One of the most prominent Catholics in American public life recently engaged in a pathetic embarrassment that reveals much about himself and the values of all too many Catholics.
That prominent figure is not Mel Gibson.
Raymond Flynn, the former mayor of Boston and former United States ambassador to the Vatican, asked Pope Benedict XVI in writing to lead Catholics worldwide in the quest for a just peace in the Middle East. Flynn publicized the letter as part of a commentary he wrote for the August 6-13 edition of the National Catholic Register, a conservative weekly.
Flynn’s request, in and of itself, is anything but embarrassing. However, Flynn’s rhetoric reveals several disconcerting traits: a willingness to exploit the pope to serve a personal agenda, unrealistic expectations of the pope’s geopolitical role, latent anti-Semitism and a pervasive, dangerous naiveté about human nature.
In his letter, Flynn told the pope that “the Middle East is in crisis. Thousands of innocent Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis are being killed and nobody has been able to do anything about it. We are experiencing a complete breakdown of moral order and international law.”
Flynn then asked Benedict “to reach out and appeal to faithful Catholics worldwide to become active and vocal in this moral crisis. Catholics’ moral voices are not being heard in the political arena. You must provide the moral leadership to restore peace and stability in the Middle East. The world community of faithful Catholics anxiously awaits and needs your message. Only when the people of the region treat each other with dignity and respect will peace come to the Holy Land.
“There are over 64 million Catholics in the United States and 1.2 billion worldwide,” Flynn continued in his letter. “You must lead us with one voice for peace and justice in the Middle East.”
Flynn’s call to action directly reflects the goals of an organization called Catholic Citizenship, which seeks to unite American Catholics into a coherent lobby. As the group’s chairman, Flynn wrote the following on its Web site:
“I am a life long Democrat and you may be a Republican. But, we must first be loyal American Catholics. It's time we let our elected officials know how we feel, and more importantly, what we believe. If they ignore us, as most of our present Catholic elected officials do, we must be ready to make them pay the price….We should, just like our Irish forbearers did, learn to use the voting booth to send a clear message.”
Parts of Flynn’s commentary in the Register promote Catholic Citizenship’s goals without mentioning the organization by name.
“Catholics must demand that our political voice be no longer ignored,” Flynn wrote. “Catholics must begin to realize that the moral and political voice of our faith and Church has been severely diminished. Catholic political leadership has been weak, timid and ineffective. Pope Benedict XVI may be the only hope for peace and justice in the world. Catholics everywhere must unite behind him.”
Asking any pope to bear such a burden, however, involves viewing him as an all-encompassing figure whose political judgments always reflect moral clarity and suffer no taint from geopolitical interests or personal agendas. It means ignoring the Vatican’s diplomatic attitudes and internal tensions for a blind deference to authority that borders on credulous sentimentality.
Take this statement from Flynn’s commentary: “Benedict XVI should invite world religious leaders to Assisi, as Pope John Paul II so effectively did … when he appealed for peace in Bosnia in the 1990s.”
Does Flynn seriously believe that such ecumenical efforts by themselves can stop governments intent on manipulating religion to justify genocide? Does Flynn know that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic asked Serbian Orthodox priests to bless troops who were engaged in anti-Muslim genocide? Does Flynn realize that Pope John Paul II publicly endorsed NATO’s military campaign against Serbia?
Also consider this statement that Flynn addressed to Benedict: “Your message will be listened to by all three great religious faiths in the Middle East, Muslims, Jews and Christians.”
Does Flynn seriously believe that Muslims who seek to annihilate Israel and who view the pope as an infidel will listen? Or that Jews who are fighting for their lives and have no reason to trust the Vatican implicitly will listen?
Mark Shea, a popular Catholic apologist and blogger, expressed similar deference with biting sarcasm in linking favorably to Flynn’s piece:
“Yes, but when Rome was so wrong about War with Iraq and the Bushies were so right, who can trust a ninny like Benedict?
“He didn’t even listen to (Michael) Novak’s Just War explanation. What does he know?”
Does Shea realize that if the world had listened to John Paul’s passionate opposition to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, then Saddam Hussein most likely would be helping his Syrian allies support Hezbollah’s aggression against Israel?
Moreover, does Shea realize that if the world had listened to the late pope’s passionate opposition to the Gulf War of 1990-91, then Saddam’s brutal annexation of Kuwait would have succeeded – just as Hitler’s annexation of the Czech Sudetenland succeeded in 1938?
But popes and their diplomats do not always operate under the guise of pristine morality, as Front Page Magazine’s research revealed in such articles as “The Vatican’s Pro-Saddam Tilt?”, “Abu Ghraib Worse Than 9/11?”, “The Vatican Responds (Slowly) to Jihad,” and “Pontificating Against Israel.”
Flynn also pontificates against Israel. One technique he uses in his letter is a moral equivalence that conveniently ignores decades of Arab threats and dismisses the Israelis’ legitimate fears:
“No political leader, party or institution speaks for, represents or has the moral courage necessary to bring peace and justice to the Middle East.”
Flynn also casts Israel as the ultimate villain. In doing so, he draws upon the morbid fantasies of anti-Semites who fear the allegedly pervasive and malignant Jewish influence on American government:
“The U.S. government must not allow foreign policy to be determined by political extremists or powerful special interest groups…The Israeli military must stop its brutal bombings and killing of innocent women, children and elderly in Lebanon. The Catholic Church’s moral voice, rooted in its principles and values of the dignity and respect for all God’s children, must be heard. Special interest politics is driving American foreign policy. This is morally reprehensible and damaging our reputation as an objective and fair participant on the world stage.
“Muslims, Jews and Christians must be able to live side by side in Lebanon and the Middle East. This must be the cornerstone of America’s foreign policy. The U.S. government hurts this objective by consistently taking sides in the conflict.”
Nowhere does Flynn acknowledge the presence of Islamic terror, let alone its role and aims, or the desire to obliterate Israel, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed so eloquently.
Flynn’s rhetoric matches the stance of a small political party called the America First Party, which claims to support traditional values in government and opposed the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. On Aug. 7, the party issued a statement on the Arab-Israeli conflict that included the following:
“Due to our heavy favoritism of Israel versus its neighboring Arab states in military and economic aid, and in weapons purchase allowances, we have in fact taken sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This increases the risk of terrorism on U.S. soil and the possibility of our involvement in a regional conflict in the Middle East.”
Interestingly enough, Flynn addressed the America First Party’s Massachusetts chapter in 2003 and encouraged the members’ activism.
"I'll bet you that there is a significant number of like-minded people like you out there all across America,” Flynn said. “We have reached the time where we can't sit back and wait for somebody else to do it for us."
Flynn’s latent attitude toward Israel and Jews gives this question that he asks on Catholic Citizenship’s Web site a pernicious tinge:
“Do Catholics no longer care that unlike other important groups in America such as Jews, blacks, women, the Hollywood elite, gays and lesbians, that Catholic voters are no longer taken seriously?”
Why does Flynn mention the Jews first?
Flynn is not the only prominent Catholic living in an ideological fantasyland. So does Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., chairman of the Committee on International Policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Wenski’s committee issued on July 17 a statement demanding an immediate cease-fire in the war between Hezbollah and Israel, blaming Hezbollah and Hamas for starting hostilities, condemning Israel’s response and expressing support for Lebanese civilians. Wenski expressed his own opinions in an interview July 26 with John Allen, Vatican correspondent for the liberal National Catholic Reporter.
First, Wenski dismissed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s call for a meaningful cease-fire: “The Americans put a lot of emphasis on that adjective ‘meaningful.’ We’ve been calling for a meaningful cease-fire too, but in our view it’s meaningful when people stop dying.”
Wenski continued to demonstrate his simplistic arrogance in his general description of the situation: “Neither the Holy See nor the conference of bishops wants a return to the status quo. We can both stop the fighting and continue the disarmament of Hezbollah. Some people seem to want the fighting to continue until there is no Hezbollah left to disarm, but that’s not the right way to reduce the number of mothers who have to mourn the loss of their sons and daughters.
“We’ve got to break the cycle of violence with a cease-fire, and then move to real negotiations between Israel and Palestine, as well as to assure the independence of Lebanon.”
Though Wenski summarizes the world’s goals succinctly, he fails to understand that the Palestinians do not want peace without Israel’s destruction, nor that Islamic terrorists supported by powerful patrons will hide behind an entire nation to achieve their genocidal goals.
Then there are Wenski’s assessments of the Vatican’s diplomacy.
Allen: “Some have criticized statements from the Vatican, especially from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the secretary of state, for implying a sort of moral equivalence between terrorism and a state’s right to self-defense. Do you see it that way, or do you think the Vatican’s been on the money?”
Wenski: “I think they’ve been pretty much on the money…. I think Sodano made it clear later on that he was not trying to take sides on the issue. It’s also true that sometimes the Israeli government will play to these sensitivities in order to deflect attention or questions that can rightly be raised about their policies. I think the lack of proportion in some of Israel’s responses can fairly be questioned by anybody.”
Allen: “In general, do you find a pro-Palestinian tilt in Vatican foreign policy?”
Wenski: “I wouldn’t say it’s a question of a lack of balance, but just a different perspective….On the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the church has long favored a two-state solution, and has clearly called for the State of Israel to be recognized and to survive whatever accommodation needs to be made with the Palestinians. Perhaps we’re more keenly aware of the justice issues involved and the many legitimate grievances that the Palestinian people have, in part because there’s a significant constituency of Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Catholics. This is not a question of being biased for or against one or the other group, but of trying to be a prophetic voice calling for justice. Sometimes people would rather take umbrage than examine their conscience.”
Front Page Magazine’s research shows that Wenski does not know what he is talking about. “Pontificating Against Israel” revealed Sodano’s support for Yasser Arafat and for Arafat’s major episcopal ally, Archbishop Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Previous articles exposed the existence of an anti-Israeli, pro-Arab faction that expresses itself through the Vatican’s media.
Fortunately, other prominent Catholics are starting to question the prevailing esoteric pieties. Amy Welborn, one of the most respected Catholic bloggers, posted the following on her site Aug. 10 – the same day that British authorities announced the interruption of an Islamic terrorist plot to explode passenger airliners crossing the Atlantic Ocean:
“So, my son flew out of Heathrow today. And yes, according to flight tracking, his flight did, indeed take off, about 3 hours late, but it is in the air, passengers without a single piece of hand luggage on them, fingering their passports in plastic bags, looking anxiously around at their fellow passengers, wondering, "Would you do it? Would you kill me? And all of us?"
“And in this, those of us who are Catholic - and even many who are not - look to our leaders for perspective. Not directions, not policy pronouncements, but insight as to a spiritual stance within this state of the world.
“… (In those leaders’ statements,) there seems to be a sort of distance from the reality raging around us. There is no direct engagement with the fundamental issues: the commitment to cripple the West and impose the radical, fundamentalist Islamist ideal in its stead. A total contempt for freedom and the intrinsic value of human life. And the determination and will to do this, by any means necessary.
“In which ‘peace’ means something different to those instigating the war than those defending themselves, in which there is no desire for co-existence or dialogue.”
Rod Dreher, editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News and a former writer for National Review, reiterates Welborn’s concerns less diplomatically in linking to her post on his blog:
“We know where the threat comes from. Why are we so silent about it? Why are we not putting the questions hard to Islamic leaders about what they allow to go on in their communities, and what they teach their children – and expecting credible answers? Golda Meir famously said – and I paraphrase –that Israel will not commit suicide so that the world will think well of it. Well, I believe that Western elites -- religious, civil, media and academic – would sooner have us all commit suicide-by-terrorist than abandon the multicultural platitudes that keep us from seeing the world as it is and doing something sensible about it rather than as they wish the world were.”
Since becoming pope, Benedict has moved toward confronting Arab regimes over their persecution of Christians. As reported in “Pontificating Against Israel,” Benedict appears willing to mute the more strident voices under his direct control, such as Sodano’s and Sabbah’s.
But Benedict’s subtle, discreet approach is not enough.
Benedict and the Catholic Church have a choice. They can condemn in no uncertain terms the call for Israel’s annihilation. They can condemn in no uncertain terms Hezbollah’s cowardly use of an entire people as a human shield. They can condemn in no uncertain terms the Arab world allowing Palestinians – including Palestinian Christians – to fester in poverty while exploiting them as a foil against Israel. They can express in no uncertain terms the kind of unmitigated solidarity with Israeli victims of terror as they do with Lebanese victims of war. They can change their diplomatic strategies to reflect those values.
In short, Benedict and the Catholic Church can confront the genocidal totalitarianism within Islam with the kind of passion that Catholic figures use to criticize Israel or the United States – especially if they claim to care about Arab Christians.
Or, they can continue on their current path of pious pseudo-neutrality.
Staying that course will rob the Catholic Church of any moral credibility. It will mean that Rome’s relationship to Mecca essentially becomes no different than Vichy’s relationship to Berlin more than 60 years ago.