On praising Obama and other relativists: Is a discreet silence really so bad?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 22, 2016

One tires of L’Osservatore Romano, whose editors too often seem overeager to ingratiate themselves with our world’s cultural elites. Over the past few years, we have seen the paper find reasons to praise the legacy of various musicians, writers and entertainers who have no significant Christian focus. Sometimes this has reminded me of that fateful day in 1973 when a far younger Jeff Mirus tried to prove the profound Christian significance of the lyrics of Don McLean. Perhaps just as bad, the editors of L’OR have extended this same sort of vacuous commentary to politics.

Rewind, if you will, to my March 11th essay, “Deal breakers in the quest for religious unity and evangelization”. I was trying to explain the dangers of seeking unity with secularists who were not open to the truth about the human person. I wrote that I hoped this sort of situation was fairly rare in formal ecumenical discussions, but that “it is not at all rare in a million instances which partake of a similar irenic spirit”—that is, a spirit of fostering peace and collaboration at any price. Then, just to make a change, I decided to be a little more specific:

I refer to those who, lacking a proper discernment, continually strive to increase their reach by supporting secularist initiatives whenever (accidentally, as it were) Catholic teaching makes this theoretically possible. I think, for example, of churchmen who are quick to publicly endorse the positions and initiatives of secularist politicians whenever they happen (again, virtually by accident) actually to have some good end in view—even when that good end is undermined by everything they believe about the prerogatives of God and the nature, liberty and ultimate good of the human person. [emphasis added]

The vice-editor of L’Osservatore Romano apparently thought this meant he should take a curtain call. Giuseppe Fiorentino promptly praised US President Barack Obama for his visit to Cuba to promote dialogue; he lamented that Obama might not be able to single-handedly make the world a better place (given a “Congress controlled by Republicans”); and he contrasted Obama’s exemplary openness to Cuba with “new European walls constructed against migrants.”

Granted, Fiorentino is not quite a “churchman”, but he edits and writes for the Vatican’s official newspaper. This is probably sufficient for me to rest my case. But I love a good tirade, so let us consider.

A Case Study

It is certainly possible (by accident, so to speak) that President Obama may have some good and noble reason for seeking better relations with Cuba. But surely we must presume that he will ultimately try to do what he perceives to be in America’s best interests (if not his own). And when we add the demonstrable fact that President Obama is strongly committed, both personally and politically, to a false view of reality in general and of the human person in particular—a vision in which good and evil are generally reversed—one would expect even the most casual Catholic observer to be exceedingly slow to praise any of his initiatives.

This is, after all, the same President who is so eager to advance the homosexual lifestyle that he caused the LGBTQ (etc.) agenda to be made an integral part of US foreign policy, and who also sent a gay ambassador (complete with a gay “partner”) to another Caribbean island nation, the Dominican Republic, which is about 150 miles from Cuba. The bishops across this brief expanse of water have strongly protested the behavior of ambassador Wally Brewster. The Catholic College of St. John the Baptist has even posted a sign indicating that the ambassador is not welcome on its campus.

Before the alphabet became his cause célèbre, Barack Obama was already famous as the most pro-abortion politician in American history. He has shamelessly used his executive powers to encourage (and force as many Americans as possible to bear the costs of) deeply immoral practices such as sterilization, contraception and abortion. It would seem to be the height of folly for any Catholic figure or Catholic publication—let alone the official Vatican newspaper—to praise President Obama for any initiative whatsoever which is ostensibly designed to “improve” people’s lives.

An Unseemly Eagerness to Flatter

It is just here, of course, that some will argue that we must take proper notice of the good others do, no matter how much we may disagree with other portions of their agenda. But this is nothing but the accumulated moral inertia of what now is a multi-generational emphasis on unity (or perhaps running with the winner) at any price. It entails a refusal to recognize when no real progress can be made toward a greater mutual understanding which might lead to increased respect for the teachings of Christ. Instead, this constant seeking after opportunities to praise powerful figures who are seriously opposed to Christ only dilutes the public awareness of what is really at stake. I mean the moral destruction of all those they wish to remake in their own image.

When we begin asking questions relevant to the purposes of L’Osservatore Romano, this very shaky editorial conduct becomes not only foolish but reprehensible. What need does the Vatican newspaper have to comment at all on the vexing question of US socio-economic and political policies toward Cuba? How would the editors know what is most conducive to the common good overall? Why should the editors be expending valuable space on the project of praising a thoroughly wrongheaded American political leader at the expense of his (similarly wrongheaded) European counterparts?

Why is the Vatican newspaper so often eager to ally itself with both the dominant culture and the dominant political powers of this present darkness (Eph 6:12)? Why should it not strive rather to be a counter-cultural messenger of truth and hope? And even if there is something we could stretch a point to praise among those devoted to a public and private rejection of Divine Revelation, what is so very, very wrong with a discreet silence?

I readily grant that it is not always necessary to condemn. But condemnation of Catholic leaders will have to become far more frequent if they cannot learn when they should, at the very least, withhold their praise. After all, we ought to want Christians and others of good will to confidently follow those whom the Church chooses to praise.

It is said that silence is golden. In cases like this it is even better. When condemnation is not warranted and praise is misleading, silence is not just golden: it is the golden mean. It is also very frequently the refuge of those who do not wish to be recognized as fools.

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: David K - Mar. 24, 2016 9:10 PM ET USA

    The point could be made that the OR could go beyond discreet silence in these cases, and write about the many other events and persons in this world who do bring Christ into this world. There are many real heroes in Cuba. Events and persons who are forgotten in the unseemly rush to ingratiate itself the powers that be.

  • Posted by: k_cusick1963 - Mar. 23, 2016 8:40 AM ET USA

    I couldn't agree more. The Church should not "weigh in" on politics, period. The governmental systems of this world are not those of the Kingdom of God. While we have a responsibility to influence society towards goodness and justice, Jesus lived in a time and place of gross injustice, but He did not seek to overthrow the Roman occupiers or teach His followers to do so. Rather He taught the principles of the Heavenly Kingdom(clearly not the world's) and lived them with love and mercy.

  • Posted by: rdennehy8049 - Mar. 23, 2016 7:10 AM ET USA

    This is why I support Catholic Culture.