Auto De Fe

Even when it’s not embroiled in controversies over Latin Traditionalists and Holocaust deniers, as it was this week, the Vatican can drive a man nuts.

Case in point: Last summer’s “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road” is a frontal assault on one of my cherished beliefs: that driving fast in a hot car is cool.

It fell to the Pontifical Council for the Care of Migrants and Itinerant People to come up with this directive, which includes a slightly redundant drivers’ “Ten Commandments.” Number One is “You shall not kill,” which in those better-known Commandments comes in only at #6. The Council writes that the Guidelines are concerned not just with motorists but also with rail travelers and transportation workers, “street women” and “street children,” those the document calls “tramps,” as well as pavement dwellers, street vendors, tourists, pilgrims, street actors, circus folk, and . . . gypsies.

Honestly, you’d think the document was cadged from a Fellini screenplay.

The heart of its message is this: drive safely, which means not operating an overloaded vehicle, especially at night, and especially not under the influence. There’s more, of course, so here’s a brief summary: Because driving can be dangerous to motorists and pedestrians, and because cars pollute, “it is a good idea to call for a commitment to avoid unnecessary car use.” (The document doesn’t define “unnecessary.”) The authors acknowledge the many benefits of transportation, most especially getting where you want to go, which may involve meeting new people.

And then there are emergency vehicles. Don’t forget them, because — if I read aright — they may take expectant mothers to the hospital, thus facilitating the “discovery of the beauties of creation, the sign of [God’s] boundless love for us,” especially when on the way you drive past churches.

The Bible tells tales of travelers, although the Guidelines eschew mention of rules for riding donkeys or camels. It does, albeit obliquely, recognize that there are some asses on the road, which is why it cautions against what over here we call “road rage,” even stating that operating a motor vehicle is a kind of ministry. Christian drivers

don’t only think about themselves, and are not always worried about getting to their destination in a great hurry. They see the people who “accompany” them on the road, each of whom has their own life, their own desire to reach a destination and their own problems. They see everyone as brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

So, the Guidelines may be serious to the point of silliness, but they clearly contain much good instruction too. But where’s the fun in that?

Back to the wackiness: Commenting on the frustrations some drivers feel about speed limits and other traffic regulations — that one may find them “humiliating” — the Guidelines observe that: “When driving a vehicle, special circumstances may lead us to behave in an unsatisfactory and even barely human manner.” It’s a jungle out there on the interstates and autobahns, since the need for speed causes some of us to “accelerate at will, setting out to conquer time and space, overtaking, and almost ‘subjugating’ other drivers . . .” (“Unless having fun has become a sin,” quipped Amedeo Felisa, an executive with Ferrari, “I don’t believe it is wrong.”)

My wife hears my keys jangling with menace as I head to the car: “Where are you off to, hon?”

“Um . . . I’m going to . . . to the supermarket.”


Her eyes narrow to a steely squint. “You’re going out to try to conquer space and time, aren’t you?”

Hear me, ye princes of the Church, I like powerful, fast cars, and I admit I sometimes honor speed limits more in the breach than the observance, but must I go to confession just because I’ve driven 60 in a 55? And I’ve neither purchased nor driven an automobile with the intention of seeking an “easy opportunity to dominate others.” For that I go bowling.

I can accept the “fact that a driver’s personality is different from a pedestrian’s personality should be taken into account,” but I fear the Pontifical Council’s members have made too many rush-hour crossings of the Via della Conciliazione.

I’m not one of the people who “identify themselves with their cars and project assertion of their egos onto them.” I drive a Mercedes-Benz — made by the same folks who provide wheels for the Holy Father. I know Benedict XVI doesn’t drive his own Mercedes, but if he did I doubt that he’d project his personality onto it — even though it’s called the popemobile. I don’t drive a bradmobile. It may be true for some that cars “tend to bring out the ‘primitive’ side of human beings,” but I swear I’m just going out for milk.

On second thought, I think I’ll walk. That seems less an occasion of sin.

Brad Miner is the Senior Editor of The Catholic Thing and a Senior Fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute. He is a former Literary Editor of National Review. His most recent book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with George J. Marlin, is now on sale. His The Compleat Gentleman is now available in a third, revised edition from Regnery Gateway and is also available in an Audible audio edition (read by Bob Souer). Mr. Miner has served as a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA and also on the Selective Service System draft board in Westchester County, NY.