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Liberal Diplomacy and the Church

By Peter Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 01, 2006

On January 30th in Washington D.C. the New America Foundation held an event titled “The Real State of the Union Address: A No-Nonsense Assessment of U.S. Foreign Policy and Call to Action”. One of the panelists at the event was Wendy R. Sherman, a former Clinton advisor during his presidency. On the subject of American diplomacy during the Bush administration, Sherman remarked that the current administration’s failure in international diplomatic efforts can be credited to the fact that Bush and friends do not understand the true nature of diplomacy.

While it may be true that the Bush administration has committed major errors in international diplomacy—and I will leave the reader to pass judgment on that point—I disagree with the subsequently stated philosophy of diplomacy outlined by Sherman. She stated that the United States must take care to find out the goals of each potential ally within the context of their culture, and then help them to realize those goals, or collaborative goals reached under a spirit of compromise, in a manner that does not undermine the culture.

This may be true among friends with shared values, but Sherman stated that the diplomatic woes of the United States in North Korea, Iran, and Palestine are the direct result of a misunderstanding of this principle.

Even with my limited appreciation of U.S. foreign policy, I am relatively certain that this is not the case. The problem that the United States faces in dealing with many matters of diplomacy with such countries is threefold. First, the regimes in question have stated goals that would be unacceptable to any civilized and free community (let alone one with Christian values). These goals are deeply ingrained in their culture. Second, those regimes will seek to extract huge concessions from the United States in exchange for giving up these unacceptable goals. Third, there is no guarantee that after receiving the concessions the regime will not continue to perform the prohibited actions in a more secretive manner; or that by giving these concessions the U.S. might actually subsidize these secret activities. In a diplomatic exchange you can understand your counterpart’s goals in the context of his culture as much as you want, but if key elements of the culture are diametrically opposed to your own belief system, it is not possible to assist him in fulfilling his goals. Were you to do so, you would be at best undermining your own position and at worst guaranteeing your own destruction.

The Catholic "Summit"

This is not a political essay. While Ms. Sherman and her colleagues continued the evisceration of the Bush administration for its diplomatic efforts, international actions or inactions, economic blunders and the trampling of the rights of women, I began to ponder just how familiar this false vision of diplomacy has become to those of us who are at odds with what I will call the American Liberal Catholic Movement (ALCM). Obviously, "liberal" (or dissident) Catholics aren't exclusive to the United States, but I'm most familiar with my own liberals. Let me classify this movement as comprising those who claim to be Catholic, while generally opposing Church teachings on contraception, abortion, gay marriage, an all-male clergy, and priestly celibacy. Notice that only one item in this list is open to debate among Catholics: priestly celibacy.

In other words, the ALCM is at odds with the Magisterium of the Church (MC), represented by the Pope, on a number of different issues. Further, let’s imagine that there is a third party: we shall include a Catholic assembly that operates in a role similar to that typically taken by the United Nations in promoting peace through diplomacy (and force in support of diplomacy). For lack of a better acronym we will call this third party USCCB.

USCCB brokers a discussion between MC and ALCM. Never mind that the shape of the conference table takes years to resolve because USCCB can't figure out where MC should sit. In our scenario, the two parties actually meet. On one side we have MC, with a two thousand year legacy of developing doctrine in keeping with God's will, and on the other we have ALCM, with an inconsistent and relatively brief legacy, but backed by the power of the secular media.

Let the diplomacy begin.

The MC states its case regarding the dignity of the human person both as an individual and vis-à-vis his participation in human relationships. MC clearly states that its teachings on these matters have been carefully considered, and that on the issues of contraception, abortion, and homosexuality there is no wiggle room, and therefore these issues must be set aside, to be excluded from future debate. ALCM makes indignant noise. The presence of the Pope makes them nervous. They want to be unspeakably rude to him, as they are frequently behind his back, but just can’t bring themselves to do it.

USCCB encourages further openness in dialogue, explaining that if everybody doesn’t get to have “their say”, the emotional consequences could be disastrous. The USCCB offers the idea that perhaps pro-abortion politicians might still be permitted to receive communion, thereby allowing the administering official to avoid the embarrassment of denying communion to a pillar of the community. MC says that it remains committed to examining the issue, and that bishops should make responsible decisions on a case-by-case basis. USCCB feels that it has made an incredible triumph in diplomacy. They have already made the decision that public heretics should be allowed to receive communion. MC is feeling that its position at the table has been undercut to a certain extent, and feels that maybe it isn’t getting the support from USCCB that it had expected.

The ALCM then brings up the issue of sexual abuse among the clergy in the United States. It states that if MC were to permit the ordination of women, to permit clergy to marry, and to allow homosexuals to remain in active priestly ministry, it would solve all of our current woes. MC responds that it has made clear that it is not within its power to ordain women, and that even were they to make a decision in favor of this practice, the ordinations would not be valid.

MC furthermore states that celibacy is not significantly more difficult for men than it has been in the past two thousand years, and that the subjugation of the bodily appetites to the will is in fact a noble practice required not only of the clergy but also of professed religious, those in the single state, and even in a different way, of married couples. It has been decided that, for the time being, members of the clergy will not be permitted to marry, and that married men may be ordained only under special and extremely particular circumstances. MC maintains its position that homosexual attraction is intrinsically disordered in its very nature, and that men with that particular lack of emotional development should not be permitted to enter priestly ministry.

USCCB at this point becomes very nervous, and is continuously leaving the table to issue (or allow members to issue) wildly contradictory statements about both the effects of homosexuality in the priesthood and the association between homosexuality and pedophilia.

ALCM takes advantage of a USCCB absence to lean across the table and say to MC, “You know, you really are out of it, old man. You need to back down from your theoretical mumbo-jumbo and lighten up. The times, they are a changin’. We want it all, and we want it now.”

MC leans back in his chair and replies, “Actually the Church has been amazingly relevant through more than two thousand years of changing secular ideals. Even on matters relating only to discipline, we have credentials that far exceed your own. On doctrinal matters we cannot bend. The papal infallibility exercised by my predecessors guarantees absolute correctness when making official proclamations on matters of faith and morals. We are far from blowing in the wind.”

ALCM says, “Oh, papal infallibility? We don’t do that here. Our culture is against absolute power and for a rule by the majority. Haven’t you noticed? We’ve got more people on our own side than you do on yours. And just so you know, we’re about tolerance and love based on the primacy of what I want and how fast I can get it. Didn’t they tell you that this is a ‘guilt free’ room?”

ALCM storms out in a huff.

USCCB returns to the room, just in time to see the ALCM leaving the bargaining table: bargainless, but thinking they’ve won everything. The USCCB notes with hysterics that MC has made no concessions, and runs out with ALCM, plucking at its sleeve and whispering reassuringly. Once ALCM has left, the USCCB begins crafting a press release about ushering in a new era of understanding, tolerance, and peace among the faithful, and calling for a greater involvement of the laity in just about everything. MC reflects with a sense of spiritual irony that it has been sitting with its arms outstretched in exactly the same chair for the better part of twenty centuries.

Conclusions?

Eerily, the false way that diplomacy was defined earlier in this piece is the same diplomacy that liberal Catholics in the United States (and elsewhere) demand of the Holy See. But the Holy See recognizes the falsity of the method, and refuses to (and in fact cannot) participate.

The problem that the Holy See faces in dealing with many matters of diplomacy with such individuals is threefold. First, the individuals in question have stated goals that would be unacceptable to any civilized and free community (let alone one with Christian values). These goals are deeply ingrained in their culture. Second, those individuals will seek to extract huge concessions from the Holy See in exchange for giving up these unacceptable goals. Third, there is no guarantee that after receiving the concessions the individuals will not continue to perform the prohibited actions in a more secretive manner; or that by giving these concessions the Holy See might actually subsidize these secret activities (especially by increasing the respectability of the individuals and organizations in question).

In a diplomatic exchange you can understand your counterpart’s goals in the context of his culture as much as you want, but if key elements of the culture are diametrically opposed to your own belief system, it is not possible to assist him in fulfilling his goals. Were you to do so, you would be at best undermining your own position and at worst guaranteeing your own destruction.

 

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