get to say that he’s no longer pope?  That makes infallibility an empty tautology: The pope is infallible, until he isn’t—at which point he isn’t pope anymore.  The Pharisees would have winced at that kind of legalism.  I certainly can’t imagine Christ winking at it.

Josip: If a pope ever taught heresy ex cathedra—which of course, I don’t expect will happen—it would prove something all right—that the Eastern Orthodox have been right all along. That Vatican I was not an infallible council, and neither were any of the other councils we have held without the Orthodox since 1054.

Marcel: Do you think Our Lord will be winking if the pope contradicts His plain words about divorce and remarriage?

Josip: No, I don’t.  We’ll get back to the implications of that in a minute.  First, I want to deny that religious liberty is a heresy.  Yes, there are many, many papal statements endorsing the persecution of “heretics.” Obviously, the Council Fathers and the pope knew about those statements, which their opponents such as Abp. Lefebvre were constantly quoting in the debates.  Clearly, the Magisterium concluded that those previous statements were not infallible—that in fact, they were wrong, because they endorsed violations of natural law and divine revelation, according to Dignitatis Humanae.  Papal assertions that it is right to imprison Protestants would have been false—like papal statements condemning all lending at interest as sinful “usury,” and statements permitting the enslavement of Muslims defeated in “just wars.” Of course, admitting all this should make us a lot more careful about how much weight we attach to papal statements.  Even when they reiterate “venerable” teachings like the condemnation of all lending at interest, and the embrace of religious persecution, most such statements are not infallible—and quite a number of them, in retrospect, were wrong.

John Paul: It’s unhealthy and impious for faithful Catholics to be sifting papal statements and determining which ones are “wrong.” If the Church decides, at a later date, to override what a previous pope has said, then and only then may we draw such a conclusion.

Marcel: Like good little Communists, we should wait to hear what Moscow decides is the new “party line,” then pretend that we have believed it all along?  I don’t buy it.

Josip: So John Courtney Murray should not have written in defense of religious liberty, since it wasn’t yet Church teaching?  And Catholic bankers shouldn’t have loaned money at reasonable rates of interest, but waited for the centuries to pass until the Church realized that the previous teaching hadn’t been infallible—and in fact, was wrong?

John Paul: That would seem like the safe, obedient course of action.

Josip: And if Pope Francis approves Holy Communion for sexually active divorced Catholics, will it be safe and obedient to accept that as well?

Marcel: It will be proof that he has lost the Catholic faith, and the right to call himself pope.  I bet that the bishops of the SSPX hold an election to find a real pope.

John Paul: I renew my objection to talking about such a development as if it were really possible. But for the sake of argument: If Pope Francis permits this kind of pastoral policy, it will be gravely mistaken—on the order of popes in past centuries allowing choir boys to be castrated to sing in the Vatican.

Josip: Surely this issue has greater implications than that.  How will we explain to homosexuals that they cannot be sexually active outside of marriage, and still receive Communion—when we permit that to heterosexuals?  Even I’m kind of offended by that.  Will anyone, anyone at all, still take the Church’s ban on birth control seriously, when it’s giving people a pass for adultery?  Which one is a more obvious violation of natural law?

John Paul: The pope would not be teaching error, but merely tolerating it.  As in previous centuries, when popes were lax about enforcing clerical celibacy, or allowed the sale of indulgences.

Marcel: No, you’re wrong.  If the German bishops started allowing this evil practice—which they probably already are, because they don’t want people to stop checking the “Catholic” box on their tax forms, and depriving the Church of money—that would be one thing.  But if the pope permits it for the universal Church, that’s something else entirely.  It’s right up there with him personally ordaining a woman as a priest, or adding an eighth sacrament.  It would be heresy, plain and simple.

John Paul: But he wouldn’t be teaching ex cathedra….

Josip: So if this happens, it won’t necessarily prove that Vatican I was wrong and the Eastern Orthodox are right about the structure of the Church. (Though of course, they will still be wrong about marriage—but then they don’t claim to be infallible.)

John Paul: No.

Josip: Or that Marcel is right and that the pope will have lost the throne?

John Paul: Absolutely not.

Josip: But it will prove that papal authority, and the divine protections we attribute to it, are a heck of a lot narrower than we used to think.  It will completely demoralize faithful Catholics who have been relying on papal statements to decide what they believe about critical issues—from war and peace to economics, from birth control to gay “marriage.” In effect, it will say that every papal statement in history is subject to future revision—except for the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.  Those, at least, will be set in stone.  Apart from that, everyone will be reduced to a kind of cafeteria Catholicism—unless, as Marcel said, they decide to stuff previous Church teachings into the Memory Hole and simply follow the Party Line.  That would make things simpler.  Oceania has ALWAYS been at war with Eurasia.

John Paul: I miss Pope Benedict XVI.

Marcel: I miss Pope Pius XII.

Josip: What do you think really motivates Pope Francis? I don’t think he’s just another post-Conciliar progressive.

Marcel: If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Josip: It might in fact be a decoy.

John Paul: It seems to me that the pope is reaching out to the kind of people with whom John Paul II and Benedict XVI somehow couldn’t connect.

Marcel: People who want to claim that they’re “Catholic,” in the same sense that they’re “Irish” or “Italian”?

John Paul: No! I think he’s trying to convert the liberal’s false compassion for the “marginalized” into a genuine Christian concern for the needy.

Marcel: The “needy,” in this case, being prosperous divorced couples in Germany and the U.S.? Weakening marriage, in any way, really hurts the poor.

John Paul:  But I wish that Pope Francis would keep his outreach within the bounds of Catholic orthodoxy.

Marcel: Yeah, that would be nice.  It seems like the least we can ask… of a POPE.

Josip: What if there’s something else going on?  What if Pope Francis thinks that papal claims have been exaggerated, to the point where they needlessly block ecumenism—especially with the Eastern Orthodox?

Marcel: For all his talk of collegiality, he seems to have no problem using his power—against us Traditionalists.

Josip: But if he uses his power this time, to dismantle the traditional teaching on marriage, what would that mean for the authority of the papacy?

John Paul: Assuming the Holy Spirit allows it to happen…

Marcel: …And we don’t see a sudden resignation, “health crisis,” or falling meteorite…

Josip: The doctrinal contradiction would dismantle the papacy too—at least as we have known the papacy since… 1054. Which would remove the main barrier to unity with the East.

Marcel: So you think Pope Francis is practicing ecumenism by “auto-destruction”?

Josip: I don’t know.  Maybe he thinks of it as Perestroika.

John Paul: That’s impossible.  It’s apostasy.  God will never permit it.

Josip: Unless He does. In which case… well then, we’ll know who was right all along, won’t we?


John Zmirak is author, most recently, of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism. His columns are archived here.