Morally, Ontologically, Just Plain Wrong

“When two [gay] people, not bound by blood or kin, love each other to such a profound depth that they want to make a lifelong commitment of faithfulness to each other, then that deserves to be acknowledged, celebrated and solemnised. We are all the better for it – individuals, families, communities and society are life-enhanced – and God in his heaven rejoices.”  That’s from Fr. Adrian Egan, CSsR.

“If he [Bruce Jenner] says he’s a woman, then he’s a woman,” says Senator Rick Santorum.

These two quotations are representative of the pure twaddle we read all too often today. One can hardly imagine such nonsense being spouted even a few years ago by a Catholic priest in Ireland or by a conservative Catholic politician in America. We are living in the culture of what St. John Paul II called the “anti-Word.” It is deeply troubling that it has taken hold so quickly, in many, unexpected places. I want to stick with Santorum’s comment and its implications and leave the comments of the Redemptorist priest to the proper Church authorities.

Not many years ago, the story of Bruce Jenner’s “becoming a woman” would have evoked either public derision or a charitable comment: the man needs a doctor – not to mutilate his body to fit his mental deformity, but to help bring his mind into conformity with his body. Today, that kind of comment would itself be met with derision and the charge of being un-Christian, even by many co-opted Christians.

Today, saying that Bruce Jenner is a sick man has become unacceptable, because the world is sick; the world of the Anti-Word, the world that calls good evil, and evil good. This is not a moral judgment on Bruce Jenner at all, but an ontological judgment about a world that prefers to bend reality to the mind, even a sick mind, rather than heal the mind by bringing it back to reality.

John Paul II foresaw this problem in his encyclical Dominum et vivificantem. He spoke there of the anti-Word that is emerging as the perversion of truth in our culture. This anti-Word, like the Anti-Christ, is a tool of the Father of Lies. It is one of the many historical precursors of the Anti-Christ who prepares the way for his coming at the end of time.

The Holy Father speaks first (para. 37) of the “father of lies” who leads man away from God and the truth about both God and man, and thus away from any willingness to accept limitations on his freedom.

The sin at the beginning is repeated throughout history in man’s temptation to absolutize human freedom: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” This John Paul says, is the great and perennial temptation:

“Here we find ourselves at the very center of what could be called the ‘anti-Word,’ that is to say the ‘anti-truth.’ For the truth about man becomes falsified: who man is and what are the impassable limits of his being and freedom. This ‘anti-truth’ is possible because at the same time there is a complete falsification of the truth about who God is.”

Former Olympian Bruce Jenner, left,and  former senator Rick Santorum
Former Olympian Bruce Jenner, left, and former senator Rick Santorum

The “impassable limits of man’s being and freedom” are not simply related to the moral order, but to the very ontological order (the order of beings). So the anti-Word is not simply a denial of the limitation of human freedom in determining moral good and evil, but in determining ontological goodness – the nature of reality – as well.

Man submits to the anti-Word not only in bending his conscience from a receptive power into a determining power, determining the moral norm by his own will rather than receiving the moral norm from God the Creator. But he embraces the anti-Word even more deeply by his efforts to redefine and reshape reality, including his own bodily nature. In this ultimate absolutizing of freedom, man denies the very goodness and being of God.

The pope explains: “This ‘anti-truth’ is possible because at the same time there is a complete falsification of the truth about who God is. God the Creator is placed in a state of suspicion, indeed of accusation, in the mind of the creature.”

God alone determines the limits to man’s dominion over the world, his rightful dominion as opposed to his attempt to usurp the role of the creator. Vatican II warned about this abuse of man’s legitimate autonomy in scientific enquiry and technological innovation (Gaudium et Spes 36). It cannot mean that there is no ontological truth, and it cannot mean that God’s role as Creator can be denied or ignored, making man the absolute master over the creation.

Moral norms have their ultimate ground in ontological truth. God made the world this or that way. This truth limits man’s freedom by establishing moral norms that must not be violated. If man chooses to do so, he violates himself and even destroys himself: “The conscience therefore is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis-a-vis the objective norm. A result of an upright conscience is, first of all, to call good and evil by their proper name. . .”

As the Council reminds us in its list of objective evils that these “infamies” are: “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.” (GS 27) Biological transgendering involves at least three of those evils.

I sometimes wonder: If “science” someday discovers a way of transplanting a human head on a dog, people who think like Santorum will say of the man who thinks he’s a dog, not that he’s ill, but “if he thinks he’s a dog, then he is a dog, so let him do what he wants.”

Fr. Mark A. Pilon (1943-2018) was a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, VA. He received a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from Santa Croce University in Rome. He was a former Chair of Systematic Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary, and a retired and visiting professor at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College. He writes regularly at