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The Silence of the Wolves

Christopher A. Ferrara POSTED: January 5, 2011

( The Pope has clearly recognized that his remarks concerning condom use during his book-length interrogation by Peter Seewald in "Light of the World" have provoked an emergency. In an extraordinary doctrinal move designed to counteract the media’s frenetic campaign to persuade the world that His Holiness has signaled a tectonic shift in Church teaching on the intrinsic immorality of contraception, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published on December 21 an explanatory Note in no fewer than six languages (Italian, English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish).

The subject of the Note is as unprecedented as the book that prompted it: "Note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Banalization of Sexuality Regarding Certain Interpretations of ‘Light of the World.’" So now the Vatican must rush into print a doctrinal note concerning, not errors against the faith propounded by some wayward theologian, but ambiguous remarks on sexual morality uttered by the Pope himself to a lay interviewer during his summer vacation. As the Vaticanist Paolo Rodari (whom I had the pleasure of meeting several weeks ago) observed: "I have never seen a communiqué from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that explains the words of the pope after the fact. I think it’s unique."

Indeed, there has been nothing like this development in the history of the Church. But then, there has been nothing like the post-Vatican II epoch in general, whose hallmark has been, to quote Sister Lucia of Fatima, "diabolical disorientation." This disorientation has manifested itself in a seemingly endless series of merely apparent "official" deviations from orthodoxy and orthopraxis, not one of which has actually found its way into an encyclical or other binding dictate of the Magisterium—that is, a Great Façade of ecclesial novelty that we traditionalists, quite rightly, have simply ignored because none of it was ever binding on the faithful.

Extinguishing the latest faux novelty as quickly as it appeared, the Note unequivocally quashes the claim that the Pope endorsed condom use by prostitutes as a lesser evil than the transmission of AIDS: "An action which is objectively evil, even if a lesser evil, can never be licitly willed. The Holy Father did not say – as some people have claimed – that prostitution with the use of a condom can be chosen as a lesser evil." The Pope’s remarks, therefore, "do not signify a change in Catholic moral teaching or in the pastoral practice of the Church."

This clarification is precisely along the lines I noted in my first article on this controversy: that a lesser evil remains evil and can never be justified as an affirmative moral choice, even if the choice of a lesser evil might diminish culpability for an immoral act. The Pope had not actually said anything at variance with this fundamental principle of moral theology.

The clarification is not surprising; it simply had to be done—and in a hurry. Also not surprising, however, is the resounding silence of the media in the face of it. A Google news search reveals a nearly total media blackout on the subject as of this writing. In a dramatic contrast with the screaming worldwide headlines that greeted the Pope’s supposed "change in Church teaching," the most prominent coverage I could find concerning the CDF’s clarification was a story on page A-12 of the New York Times of December 22, entitled "Vatican Adds Nuance to Pope’s Condom Remarks." The article manages to avoid any admission that the Pope has rejected the media’s interpretation of what he said. Quite the contrary, it suggests that the interpretation is still in play because the doctrinal Note is merely a "masterpiece of Vatican nuance [that] used technical theological language, while the pope had used a conversational tone in his book."

The silence of the media wolf pack concerning the CDF’s emergency clarification could not be more instructive. What the pack had thought was a defection of the Church from her constant teaching was, for them, a huge story, for they know instinctually what the Church really is, just as "the devils also believe and tremble." (James 2:19) They know, in fact, that the Church is, always was, and always will be, the only thing standing between them and the final victory of what they represent. So, realizing that the prize kill they thought was between their jaws had eluded them, after all, the pack quietly and morosely dispersed, with only a fang-baring sneer of annoyance here and there.

For example, there is a young wolf pup by the name of Jason Horowitz, who has defended ex-White House thug Rahm Emanuel as "a force of political reason." Ranging outside the comfort of the Beltway den in the hunt for the Pope, Horowitz’s smarmy piece for The Washington Post sneers: "the Vatican on Tuesday clarified the remarks of Pope Benedict XVI. Again." This sort of thing, says Horowitz, "has become an excruciating ritual for frustrated supporters of the Church…" But, clearly, no one is more frustrated than Horowitz and his fellow wolves. For the CDF’s immediate clarification demonstrates that the Church has not defected, which means that the victory of post-Enlightenment liberalism is still not final. Part of the Western world remains hanging above the abyss by a thread the Church is holding.

In his traditional Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia the day before the CDF clarification was published, Pope Benedict drew an explicit parallel between the fall of the Roman Empire and the state of the post-Christian West today. In decadent Rome, he said, "The disintegration of the key principles of law and of the fundamental moral attitudes underpinning them burst open the dams which until that time had protected peaceful coexistence among peoples. The sun was setting over an entire world. Frequent natural disasters further increased this sense of insecurity. There was no power in sight that could put a stop to this decline."

Today, the Pope continued, "For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defence of such structures seem doomed to failure…. The very future of the world is at stake."

The silence of the wolves tells us that they know this too. For them also the future of the world is at stake—the world they would have us inhabit, as opposed to a world restored by the grace of Christ mediated through His Church. Long after the civilization born of sanctifying grace was overthrown and dismantled, and the politics of the soul was succeeded by the politics of the body, the wolves still fear the power of grace and thus the power of the Church that dispenses it—the power to renew the world again.

Why do Catholic churchmen persist in the endless post-conciliar cycle of meetings, palaver and publications such as "Light of the World," dialoguing with non-believers in a vain search for a moral consensus the Pope himself admits is "collapsing," but which in fact has not existed for nearly two hundred years, the spiritual capital inherited from Christendom having been squandered by its Protestant heirs. When will they admit, to borrow some lines of Eliot’s, that at this point in human history, humanly speaking, we can do nothing "but stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards in an age which advances progressively backwards?" Instead of re-launching the Church’s divine rescue mission of conversion, the one and only hope of the world, the Pope announces another summit of the world’s religions at Assisi "to solemnly renew the effort of those with faith of all religions to live their faith as a service for the cause of peace." Another gesture as empty as the first two Assisi events, which were followed, if anything, by the even more rapid descent of former Christendom into a state of total depravity.

The silence of the wolves speaks loudly about what the leaders of the Church must do if "our dying capitalist civilization," as Chesterton called it, is to avoid the final outcome that befell decadent Rome. What they must do is nothing less than to undertake a reconversion of the West on a scale even greater than that of the age of Saint Gregory or the revival of Cluny, without which Christian civilization would have been extinguished centuries ago. Failing that, what the wolves hunger for will be theirs for the taking.

The fate of the world is indeed at stake, as the Pope warns. Perhaps the Pope’s warning signals an abandonment, at last, of the bizarre optimism concerning the "modern world" inaugurated by Gaudium et spes and a return to the sober realism of his pre-conciliar predecessors, including Pius XII, who declared only eleven years before the Council, in Evangelii Praecones, that "the whole human race is today allowing itself to be driven into two opposing camps, for Christ or against Christ. The human race is involved today in a supreme crisis, which will issue in its salvation by Christ, or in its dire destruction." Now the question is whether, after fifty years of worse than fruitless attempts to reach a Pelagian modus vivendi with the neo-barbarians of the enemy camp, those who lead the Church will realize that the fate of the world is in her hands, and hers only—just as it has been since Pentecost Sunday.

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