Catholicism, American conservatism, and the question of freedom

Pope John Paul II saved his most powerful indictment of post-Cold War triumphalism for his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, which considered the ever-expanding graveyard of the unborn in the West.

President Ronald Reagan shaking hands with Pope John Paul II at the Miami airport on September 10, 1987. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Church’s engagement with modernity is, to say the least, a work in progress. Though Catholics remain divided in their understanding of authentic engagement, the Church has been blessed with the guidance of visionary popes who, over the past century, have arguably surpassed in piety, virtue and wisdom any succession of popes over an equivalent length of time in the history of the papacy. The past month of October offered relatively new feast days celebrating two of these popes, St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II.

Sadly, these popes have too often been set against each other by partisans within the Church: “liberals” claiming John XXIII as their champion, “conservatives” claiming John Paul II. Two years ago, Catholic World Report published an article by George Weigel reclaiming John XXIII from the pejorative sense of “liberal”: unorthodox, modernist. In this essay, I would like to rescue John Paul II from the pejorative sense of conservative: libertarian anti-communist.

Opposition to communism was no doubt one of the most dramatic features of John Paul’s pontificate. His trip to Poland in 1979 inspired the birth of the Solidarity movement, which was instrumental of the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe and ultimately the downfall of the Soviet Union itself. The confusion arises when people consider the positive vision of society with which John Paul opposed communism. There is far too great a tendency among conservative American Catholics to equate John Paul’s opposition to communism with that of the other great anti-communist warrior of the 1980s: Ronald Reagan. Paul Kengor, for example, claims the two shared a common spiritual vision. John Paul II was a Roman Catholic. Ronald Reagan claimed to be a born-again Christian, which in American can pretty much mean anything anyone wants it to mean.

Kengor’s efforts, often by innuendo, supposition, and even imagined conversations between John Paul and Reagan, fall in a long line of patriotic Catholic wishful thinking in relation to nation’s Protestant leaders.1 There are still Catholics who believe that George Washington converted to Catholicism on his death bed. The aspects of Reagan’s beliefs that concern me here relate more to man than to God. What is the nature of man? What is the nature of society? What is the nature of politics?

On these matters we have a much clearer sense of what Reagan believed and a much clearer sense of his contrast with John Paul. Reagan had one answer to all of the above questions: freedom. A New Deal Democrat through most of his career in Hollywood, Reagan took a sharp turn to the right when he began to pursue his new career in politics. During the 1950s and 1960s, he came of political age as a Barry Goldwater-style libertarian, denouncing the New Deal and the welfare state, limiting government to the basic tasks of law enforcement and national defense. The conservative Catholic L. Brent Bozell famously questioned the moral and spiritual basis of this libertarianism in his 1962 National Review article, “Freedom or Virtue.” Bozell’s sense that freedom-first libertarianism jeopardized virtue and Christian faith by reducing them to individual choices would lead him to abandon conservatism in search of a more authentically Catholic politics.2

Conservative politicians such as Reagan remained focused on attacking big government at home and communism abroad. Conservatism did not “get religion” until the rise of the Moral Majority in the late 1970s, and opposition to abortion served as the galvanizing issue for the Religious Right. Curiously, though opposed to “choice” in abortion, Reagan and his Republican Party remained pro-choice in just about everything else, most especially the libertarian assault on government. These strange bedfellows produced some initial cognitive dissonance for New Deal Catholic Democrats whose pro-life principles led them to the Republican Party.

Soon, again improbably, economic libertarianism acquired virtue, even piety, by association with a political party opposed to abortion. For American Catholics with any sense of history, this required a dramatic break from past ideals and experience. The tradition of the social encyclicals, which sought a third way between state socialism and laissez-faire capitalism, was either dismissed as non-binding or reinterpreted to endorse the very free-market ideals they were once understood to challenge. This hermeneutic of rupture provided the context for the reception of John Paul II’s contribution to the social encyclical tradition, Centisimus Annus (1991).

Published to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, the encyclical also seemed to provide an endorsement of the West in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union. For both conservative and liberal American Catholics, it seemed more specifically a vindication of the policies of Ronald Reagan, both his aggressive stance toward the Soviets and his rolling back of the New Deal in the name of the free market. Now, for conservatives, the market acquired virtue and piety through proximity not only to a holy cause, but to a holy man. Yes, John Paul presents the collapse of the Soviet Union as a vindication of the “free economy.” The question is, what does he mean by a “free economy”?:

Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.

Here John Paul addresses issues similar to those raised by Brent Bozell in his “Freedom or Virtue” essay some thirty years earlier. For John Paul as for Bozell, economic freedom is not primary but must be exercised within a legal, ethical, and religious framework that guides people toward the common good. No self-respecting defender of the free market would recognize this as a “free” economy. Some, like Bozell’s interlocutors, might insist we need freedom and virtue, but this misses the point of the primacy of virtue and a proper ordering of goods. To put freedom first is to make virtue a choice; in a pluralistic society, there are many competing models of virtue and individuals must be free to choose, limited only by the prohibition of imposing one’s personal choice on others.

Pope Benedict XVI would dub this moral and spiritual anarchy the “tyranny of relativism.” John Paul identifies a more specifically economic manifestation in what we could call the tyranny of consumerism:

A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts — while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free — then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities.

Consumerism cuts across political categories. In the post-Cold War West, it is one of the few commitments shared by liberals and conservatives alike. Still, the type of critique John Paul offers here could have no traction if one proceeds from the primacy of freedom. True, John Paul’s hope that “education and cultural work” might tame consumerism fits with the conservative insistence on the need for virtue; however, the notions that an attitude or life-style might be “objectively improper” or that proper ordering might require “the necessary intervention by public authorities” would never pass the freedom-first test.

Perhaps nowhere does Centesimus Annus offend conservative sensibilities more than in John Paul’s observation concerning the environmental consequences of consumerism:

Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumerism and which is closely connected to it. In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God- given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.

When Pope Francis expresses similar concerns, he is vilified by conservative Catholics as at best a dupe of liberals, at worst an apologist for population control. John Paul here, like Francis later, simply gives voice to the much-maligned “seamless garment” of Catholic social teaching—a garment that does not fit particular well on either liberal or conservative bodies.

John Paul saved his most powerful indictment of post-Cold War triumphalism for his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae. As anti-communists danced on the grave of the Soviet Union, John Paul considered the ever-expanding graveyard of the unborn in the West. The death toll from abortion in the United States alone surpasses that of the death camps of Hitler and Stalin combined. More frightening still, these deaths come not from a clearly identifiable state tyranny over the individual but from the principle of individual freedom itself, the right to choose. John Paul observes how disagreement on abortion inevitably leads to the compromise of choice as the only option “if one wants a society in which the maximum possible freedom is guaranteed to each individual.”

This appears to be what most Americans want; sadly, it also appears to be what most American Catholics want. Revisiting the writings of St. John Paul II may not persuade liberal and conservative Catholics to change their politics, but it may at least dissuade them from seeking to use him to advance their flawed political visions.

Endnotes:

1 See, for example, “Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Fatima” (May 10, 2017) by Paul Kengor.

2 For an account of Bozell’s critique of libertarianism, see “‘Freedom or Virtue?’ Revisited” (March 5, 2012) by Christopher Shannon.


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About Dr. Christopher Shannon 14 Articles
Dr. Christopher Shannon is a member of the History Department at Christendom College, where he interprets the narrative of Christian history from its foundations in the Old Testament and its heroic beginnings in the Church of the Martyrs, down through the ages to the challenges of the post-modern world. His books include Conspicuous Criticism: Tradition, the Individual, and Culture in Modern American Social Thought (Johns Hopkins, 1996), Bowery to Broadway: The American Irish in Classic Hollywood Cinema (University of Scranton Press, 2010), and with Christopher O. Blum, The Past as Pilgrimage: Narrative, Tradition and the Renewal of Catholic History (Christendom Press, 2014).

25 Comments

  1. A virtuous mean is not always easy even for saints. We find excess and defect in many. Argument can be justifiably made that if John Paul II exerted similar energy in salvaging the good in Latin American liberation theology [a reaction to the upper middle class clergy in S Am and their peasant banana plantation laborers], as he did with Solidarity in Poland the continued diminishment of Catholic practice and embrace of Evangelical Christianity could well have been avoided. Nor can we speak glowingly of his McCarrick and other appointments, his defense even strident defense of Marcial Maciel despite access to adverse documented reports. His pontificate did nonetheless direct the Church in the right direction and he accomplished virtual miracles including his major influence, with Reagan as noted by Dr Shannon in the collapse of the Soviet Union. He had a perhaps liberal overreach that caused giant problems, one his already noted excessive trust in human nature seen in his many horrible appointments from which the Church continues to suffer. While I appreciate Weigel’s scholarship mentioned here I dislike his continuous deification of John Paul. That propensity to see no evil reinforces the divide between liberal and conservative. It took Benedict XVI former CDF prefect to immediately reverse John Paul’s absent concern of homosexuality in the ranks of the hierarchy most egregiously the McCarrick affair. It would do well for Dr Shannon to be aware of our common tendency to whitewash the ones we love, as I do love John Paul II though wish to be objective regarding reality. For example, most Catholics agree that we consume goods excessively, however the term “consumerism” lends to recognition of an ideology that fits the Marxist thesis which we once again suffer in America. Also, speaking of Nature in “rebellion” to human consumption in Centesimus Annus adds more than the nuance of a fantasized deity, Mother Earth happily engaged by Pope Francis in directing the Church away from major moral concerns abortion, homosexuality to a theology of ecology. John Paul sought to grasp and define more than he was competent of, leaving us with an imperfect Theology of the Body. “The human body includes right from the beginning the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift. And by means of this gift fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.” A thesis as worded requires specificity as if the body alone determines love. In the Christian milieu it suggests sensuality as the equivalent of the spiritual and all the aberrations that it leads to. Certainly John Paul doesn’t intend that although his conception of the body narrowly interpreted is deficient. Man is a theologically an inseparable unity of body and soul.

    • About John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus (CA) versus Pope Francis’s “theology of ecology”–the signal point briefly made in CA is the distinct clarity retained by “moral theology” as not reducible to Francis’ neologism “integral ecology” (combining the human ecology and the interrelated natural ecology). John Paul II introduces the “ecological question” (n. 37), while also maintaining a distinct and “authentic ‘human ecology'” (nn. 38, 39)

      John Paul II affirms that all of the Catholic Social Teaching (including even care for God’s creation) “belongs to the field . . . of theology and particularly moral theology” (n. 55; wording originally in Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, n. 143).

      Francis does make an important point—about the common good, our common home, and future generations—but John Paul II did the same, and without losing his balance: “Man remains above all a being who seeks the truth and strives to live in that truth, deepening his understanding of it through a dialogue which involves past and future generations” (n. 49).

      And, in truth, there really is a “seamless garment!” It runs from abortion, to euthanasia, to accompaniment/accommodation of the gay lifestyle, to the blessing of “gay marriages,” to transgenderism, and finally to the flatland and omnibus gender theory. And, even to Catholics in high office who with impunity promote all of these.

      Great cafeteria selection—the anti-boundary displacement of moral theology by social science, politics, and Pachamama.

      • A question related to my point Peter is implied here, “A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises” (JPII CA). Our choices of production and consumption are requisites for any society in order to meet life’s basics. “Consumerism” isn’t first defined as a scholarly work should define their major premises. I can ask you to define consumerism and I’m confident you’ll come up with a response. However, if you limit yourself to the exact wording of JPII you’ll have to glean it from context. Example, “A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption”. Vague and nonspecific? Yes. How do we definitively distinguish in what he says, one culture from another by what they consume? Must we employ our imagination? To consume and consumerism are obviously two different things. Morally speaking we might say consumerism means we consume more than we need, a value judgment. Although is that greed, or a lust for domination of the poor and power? Then we situate ourselves as the moral judge of nations in a Marxist form of critique.

        • Your commentary Father, and that of Mr. Beaulieu, provide more insight than the original article. Not surprising. Most deficient in the author’s analysis involves his “what is the nature of” questions that fail to address what is the nature of evil because this should reflect the essence of how religion confronts all social questions. The author plays the rhetorical middle game of being above the fray of a liberal vs conservative debate because he limits this debate to these premises, which are mostly economic, with ecology as a self-evident consequence.
          But this is essentially nonsense. Everyone cares about the environment, except for some deranged environmentalists who start forest fires “to raise everyone else’s consciousness” to their imagined level of superior sensitivity. Shannon apparently takes little offense of Francis’ smallminded dismissal of arguments he stubbornly refuses to consider.
          Like Francis, he seems unaware that conservatives do not defend capitalism, or even market economies as a primary focus. Authentic conservatives loath, for the same reasons, the tyranny of governments, the tyranny of cliches, and the tyranny of big business, who ironically target conservatives and the principles of freedom that allowed their fortune building. We can not create utopia. We can only create a society where evilness will be less hidden and more accountable and more prosecutable. We fantasize endlessly about just societies to separate our minds from thinking too much our personal sins.
          Even non-religious conservatives value innate truth and natural law as first principles. Authentic conservatives believe in original sin and the permanent imperfectability of society and do not ignore the recurring disasters from the human vanities that ignore this reality. History proves this with endless bloodshed, currently with lesser drama than WWII, instead with the silent holocaust of the sex revolution’s unborn victims. Even popes frequently ignore these realities when they theorize fantasies about man only “searching for the good” while downplaying our constant search for self-gratifying evil and for ways to accommodate our pretentions that we do not.

  2. Additionally I wish to say it’s not the personal priorities or their expression, even personality of our previous pontiffs that divide us as much as the contested issues and unwillingness for conservative [and liberal] to articulate a mean. Dr Shannon’s thesis on face value is correct, although exploration of the issues would hopefully lessen the divide.

  3. There is no such thing as a conservative Catholic or a liberal Catholic. A Catholic can only be a follower of Christ—politics is a man-made ideology and has no place with religion. Catholics obey the teachings of Christ and do not kneel to a donkey or an elephant. And what is a patriotic Catholic? This government in Washington is a man-made golden calf that is not equal to Catholicism. Never did Christ tell his followers to go to Rome and write man-made laws. Christ did, however, create a Church to change our world. The Church is the tool Christ wants us to use to change the world—-not the government in Washington, DC. Politics is destroying the Catholic Church. Bishops must tend to their flock—-if bishops want more people to obey the teachings of Christ, they must evangelize and get more members for their flock.

  4. This column seems to me to display a poor understanding of Ronald Reagan and also to generalize American Conservatism is a way is off base. Neither were/are libertarian in the way this characterizes. It almost seems an effort to say, “I am such a better Catholic than those people who feel that Conservatism much better aligns with Catholicism than does modern big-government Liberalism. I’m above all that. See how I’m such a good, smart Catholic that I can be on the same page with each Pope, while you dumb and disloyal Conservatives can’t figure out how to pretzel your reasoning into agreeing with both Francis and JPII about everything.” It smacks of Triumphalism.

  5. There is a lot wrong with Dr. Shannon’s thinking as reflected here and in some of his earlier pieces. For starters, issues such as the justice and efficacy of the welfare state are of an entirely different nature than abortion and gay rights. Catholics can disagree on whether Medicare was a good idea. The passages cited from Centesimus Annus here simply do not support Shannon’s contention that belief in limited government and opposition to various government programs is opposed to Catholic doctrine. I am sure that John Paul II’s political views differed from mine in a number of areas. He never once suggested that disagreement on these matters of prudential judgement somehow constituted dissent from Church Teaching. Finally, as the current Papacy has made crystal clear to me, not every random political opinion or sentiment that a Pope inserts into an encyclical is infallible.

  6. I was unaware that Bernardin’s seamleass garment theory had been elevated to official Church teaching. It is hard to keep up with all the moves of Francis.

  7. The reason power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely is that humanity has a fallen nature. Christianity doesn’t claim to remove humanity’s fallen nature, it only makes it possible for us to resist our inclination to sinful selfishness if we choose to do so.

    Concentrations of power are to be avoided in any society that seeks to minimize the inevitable injustice that will exist in this life, whether that excessive power is concentrated in government or in the private sector.

    In spite of it being obvious that the diffusion of power is the only way to minimize injustice, zealots labor to concentrate power in the state, or to establish a system that enables the winners in free market competition to concentrate power in their own hands, and then use that power to transform the state into nothing more than a subsidiary of their multinational corporations, using the state’s coercive power to serve their own financial interests instead of using it to “promote the general welfare” of “we the people.”

    Catholics who aren’t using the political freedom we still possess to diffuse today’s immense concentrations of worldly power — regardless of where they reside — are either ignorant of history or don’t understand Catholic teaching on the fallen nature of humanity. Only foolish zealots think justice will be brought about if we can only concentrate power in the hands of the people they think ought to possess it.

    Moderate regulation of a free market economy such that it promotes the general welfare rather than further entrench the winners of the competition in their positions is what is needed.

    Anybody who thinks that can be achieved while it is “legal” to murder babies by the millions is spiritually blind. Blind as a bat.

    • I found this comment by harry to be very much line with the doctrine of Distributism, which was developed from early Catholic Social Teachings.

      Some famous Catholics such as G.K. Chesterton were proponents of Distributism.

      The Conservative Movement in the U.S. today seems to ignore Distributism.

      I think today’s Conservatives assume that a combination of Limited Gov’t and Free Markets will automatically fairly distribute the nation’s income-producing land and other natural resources among all the citizens, or, at least among the virtuous citizens.

      But as harry’s comment says, I think experience has shown that a combination of Limited Gov’t and Free Markets will naturally result very high concentrations of real estate ownership and natural resources in a few citizens.

      The other danger, as harry’s comment says, is high concentrations of power in government, with the government trying to plan, dictate, and manage the whole economy.

      I wonder if something like Distributism really is the best solution.

      There is a very small political party in the U.S. that has many members who promote Distributism. It’s called the American Solidary Party. I think many of its leaders are Catholic. And they are 100% Pro-Life.

  8. It is also curious that Dr. Shannon takes aim at George Weigel and Paul Kengor, two writers who generally bend over backwards (sometimes absurdly) to give Francis the benefit of the doubt and undue credit. I have little use for many of the views expressed by Weigel, especially, but it seems rather unfair to hold them up as typical of those who “vilify” Francis. There are far stronger and more incisive critics, whose work has appeared here and elsewhere, that he should consider trying to refute.

    While we are on the subject of “vilification”, it is ridiculous to accuse the Pope’s opponents of reviling him because of his condemnation of environmental degradation. What they justifiably oppose is his attempt to present specific scientific analysis and solutions that are beyond his competence to offer as binding teaching. Francis giving his imprimatur to the questionable theory of “climate change” does not make it true. Also, many have noticed the Francis Vatican’s rather warm regard for the world’s largest polluter. For being a professor at one of the best colleges in the world, Dr. Shannon is remarkably careless in his choice of words.

  9. I humbly thank Catholic World Report for its courage and faithfulness in publishing this article.

    I warmly thank Dr. Christopher Shannon for his courage and faithfulness in speaking the big truths in this article.

    In ancient Greece, the philosopher Diogenes carried a lit lantern in the daytime as he walked about the city saying that he was in search of just one honest man. Well, Diogenes, read this article and be satisfied that you’ve found what you are looking for! Rejoice, because it may be many days before you find this again.

  10. Pope John Paul II approved and issued The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which provides a statement that I think goes to the heart of the matter of “Liberty” as understood in the American Conservative/Libertarian tradition, vs. the Catholic tradition:

    177. Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute and untouchable: “On the contrary, it has always understood this right within the broader context of the right common to all to use the goods of the whole of creation: the right to private property is subordinated to the right to common use, to the fact that goods are meant for everyone”. The principle of the universal destination of goods is an affirmation both of God’s full and perennial lordship over every reality and of the requirement that the goods of creation remain ever destined to the development of the whole person and of all humanity. This principle is not opposed to the right to private property but indicates the need to regulate it. Private property, in fact, regardless of the concrete forms of the regulations and juridical norms relative to it, is in its essence only an instrument for respecting the principle of the universal destination of goods; in the final analysis, therefore, it is not an end but a means.
    — Ch. III. THE UNIVERSAL DESTINATION OF GOODS, §b. The universal destination of goods and private property

    To people in the American Conservative/Libertarian tradition, the above statement is identical to the doctrine in “The Communist Manifesto” by Marx and Engels, and no amount of reasoning can persuade them otherwise.

    Of course, some people in the American liberal tradition, including some members of Congress, actually embrace the term “Socialist,” and, when you cut through all their obfuscations, you see that they seem to view the political and economic system in present-day Cuba as being preferable to the political and economic system of the USA. No amount of reasoning can get these Socialists to change their minds.

    Lots of human beings just aren’t very reasonable.

    There aren’t that many people like St. Thomas Aquinas walking around these days, and only a fool fails to recognize this.

    This is just part of the “human predicament,” as I see it.

    We shouldn’t get our hopes up for any big progress toward a better nation or world.

    Oh well, life goes on. And God endures.

  11. “God gave the EARTH to the WHOLE human race for the sustenance of ALL its members, WITHOUT EXCLUDING or FAVOURING anyone.”–Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, paragraph 31.

    Are there any other Catholics out there who are flabbergasted, startled, astonished, or shocked by that quote?

    Yes, I know there is a whole lot more within the whole body of Catholic social morality teachings. That line is not the totality of it.

    And yet, THAT QUOTE, and the fundamental principle it communicates, are A PART of Catholic moral doctrine. That quote and that fundamental moral principle are THERE. They are part of the permanent, undeniable moral infrastructure of Catholic doctrine.

    So, I am flabbergasted, startled, astonished, and shocked.

    Should I be?

  12. I have often thought that more people would be converted in their hearts to the Pro-Life message and ethos if more Conservative leaders would openly, explicitly, and repeatedly say what Pope John Paul II said in his famous encyclical, “Centesimus Annus”:

    “God gave the EARTH to the WHOLE human race for the sustenance of ALL its members, WITHOUT EXCLUDING or FAVOURING anyone.”

    Instead, I can’t help but feel that there a strong level of the ethic of Selfishness in much Conservative talk. Ayn Rand’s famous (or infamous) book, “The Virtue of Selfishness,” is one example of this. The spirit of Ayn Rand has great influence in the Conservative Movement, as far as I can see.

    So, my theory (and I fully admit it JUST a theory) is that the inclination to do acts of abortion, which often or generally are acts of selfishness, would decrease if the spirit of selfishness was less prevalent in our culture, and the general cultural selfishness would be reduced if the spirit of selfishness were reduced in the expressions of Conservative Philosophy and Rhetoric.

    Can you imagine President Ronald Reagan or televangelist Jerry Falwell or televangelist Pat Robertson ever saying what Pope John Paul II said:

    “God gave the EARTH to the WHOLE human race for the sustenance of ALL its members, WITHOUT EXCLUDING or FAVOURING anyone.”

    • Yes, John Paul II and Reagan especially did seem to be a divinely destined partnership, almost like Harry Potter and Dumbledore, or Frodo and Sam in “Lord of the Rings.”

      But I have begun to question this supposed union, after discovering the quote below:

      “God gave the EARTH to the WHOLE human race for the sustenance of ALL its members, WITHOUT EXCLUDING or FAVOURING anyone.”–Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, paragraph 31.

      I think Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher would consider that quote above to express something that was utterly and completely anathema to their fundamental moral principles.

      To Reagan and to Thatcher the right of private property was sacred, as was the righteousness of competing against others in the economic realm so as to exclude others (from your property and from your private life) and to gain a favored status in the world.

      The deep sense of Christ-inspired brotherly love and of universal solidarity that is in the thought of Pope John Paul II really isn’t in the thought of Reagan and Thatcher, at least, not to my knowledge.

      Reagan and John Paul II were “one” in their mission to liberate Poland from the tyranny of Communism, and liberate all of the world from Communism. But as I think is shown by the quote above from John Paul II, the concepts of Reagan and John Paul about what comes after Communism weren’t really in harmony. At least, that’s what I get from the John Paul II quote above, and from many other parts of John Paull’s writings and addresses.

      Americans have been led to believe that John Paul II fully endorsed the Conservative Movement in the U.S. It is easy to understand how it is to the political advantage of some to promote that belief.

      But does it fit reality? As I read this article by Dr. Christopher Shannon, he doesn’t think so.

      But judgments in political matters are not like mathematics. As I see it, there is no definitely wrong or right judgment in politics.

  13. The true Catholic Church’s “approach” to “modernity” hasn’t changed. It can be found in “The Syllabus of Errors.”

    It is also important to always keep in mind as an antidote to “democratism” (i.e. Democracy is the only good form of government, and laws passed by legislature majority are prima facia just.) what G.K. Chesterton noted: “Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong even if everybody is wrong about it.”

    Don’t think that I didn’t note the subtle – hopefully unintentional – disrespect in this article. Of all of those who are implicitly alleged in this article to have the legitimate title of “pope” among them one won’t find the phrase “Pope Leo XIII.”

    For quite some time I have noted an apparent disconnect between traditional Catholics and the “aggiornamento” “Catholic” is the focus on the most “up-to-date” by positing or at least holding that there was the “old” church which, thankfully, is no longer with us. This is a defining characteristic of the heresy of modernism.

    The easiest way to distinguish these “Catholics” appears to be their discomfort with anything older than “Good” John XXIII.

  14. Christopher Shannon fails to mention the conservatives’ operation casting Pope John Paul II in their mold – like, through the papal biographies by George Weigel – and how this presentation was revealed as fraudulent when the Saint Pope’s denunciation diverged from the Catholic conservative endorsement of the second Iraq War.

  15. Saint Pope John Paul II was not the “American Pope,” or the “Apostle of Liberty, Democracy and Capitalism,” as the neoconservatives misled most of us American Catholics into believing. A reading of his 1987 encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, plainly shows John Paul II asserting his position and the Church’s Social Teaching in sheer contrast to the picture of him made by the likes of George Weigel, Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak: “The Church’s social doctrine adopts a critical attitude towards both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism” (SRS 21)

    • Josephine R, thank you for that comment.

      I had never before known that John Paul II wrote, “the Church’s social doctrine adopts a critical attitude towards both liberal capitalism and Marxist collectivism.”

      I’ve seen so many writings in which a Catholic writer claimed that the Church’s social doctrine does NOT criticism BOTH Capitalism and Marxist collectivism.

      It is so easy to be misled by people who are not really well educated or who perhaps have an intention of misleading others.

      I realize how ignorant I am about Catholic moral and social doctrine. I think I should go to the original sources, the papal encyclicals, and stop reading secondary “interpreters.”

      • I recommend you get a copy of the new book and read: “Catholic Discordance: Neoconservatism vs. the Field Hospital Church of Pope Francis” by Massimo Borghesi, published this December 2021!

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