Catholic Voices USA Shadow Report for the
U.N. Committee Against Torture
The Insatiable New Intolerance
For some two thousand years, the Catholic Church has burned with a light now visible from any window on earth. In every age, men and women from all walks of life have reached toward that light. In every age, other men and women have turned away from it. The blunt fact of opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and at times to the mere existence of its faithful, come as no surprise to students of history.
From the martyrs of the Circus Maximus to the tumbrils grinding toward the guillotine, from the camps of twentieth-century totalitarianism to other killing fields where the felt need to silence Christians and Christianity has had its way, members of the Church have borne witness, including with their lives, to the enmity that other people have harbored for the teachings of their faith.
Today, as this very Committee of the United Nations convenes, Christian men, women, and children are being tortured and persecuted and killed in a great many parts of the world. These are documented, purposeful, ongoing crimes that cry to heaven for international attention – including from Turtle Bay.i And even in places mercifully free of the threat of bodily violence, many other Christians today as yesterday know the softer persecutions of social stigma, discrimination, mockery and disdain.
To repeat: that Christians and the Church itself have known adversaries of all kinds throughout the ages is an easily verifiable commonplace. Even so, and as the unprecedented remarks against the Holy See and contained in other recent United Nations documents go to show, the age-old desire to marginalize the Church and to discredit the moral teachings on which she cannot do anything but insist have lately taken a new and singularly vitriolic form.
The demand made recently in this international arena that Catholicism now re-write its own canon law –- that it must, in effect, ceasebeing Catholicism – is emblematic of something new on the world historical scene.
This outrageous demand, appearing in a document issued recently by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, singles out the Catholic Church as the one and only religious institution on earth apparently subject to such self-appointed unaccountable theocrats. Even more outrageous, this demand also palpably and irrefutably violates the right to religious liberty enshrined (among other places) in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And now one more United Nations Committee attacks the Holy See on grounds that would be called mendacious if Christian charity allowed.
Procedural and legal responses to the specifics of the Report by the Committee Against Torture appear elsewhere. We will note in passing three points about that Report as correctives to the record, then move on to our larger purpose.
First, the victims of the clerical sex scandals are exactly that – victims. They should not be wronged anew by being exploited or treated as stalking horses for the ideological agendas of other people, including people whose ambition is the weakening or diminution or destruction of the Catholic Church.
Second, as a clarification demanded by simple logic, and pace common sophistry: the fact that certain Catholic priests committed grave and reprehensible crimes against children and teenagers does not make the Church itself a repository of rapists – any more than the well-known tragedy of rapes committed in several nations a few years ago by U.N. “peacekeepers” makes the United Nations a repository of rapists.ii
Third — and as that foregoing example among many others that could be cited goes to show — the seduction and rape of the young are monstrous crimes that plague humanity across the world. According to the United Nation’s own World Health Organization Fact Sheet Number 150 on child maltreatment, “approximately 20% of women and 5-10% of men report being sexually abused as children.”iiiThese are grotesque evils to be rooted out and punished severely wherever they appear — as the last several popes, among many, many other clergy and lay people, have observed since the scandals came to light. Pope Francis himself most lately has apologized personally for these sins and crimes, and Catholics the world over have done penance, and continue to do penance.
And not only penance: actions aimed at punishing and preventing have been taken around the world. To offer another example from outside the United Nations, just taken from local news in New York, over 100 examples of sexual predation have been reported since 2009 between employees of the public school system and students in that system. iv During that same period, there were zero cases of teachers reported sexually abusing students in the schools of the Archdiocese of New York. Of a piece with its refusal to see good anywhere within the Church where it manifestly exists, the new intolerance similarly does not acknowledge the many and ongoing efforts made within the Church to ensure that nothing like the sex scandals ever happen again.v The Church in the United States, to take a particularly telling example, does what almost no institution anywhere does: it opens itself to an independent audit each year.vi
These and related responses are nowhere acknowledged by the Holy See’s critics despite their patent truth – and this ideological stonewalling demands response.
Our lay group Catholic Voices USA, along with many other observers of the global scene now watching from one hemisphere to another, sees clearly that the unprecedented attacks launched lately against Christianity in the international arena are neither random nor isolated. Rather, these developments are institutional synecdoche for a certain kind of new thinking, emanating largely from humanity’s more affluent and permissive precincts, that now targets traditional Christian moral teaching as it has not been targeted before.
This new thinking, we and many other people believe, must somewhere be reckoned with. It extends far beyond Geneva and New York into the homes and schools and workplaces of Christian men and women the world over. This new force insidiously tells the rising generation of human beings that religious faith is on the wrong side of history. This new force seeks at times not only to stigmatize Christians, but also to impose novel social and other penalties on them – once more, just for being Christians.
Catholic Voices USA and the people around the world who join us in spirit call that force the new intolerance. Under this new intolerance, some Christian men and women now fear for their standing in the public square. Under this new intolerance, some also worry about the marginalizing and stigmatizing of their children. And in the face of pressure to act in lockstep with the ever-changingdesiderata proclaimed by this new intolerance, some Christians also fear for their livelihoods as discrimination against people of faith creeps upward.
That this kind of anxiety grows apace in some of the very societies on earth most vaunted for tolerance itself is an irony of enormous historical proportion. So is this: the very framework under which the Catholic Church is now attacked, i.e. the umbrella of the United Nations Charter, would not itself even exist without the universalist ideas about human rights bequeathed to humanity by Christianity.
Our purpose in the remainder of this Report is to do something that has not been done before. It is to focus in a preliminary way on this new intolerance – on its aims both stated and actual, and its current as well as continuing effect on humanity. It is to ask whether the world this new intolerance apparently dreams of is a better or worse place to be a human being than a world moved instead by the teachings of the Church.
After all: the new intolerance does not only seek the diminution of the Christian moral code. It also comes with – indeed, it ruthlessly insists upon — an alternative moral code of its own.
In the remarks aimed at the Holy See by the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, the Church is told by the Committee to relax its opposition to the intentional killing of unborn children; to abandon its principles regarding the dignity and meaning of conjugal love and human procreation; and, peculiarly, to “overcome all barriers and taboos surrounding adolescent sexuality that hinder their access to sexual and reproductive information.” These are just some of the religious particulars demanded by contemporary partisans of the new intolerance elsewhere in the world as well, from editorial pages to living rooms to courts of law.
This frame of mind is not only overweening but wrong.
At a time when this new impulse and its fruits are noted by a growing share of the world’s people – inside the United Nations and out, inside the churches and out — Catholic Voices USA engages that ambition on its own terms via a series of questions.
Are women really better off in a world without Christian morality – a world rife with exploitation, pornography, and female impoverishment? Are children really better off in a world where broken homes and fatherless homes are the new norm? Are humanity’s most vulnerable members – the unwanted youngest and the unwanted sick and old – really better off under a regimen that sanctions abortion and euthanasia? And what about the poor and marginalized whom Christianity serves – what about the losses accrued by them in the efforts to discredit Church teaching in the public mind?
The conversation Catholic Voices USA hopes to start is by now overdue.
SECTION ONE: Is the New Intolerance Good for the Poor?
The first salient feature of this new intolerance is its apparent insatiability. So fierce is its resistance to certain newly unwanted features of the longstanding Christian moral code that it appears incognizant of what the faithful actually accomplish in this world.
Many things can be said about the no-holds-barred approach to crippling Christianity. But first among them is that the new intolerance has, first, a terrible impact on those whom the Church serves – including, and not only, the poor and worst off. The world knows that Pope Francis has made care of these very people a sentry call to believers around the world. Yet the way in which the new intolerance undercuts those men and women in need has not been adequately acknowledged in the public square, and ought to be.
The hostility behind this new thinking will not countenance the massive good to humanity done elsewhere and across history by men and women bearing the Christian label. A billion souls, one-seventh of all humanity stretching across every continent, claim membership in this very same Catholic Church, for starters. Some 120,000 healthcare institutions are run by that same Church and 230,000 schools worldwide.
Then there are the soup kitchens and nurseries and other charitable enterprises far too numerous to name here; the Christian hands throughout history that have soothed the sick, fed the hungry, comforted the poor, and otherwise lived up to the very creed that is now, in some supposedly enlightened quarters, an object of sport. There is the outreach of all kinds to human beings treated as throwaways by their neighbors – the unwanted so-called foreigners, the homeless, the destitute. Pope Francis in one of his first public acts spoke to the need of the African immigrants seeking homes in Europe, people rejected by many of those among whom they live, leading the Pope to decry the “globalization of indifference” toward them.vii
There is more, much more testimony to the ways in which the Church works to the good of those whose dignity and needs are acknowledged nowhere else – including even the accumulation of social science establishing beyond a doubt that religious believers give considerably more to charity and donate more of their time to charitable causes than do other people. viii These include all religious believers, we emphasize, not only Catholics. But again, it is the Catholic Church that carries the sheer numerical weight of these efforts.
Are the people served by Christian charitable efforts really better off in a world that makes those efforts more difficult, more penalized, and more stigmatized?
SECTION TWO: Is the New Intolerance Good for Women?
Exactly as the new intolerance appears tone-deaf to the human needs of those whom Christianity serve, so does it fail to hear another set of voices raised passionately on the Church’s behalf – voices also chronically ignored in the courts of opinion where the new intolerance reigns.
The idea that the Church is somehow the enemy of fully half of humanity — i.e., the world’s women — is widely believed in some ostensibly sophisticated places. This is especially, though not only, true under the auspices of the United Nations, where representatives of the Holy See are routinely caricatured as supposed oppressors of womankind.
The problems with this article of faith are too numerous to cover in detail here, but a few clarifications suggest themselves.
This negative stereotype is, first, a slap in the face to the many, many millions of faithful daughters of the Church – a number, to repeat, that includes over half a billion human beings, making it the largest single subset of women on earth joined by a single denomination.
Are all these Christian witnesses somehow invisible?ix Does the new intolerance repudiate the intelligence or motivation of these women in whose very name it sometimes professes to act?
Certainly these women are recognized, ratified, and valued within Christian ranks themselves. As Pope Francis most recently observes in Evangelii Gaudium, “The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess.” He also cited the “special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.”
The new intolerance offers a vision of humankind very different from that of Christianity – a vision hobbled, cramped, and dark. The new intolerance speaks frequently as if children are material encumbrances, as if families are hotbeds of female oppression, and as if women are better off without marriage and children. The Catholic Church, by starkest contrast, has insisted for two thousand years that women have glorious vocations, prized for what Pope Francis calls “feminine genius.” Which version resonates more with the actual women of the world — most of whom want and place above all else their families?
This is another question that the new intolerance does not address.
Theology itself, to say nothing of countless homilies and pronouncements of all kinds within the Church, attest to the esteem in which women have been held, not least as moral leaders. Women play critical roles for emulation in the Gospels – beginning with Mary the Mother of Jesus, regarded by Catholicism as the most honored human being in history. Women from the earliest times have been intellectuals, warriors, martyrs, saints, heroines, and disciples of the faith. As Pope Francis recently put it, “Women in the Church are more important than bishops and priests.”x
Hence, one problem for the new intolerance is that it must either condescend to these living, breathing witnesses to the Creed – or ignore them altogether. Neither is a persuasive option. If the new intolerance condescends to Christian women, it performs sex-selective ideological bullying. If instead it ignores these women, then the new intolerance reveals itself for what it is – a movement offering not a universal vision of and for humanity, which is what the Church by contrast does offer, but rather an ideology blinded to the reality of all human beings, and catering instead to the desires of a carefully circumscribed subset.
Problem two for the new intolerance in the matter of women is this: the diminishing influence of the Church in certain better-off parts of the world has already given all humanity an inkling of what the world looks like when Christian morality is missing. That world is not some imaginary world to come; in many places, it is already here.
So let the obvious question be asked: Are women better off in a world without Christian morality – a world rife with cohabitation rather than marriage, exploitation, pornography, female impoverishment, and other deleterious fallout of a worldview that abjures the Church?
This is no mere rhetorical question.
Over and over, in the international arena as in some courts of contemporary public opinion, we are told that the Church’s moral teachings render it somehow inimical to the interests of the female side of humanity. We are told that a world in which those teachings are diminished – whether by force or social stigma – will be a world in which women are better off. We are told, via the Orwellian obfuscation of language in which such dark thoughts are purposely shrouded, that women’s betterment depends upon something called “reproductive rights” – uniquely perverse shorthand for the right to kill the very issue of reproduction, the human fetus.
In sum, there is a large ideological battle being waged in which the new tolerance claims the moral high ground in the matter of women. Consider here briefly just a few ways in which empirical evidence itself undermines what the new intolerance has to say.
First, and contrary to what the new intolerance so often implies, marriage benefits women. This means that a moral vision aimed at defending marriage ipso facto defends women too.
The new intolerance typically presents the traditional family unit as only one of many options for humanity — and at times, as the worst of all available options. The putative oppressiveness of that traditionalist family unit is a staple of certain strands of modern thought. Traditional marriage, it has been argued particularly though not only since Friedrich Engel’s treatise The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, is inimical especially to the interests of women; it is “the subjugation of the one sex by the other,” as he put it and like-minded critics have frequently echoed.xi
Against this dark and severely circumscribed vision of what the human family is about, the Church from its very beginning has put forth a profoundly different and radiant idea: it has maintained throughout its history — and still maintains today – that the family is an institution uniquely sacred and indispensable.
In fact, the Church strengthened the idea of marriage on behalf of women in a way that had never been done in history before or since. The Christian idea of marriage revolutionized the very role of women in the world by making them a moral co-equal in marriage. All Christians understand that this idea of marriage is profoundly countercultural in our time.
We also understand that the era immediately following the sexual revolution is one in which more diminutive and instrumentalist understandings of human union have mutated apace. As Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium, “Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensible contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple. As the French bishops have taught, it is not born ‘of loving sentiment, ephemeral by definition, but from the depth of the obligation assumed by the spouses who accept to enter a total communion of life’.”xii
Even so, there remains an enormous irony in the continuing efforts to redefine marriage or to detract from it in the name of the interests of woman. Empiricism itself is on the side of the Church in exactly this contested arena. During the same years that the unwanted moral teachings of traditional Christianity have come under unprecedented public attack, her teachings about the sanctity and importance of the family have been vindicated in one arena after another – and by perfectly secular evidence. Women without husbands are materially poorer. Families without fathers are materially poorer. Men unattached to families live shorter and less healthy lives. The relative benefits of the intact family are by now widely recognized and beyond dispute.
So are women better off in a world where the traditional idea of marriage is denigrated? Certainly it is fashionable to say so. Here, too, Christianity stands as a sign of contradiction. The new intolerance also avers that marriage is whatever consenting human beings say that it is. Is this development, too, in the interests of women, who in many parts of the world remain relatively powerless compared to men? And even in societies where women share power, the view of marriage as interchangeable players regardless of sex or higher purpose exalts no one. Which view of marriage holds woman in higher esteem — one that says she is the full moral equal to a man in a unique covenant like no other; or a view that says it depends on the social experiment du jour?
SECTION THREE: Is the New Intolerance Good for Children?
As many examples in the international arena could be named to prove, the new intolerance claims to act in the best interests of children. As in the matter of women, it claims the moral high ground.
Let us repeat here what was stated in the opening. Catholics around the world weep for the crimes committed against young people by priests – or anyone else. It is precisely the protection of the innocents that asks this question of the new intolerance: Are children really better off in a world where the Church’s ideas about humanity are challenged and sometimes countermanded by the new intolerance – a world in which abortion, pornography, and broken and fatherless homes are all on the rise?
As in the case of women, this is no mere rhetorical question.
Let us begin with the most obvious subversion of truth itself by this new intolerance: its insistence on the centrality of abortion in the world it demands.
As a matter of simple logic, nothing – nothing – could be more inimical to the interests of children themselves than a world that declares them disposable at their youngest and most vulnerable ages. Moreover, one corruption breeds another. A world that turns a blind eye toward the killing of children in the womb finds it harder to hear the cries of all its vulnerable members.
Nor are babies even safe from the knife upon leaving the womb. For decades, the case has been made, notably by some voices in academia, that infanticide itself is, and should be, morally permissible. Recently a distinguished medical journal devoted an entire issue to discussing the issue, thus showcasing prominent defenders of “post-birth abortion,” i.e., infant-killing.xiii Nor is practice far from theory. The United States has recently witnessed the extraordinarily terrifying — and globally publicized — case of a late-term abortionist who killed live babies following unsuccessful abortions.xiv
We have here a perfect example of the way in which abortion metastacizes into new social and moral malignancies. For many centuries, thanks largely to the Catholic Church and its insistence on this point, the very word “infanticide” was synonymous with preternatural horror. That this same abominable practice is now openly debated in certain corners of polite society can only mean one thing: there is indeed a solid line connecting the fact of legalized abortion to the question, “Why stop there?”
Yet the new intolerance still demands a world with more abortion.
Catholic Voices USA submits this contrary claim: that a social consensus according to which thrown-away food is deplored, but thrown-away babies are not, amounts to a perfect storm of moral incoherence. Pope Francis draws attention to this very tempest repeatedly by connecting economic consumerism to the related consumerist demand to promote abortion. “If you look at life as something that is consumed,” he teaches, “it will also be something that sooner or later you can throw away, with abortion to begin with.”xv
The new intolerance dares not even face another consequence of the agitation for this kind of killing. That is the ongoing horror of sex-selective abortion – a practice so common that it has altered the gender composition of youth across the world, as the United Nation’s World Health Organization itself has documented in a 2011 report.xvi Many millions of baby girls do not exist – because they were baby girls.
Not only the fact of widespread abortion, but the continuing cold-blooded clamor for ever more of the same, prove beyond dispute that the new intolerance is not on the side of the marginalized and defenseless. In the United Kingdom recently, hospitals have admitted to incinerating human remains – the bodies of some 15,000 aborted babies – as “green” fuel in their heating system.xvii This sepulchral story should make anyone with a shred of empathy for fellow creatures shudder with horror. A growing number of human beings are dismayed by needless animal suffering — and Christianity stands with them; the Catechism itself teaches that “animals are owed moral treatment.”
By that same moral standard, can’t humanity also weep for the human animals that are its own?
Now let us consider another way in which Christianity in practice safeguards the interests of the young as the new intolerance does not: the Church’s longstanding protection of marriage.
Just as marriage increases the likelihood for economic security of women, so does it have the same effects on children. The links between child poverty and broken homes or homes devoid of a father in the first place have been established repeatedly by social science. To take just one striking recent example, children in the United States are at vastly greater risk of falling below the poverty line if they live with neither parent or a mother only.xviii These are widely documented and known phenomena.xix
People who argue that these things are not connected are arguing against common sense itself. Of course both a mother and a father in a home can better protect, feed, teach, and otherwise help a child than can one alone – no matter how heroic.
And yet to leave the matter with social science alone is unsatisfactory – even though social science itself inadvertently confirms what the Church has been saying throughout its history: marriage is a good. The new intolerance acts as if mothers and fathers are a matter of indifference. The new intolerance in this very international body now re-writes international language to strip it of the mere suggestion any sex-related roles whatsoever (“mother,” “father,” etc.)
And in this radical attempt to re-write human nature, the new intolerance does children, especially, another wrong. In acting as if children – all children – are not born wanting a father and a mother, the new intolerance ignores the nature of humanity itself — and once again, especially the most vulnerable. In pretending that motherhood and fatherhood are somehow mere social “constructs,” rather than flesh and blood embodiments of relationships that all children long for and have a moral right to, the new intolerance uses the vulnerable as a shield under which its political agendas march forward.
Let us also consider one more way in which Christianity seeks to protect children as the new intolerance does not.
It is heartening now to learn from the Committee’s Report that showing pornography to minors is judged to be morally wrong and egregiously harmful to young souls. It is heartening because in the usual places from which the new intolerance emanates, pornography is typically regarded as a victimless crime or a simple entertainment – sometimes even as a right to which all people are said to be born.
Catholicism, by contrast and again as a sentinel pointing toward a higher north star than hedonism, has always deplored the reducing of men and women to instruments in this way.
Here again, the collision between a worldview that treats human beings as things and the alternative insistence of the Church is head-on – and here too, empirical evidence itself has come to vindicate longstanding moral teaching.xx We know that pornography’s victims are in fact many: the men and women whose marriages and homes break apart because of it (pornography is increasingly a factor in divorce cases, for example); the children left motherless or fatherless because of such breakup; the men and women who make pornography, goaded frequently by drugs or poverty as their main motivation; and most of all, those victims transformed by their addiction to this substance – one which, as therapists and doctors attest, will render some of them incapable of responding to a living human being.
Here as elsewhere, Christianity throws down a gauntlet in the public square and challenges the new intolerance on the question of who, in the matter of sexual expression, has the better part of the argument here.
SECTION FOUR: Conclusion: Is the New Intolerance Good for the Rest of Humanity?
As noted in the beginning of this Report, the moral teachings of the Church have been rejected in different ages and for reasons diverse. Today, as recent and no doubt future attacks on the Holy See in this arena go to show, the new intolerance and fellow-traveling contemporary impulses reject in particular the subset of Church teachings regarding sexual morality. This comes as no surprise. The apostles of Jesus themselves complained that these teachings are hard. Many other men and women, then as now, would agree.
Yet the famous “no’s” of Catholicism do not exist in a moral vacuum. They are mere logical consequences of its powerful “yeses” – to the dignity of all human beings, to marriage, to what is best for children, to a defense of every human being on whom the rest of humanity’s doors have been slammed. The teachings against non-marital sex, against abortion and bestiality and infanticide and the rest of the often-unwanted moral canon, are tied indissolubly to those very affirmations. As Pope Francis teaches in Evangelii Gaudium, “when we raise other questions less palatable to public opinion, we are doing so out of fidelity to precisely the same convictions about human dignity and the common good.”xxi
In closing we might wonder: What would happen if the Church were to become what the new intolerance seems to want her to become — a global scapegoat for all the sins of the modern world that the new intolerance itself cannot acknowledge, lest it cease to command the perquisites of the sexual revolution? How would the weak fare then compared to the strong?
Evidence from all around, in this Report and elsewhere, suggests that this question now answers itself.
The Church of a billion-plus members – the Church of a billion-plus sinners – insists on something that must never pass from the human patrimony. Truth remains truth no matter how often human beings fall short of it. Lies remain lies no matter how often they are told. The Church says that not only society’s strongest but also its weakest members deserve protection, love, and when demanded, even the laying down of one’s life for others.
The new intolerance says no such things.
Catholics around the world are not alone in observing what transpires in the United Nations right here and now. Brothers and sisters everywhere who look to the Cross, and who see the adversarial attitudes newly arrayed against their churches, are watchful. So, for that matter, are the faithful men and women of the world’s other religions — who know that if the new intolerance is to have its way with the Church, similar sacrifices of other believers everywhere will be demanded in very short order.
This Report is a mere prolegomenon to the necessary engagement that all of these people, and many more to come, will have with the insatiable new intolerance during the days, years, and decades ahead, both in the United Nations and out.