Archbishop Paglia buries the abortion issue…again

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 28, 2020

Since Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia was named President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, it seems to have become impossible for the Academy to shed light on any particular threat to life in our world. One need look no further to establish the Academy’s vacuity than its amorphous, secularized observations on the Coronavirus back in July (Humana Communitas in the Age of Pandemic: Untimely Meditations on Life’s Rebirth). Now, in an interview with Crux, Archbishop Paglia has further poisoned the teeming pool of life by arguing, in effect, that the politicization of life issues must always be avoided as seriously harmful.

The interview was deliberately framed partly against the backdrop of the American Presidential campaign, so it is fair to read Paglia’s comments in that context. In truth, though, his comments are extremely disorienting in any context at all. In fact, Paglia essentially resorts to the “seamless garment” tactic, which takes the truth that all problems adversely affecting the human person are issues of “human life”, and then emphasizes that very marginal insight to the point where it becomes immoral to prioritize these issues. Thus is our moral energy dissipated, preventing us from producing any positive effect at all.

Seamless Garment

While Paglia does not use the term “seamless garment”, he clearly articulates that ineffective theme. To quote the Crux story:

[Paglia] said Christian churches in the U.S. ought to feel “a universal responsibility” toward life, and called for greater engagement on the life issue “in all its dimensions… That is, a perspective of global bioethics, one that engages all the major topics that touch on life, of the individual and of the human family.”

This is a tall order indeed—an order so tall that, in practical terms, it can accomplish absolutely nothing beyond a pallid approval of whatever the dominant culture is emphasizing as good at the moment. When we are taught that everything demands our attention all of the time, we become inert, taking credit for floating along on the winds of change.

Thus, as recounted with quotations by Crux, Paglia magnanimously warned against:

turning the pro-life cause into an ideological weapon, saying making the protection of life a political football risks doing “great harm”… [and] … “It would do great harm,” he said, “if some topic of bioethics is extracted from its general context and put toward ideological strategies. It would do great harm.”

This can only be interpreted as a dismissal of pro-life political commitment as “ideology”, and it is an enormous misdirection. For what can this warning against “ideological strategies” possibly mean in the context of the need to seek just governance and laws that restrict the scope of evil and promote the common good—which is precisely the purpose of politics?

In contrast, let us consider these two realities: (a) Priority must clearly and emphatically be placed on the right to life itself, without which no other human good can be sought at all; and (b) Around the world in our lifetimes, politics has been used, through laws, court decisions and regulations, to attack the right to life. If this is so, how can any Catholic leader deliberately seek to dissipate the energy and commitment that all men and women of good will ought to apply precisely to politics, in order to redress such stupendous wrongs? Such action is rooted in the natural law; it is the very opposite of ideology. Indeed, one wonders when and where any pro-life assertion has ever been either the product or the servant of ideology!

Other Indications

Recently I have seen several indications of the confusion created by such amorphous semi-ecclesiastical guidance. (I call it “semi-ecclesiastical”, for Archbishop Paglia has no teaching authority at all as President of the Pontifical Academy for Life.) First, there is our recent news story on the remarks of Msgr. Paul Garrity of Boston, who confidently asserts that it is possible to be pro-life and still support abortion. To his credit, Garrity’s bishop (Cardinal O’Malley) has issued a contrary statement. But this is not the first time Garrity has publicly contradicted the Catholic Faith and, so far, he remains a priest in good standing.

Second, in responding to messages from those who are registered on CatholicCulture.org, we occasionally find Catholics who will refuse any further correspondence because we point out the inherent contradictions of Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s claim to be a Catholic. On two occasions in the past month, readers have cancelled their registrations with us because they intend to support Biden. Both have regarded Donald Trump as a racist, as opposed to what they apparently consider to be Biden’s more acceptable views.

In vain does one remonstrate that Trump’s alleged “racism” cannot be proven by any policies he has advocated or implemented that are race-specific, whereas Biden has advocated and continues to advocate policies which snuff out the lives of people of all races, in addition to defying the natural law in ways that seriously undermine the family and, therefore, the entire social order. I am the first to admit that President Trump refuses to undertake (or is incapable of undertaking) any statesman-like speech or behavior that might win more people to his side, and that he is very foolish indeed to fail to take more seriously the deep concerns of Blacks and Hispanics, especially in a dominant liberal culture which constantly demonizes more conservative political and religious leaders precisely in order to make them unpopular with those groups.

But there is no moral comparison between insensitive rhetoric and the advocacy and implementation of laws and policies which directly snuff out human lives.

Lost in a maze

Such is our world! Effective moral action, whether private or political, is made far harder by Catholic leaders who rant on about the totality of human good in such a way that no particular good can ever be prioritized. When Catholics are constantly rebuked for insisting that the greatest and most directly-willed evils of our time must be addressed first, they can feel perfectly justified in falling back on whatever tiny shred of rhetorical justification can be found in culturally-dominant causes, even when these causes are, in their essential character and direct effects, objectively and singularly evil.

And so we become lost in a maze. For the finite human person, a constant emphasis on total responsibility always becomes an excuse for taking no real responsibility at all. In view of all the causes on offer, one can always justify doing nothing to correct a particularly serious evil, or even contributing to it. Thus Paglia: “[E]verything that doesn’t respect the human person…is a sin against the Gospel of life.” This unnecessary assertion leads inexorably to the closing words of the Crux report on the interview:

“For the first time we are living together with four generations,” [Paglia] said, adding that to promote a “Gospel of life” means fostering dialogue among the generations and to support one another as humanity navigates the complex task of learning to guide technology and the market, rather than being guided by them. “It’s an enormous task,” he said, and urged Christians to engage in “an attentive dialogue in every sense, the humanist and the technological.”

That advice is remarkably high-sounding. But nobody can follow it without moral paralysis.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Sep. 03, 2020 11:21 AM ET USA

    Cincinnatus: I looked for the full text of the interview at the time, but could not find it anywhere, so I relied on the Crux story. It was, after all, an interview with Crux, and the quoted statements were very consistent with Paglia's approach to these things in the past. But I was glad to see him speak more clearly and decisively in Latin America. As for my political views, I find your remark odd. Bringing pro-life concerns into politics to counter intrinsically evil anti-life policies and laws doesn't come under the mere heading of "political views". Whenever it is possible, it is a high priority natural law moral obligation for all, which lies at the heart of the common good, and that obligation is even more serious for all Catholics, who know these things not only through natural law but from the teachings of the Church.

  • Posted by: Cincinnatus - Sep. 02, 2020 1:33 PM ET USA

    This article sounds like you have simply found a handy foil to your own political views. Strange for a journalist to write about something by simply cribbing from the (tendentious) work of another journalist. Try reading the interview without Crux's slanted interpretation and you will come up with another interpretation. What you say--as shown by the other comments--is really all about your view of Biden's "Catholicism.Tying in Paglia shows you don't have much confidence in your arguments.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Aug. 31, 2020 3:08 PM ET USA

    I offer a couple of points in response to Jeff. Trump's rhetoric is not anti-immigrant, but rather against illegal entry into the U.S. This pertains to all who originate in non-U.S. territories. I do disagree with Trump's "law and order" rhetoric. The rule of reason (aka "law") issues from justice, and order issues from the peace that is established in a just society. Thus I prefer the terms "justice" and "peace" to "law and order". "Contemptuous and divisive"? Pay attention to the other side.

  • Posted by: Jeff Mirus - Aug. 31, 2020 10:13 AM ET USA

    In response to those who suggested I was unfair in suggesting that Trump is foolish not to attempt to attract Blacks and Hispanics, I was not referring to his policies but to his rhetoric. When your rhetoric is consistently anti-immigrant (which relates closely to Hispanics) and pro law-and-order (which relates closely to recent concerns of Blacks), a more statesman-like effort to be the leader of ALL Americans could pay dividends, without changing his actual policies at all. Trump's rhetoric is typically contemptuous and divisive, leaving even many of his supporters to hold their noses while casting votes for him. This is way too easy to exploit for those who oppose him.

  • Posted by: Jefesabella1011 - Aug. 30, 2020 9:09 AM ET USA

    I am interested to know what deep concerns of blacks and hispanics Trump has failed to take seriously. Concerns of these people I believe are as diverse as are their varying religious and philosophical beliefs. From what I’ve seen some of their primary concerns are access to jobs and education, and the freedom to worship as they wish; all of which have been advocated and defended by the president’s policies. In my short 49 years, he may be the most “pro-Americans of all colors” leader by far.

  • Posted by: mary_conces3421 - Aug. 29, 2020 10:46 PM ET USA

    I am in total sympathy with your take on Mr. Biden’s blatantly anti-Catholic policies. I cannot gainsay your strictures on Pres. Trump’s behavior. Blacks & Hispanics’ problems’ can’t be helped by more federal government attention IMHO. As for Cdl. Paglia: Isn’t he the one who commissioned the infamous mural? Not a person whose judgment I trust. I don’t see why the Pope or anyone else does. Keep on with your often thankless job as a voice of reason in the public square.

  • Posted by: wacondaseeds4507 - Aug. 29, 2020 2:20 PM ET USA

    Your eloquent and pithy summary, "there is no moral comparison between insensitive rhetoric and the advocacy and implementation of laws and policies which directly snuff out human lives" lacks an important qualifying word, i.e., INNUMERABLE human lives.

  • Posted by: brodeurkth4531 - Aug. 29, 2020 1:53 PM ET USA

    I wonder if you have actually watched any of the President’s speeches. They are actually quite inspiring. Would that our Catholic leaders were half as so. And please give examples of where he is not addressing black and hispanic issues. Rhetoric is one thing; results another. I’ll take his “rough” but results orientation anytime over our polished over educated rhetoricians. Who else could withstand the onslaught as he has, and still maintain a sense of humor. He and his family are sacrificing for the good of the nation; and ultimately the world.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Aug. 29, 2020 10:59 AM ET USA

    More and more confusion, which appears to be Rome's MO since 2013. This confusion allows Catholic dissenters to fish in troubled waters.

  • Posted by: FredC - Aug. 29, 2020 10:34 AM ET USA

    I have compiled statements from Democrat and Republican leaders on various moral issues, as viewed through the lens of the Ten Commandments. The compilation is available at http://fcta.org/Pubs/Reports/2020-07c-fac.html.

  • Posted by: billG - Aug. 28, 2020 10:45 PM ET USA

    The Declaration's first unalienable right was to Life. It would appear that our largely non-Catholic founders had a clearer sense of Catholic doctrine and morality than this excuse for a shepherd. God help us.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Aug. 28, 2020 7:40 PM ET USA

    Indeed, tacking everything at once leads to nothing getting done...ever. More significant is the apparent non-thinking, non-information seeking portion of the population that would support Biden who evidently buy into fake news. Hopefully they are a distinctly small minority who will find the truth of the matter before Nov. And even more significant Garrity, who has consistently maintained anti-Catholic thought (marriage not permanent, etc.) is still around.