John Walton asked me about my response to a book by Pat Buchanan. I have not read that specific book, but I want to respond to the ideas that John sketched from the book.
1. A picture of the Catholic Church.
I was delighted to take part in World Youth Day 2000, the last one that Pope John Paul II sponsored and attended. About 2.3 million young men and women from around the world gathered in Rome for a week of prayer and praise and teaching and meeting. It was glorious. In Rome, the age of the Church is visible and tangible; you can pick a century and go take a look at something from that time. I loved San Clemente, where there’s a church built on top of a church built on top of a temple – approx. dates reaching back 400 years, 15 centuries, and 21 centuries. The canon of the Mass begins with a Roman declaration praising God always and everywhere: “It is right and just.” When my father was at Harvard, the chaplain of the Harvard Catholic Student Association (Fr. Feeney, actually, THE Fr. Feeney, if the name means anything to you) taught that this declaration is from the cult of Mithras, the temple under San Clemente. Adherents to that cult of martial honor may have included men such as Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, Cicero. Anyway, in Rome, the unity of the Church through time – through the past 20 centuries, anyway – is visible, tangible.
The unity of the Church throughout the world was similarly visible and tangible, a living reality. During the week, celebrations of the Mass often included readings in English, French, German, Polish, Tagalog, Swahili, Chinese, etc. There were bits of Hebrew and ancient Greek, of course. And there was enough Latin to tie everything together. The music was similarly polyglot, with styles imported from everywhere on earth. This wasn’t just a clever show; the reason for all the languages was that there were people there from all over the world.
I loved it. I thought it was a foretaste of heaven. AND ALSO: I thought it was a foretaste of the new culture and new civilization that Pope John Paul II talked about so often. The Church is global, and is called to be unified globally, and is called to strive for global unity in the Church and outside the Church. This respectful mixture of cultures is a significant element of the future of the Church.
2. Blessed Sacrament parish.
I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. In the 1950s, that was a white enclave. But the archbishop of Washington was Patrick O’Boyle, who was deeply committed to integration. When O’Boyle became the first archbishop of the newly independent archdiocese (no longer part of Baltimore), he set out to end segregation there – quietly, with steely determination. He thought that press attention was polarizing, and avoided it when he could. Quietly, without fanfare, he got blacks and whites eating breakfast in each other’s homes after Mass. After a couple of years of that, he re-drew parish boundaries, and declared that segregation was over in the Catholic Church in Washington. There were no confrontations; he made it work quietly.
In my parish, all the blacks who lived within the parish boundaries were welcome. All none of them. It was a white enclave, and we didn’t bus anyone in. So what did integration mean there? It was mostly an idea on the horizon, not a lived reality. Still, there were people for it, and people against it.
My father worked at Army Map Service in the 1950s. He hired the first blacks there – not janitors, but mathematicians. He gave a test (on quadratic equations, mostly), and hired the people who did best on the test. The people who did best were blacks, not because blacks had a superior math gene, but because they had been passed over by other agencies and companies for so long. A color-blind test located qualified applicants who had been passed over due to racist policies. My father thought it was important to be just (“Dignum et justum est”), and in the short run he thought that he should act as if he didn’t see color. He had not hired blacks; he had hired mathematicians. But he did see color, and he did see how the men he had hired were shunned and snubbed – and at home, he talked about their courage, and he wept.
One evening, probably in 1961 or 1962, there was a knock on the front door. A black man was collecting signatures on a fair housing petition. Father brought him, and chatted for a while. The man had come down Thornapple Street from Connecticut, knocking on doors. How many signatures? None. My father signed, but also asked if it would be okay if he went with, for the rest of the street. So they went together – and everyone they asked, signed. My father declined to go back to the houses where people had refused to sign; he thought it would be rude.
What I want to say is, in Chevy Chase, in Blessed Sacrament, in the Archdiocese of Washington, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was a change underway. The Church could lead, and people could follow. Change was possible.
The reason for explaining all this is to respond to Pat Buchanan. He grew up in O’Boyle’s Washington. He grew up in Chevy Chase (the DC side). His little brother Bucky was a classmate of mine; we were confirmed together; I took the name Isaac, and Bucky took the name Jogues. Pat’s a little older than me; he was born in 1938; Bucky and I were born in 1950. I know the house where Pat grew up, with the long curved driveway, behind St. John’s College High School, home of the Johnny-mops. I know some of the forces in his life.
3. Vatican II and Blessed Sacrament
I was in grade school when Pope John XXIII called for an ecumenical council. Pat was in college, and was perhaps less touched by events within his childhood parish. Perhaps.
The nuns talked a lot at school about the Vatican Council. I didn’t understand much of what they said, but it was still interesting. One of my classmates, Julianna Work, was very proud of her father who was always going down to the airport to get a plane to Rome, where he was something incomprehensible – the only layman who was an active participant in the Council? He was a lay representative, and helped draft documents. I didn’t know what the laity was, and was unclear about what drafting was. Airports I understood. So I didn’t have a firm grasp on what the fuss was about. But the fuss in Rome was not something a million miles away. I met this tall and gentle man, Martin Work. And I liked him. And he was a part of the fuss in Rome.
My parish – Pat Buchanan’s family’s parish – was full of people who were wealthy and/or powerful and/or influential. And even the grade school kids were aware of Vatican II.
4. Gaudium et Spes, JFK, and the Democrats
The Council was prolific. If you want to read the documents it issued, you have to settle down for a good long time. The best known document from the Council was “Gaudium et Spes,” with the English title “The Church in the Modern World.” It’s a thorough re-orientation of the Church, away from churchy issues toward human issues. And portions of it sound like the Democratic Party platform. It condemns abortion, but also takes a stand against nukes, the arms race, torture, inequality, injustice, sexism …
An excerpt: “whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.” (GS, 27)
John Kennedy and the Vatican Council pushed Catholicism and the Democratic Party closer and closer together. The Catholic Church did not adopt positions to please the Democrats in America, of course. But there was a confluence of ideas.
5. Here’s my point. Buchanan resisted, at every step.
Buchanan worked for Nixon, and at some point, he went to work to explain to his boss how to maintain the strength of the Republican Party in the face of Kennedy, Johnson, and John XXIII. Last year, I tried to for a few days to find the memo (or string of memos) that Buchanan wrote, and I failed. So, if you like, you can discredit everything I say here – until a competent researcher finds the documentation. It’s not hidden. Buchanan explained, in brief, that the Catholic Church was drifting to the left, because of Vatican II. The way to fight back was to emphasize abortion, to seize the issue and make it a Republican issue. If Republicans failed to make abortion their own issue, then the Democrats would be the party of conscience, and Catholics would all drift out of the GOP.
Buchanan did not embrace Vatican II; he rejected it, and thought about how to push back against it. And he did not oppose abortion because he wanted to protect children; he opposed abortion to save the GOP from oblivion.
It baffles me when so many Catholics who oppose immigration in politics also oppose Pope Francis on religious issues. There’s no logical reason for these two phenomena to overlap. But it seems to me that there is extensive overlap. Views on immigration are not a perfect predictor of views on divorce/re-marriage/communion – not perfect, but pretty good. Views on divorce/re-marriage/communion are not a perfect predictor of views on immigration – not perfect, but pretty good. That’s not logical, not at all logical. And, to be sure, I may be wrong about it; the predictive overlap that I think I see could be a mirage. But I think it’s there.
And – to answer your question, John – I think that Pat Buchanan is a large piece of the link. When the Archdiocese of Washington embraced racial integration, Pat Buchanan did not. When Blessed Sacrament embraced integration, Pat Buchanan did not. When Vatican II embraced civil rights other leftist views, Pat Buchanan resisted. When the Church called for a global perspective, Pat Buchanan rebelled. And when the GOP was on the brink of becoming the anti-conscience party, Pat Buchanan devised a strategy to defeat the Church and save the party – not to protect children, but to save the party.