The Present Desolation

The most recent appointment scandal in Rome – that of Mariana Mazzucato to the Pontifical Academy of Life – did not catch me by surprise. I wish I could still be surprised by such events, but I have become inured to them.

The Catholic Church is permanently and unambiguously opposed to abortion, as it is opposed to the killing of any innocent human being. The Mazzucato woman, a “professor of innovation,” is unquestionably in favor. This is not a subtle divergence, on which some compatible position may be sought for.

It is shrieking hypocrisy, on the part not only of the appointee but of the appointer, in this case Pope Francis.

She, for her part, cited with approval a Twitter rant, by another lady who called Biblical Christianity “a clown show,” and the argument for abortion, by comparison, “real.” Various similar items were quoted, betraying strong emotions.

We know the feminist struggle in the United States has been intense, and that the Supreme Court’s decision to return law-making on abortion to the individual States, was extremely controversial. How could it not be, in this day and age?

But in the intemperate remarks of Prof. Mazzucato, and some others who are public and sometimes Church-attending “Catholics,” we find the reason for the Supreme Court’s ruling. It was not made on any specifically religious ground, and could not be, under the American Constitution. Instead, the justices tried to find a compromise between the two warring factions: a compromise between life and death.

The population of the United States appears to be almost equally divided by this issue. Nominal Catholics appear on both sides, and even “nones” and “secular humanists” are not automatically determined by atheistical or anti-theological beliefs.

When the issue of abortion exploded over America in 1973, religion was still an important fuel for debate. Public opinion was chaotic and confused, but there were still very many Christians who could be affronted.

Sentiment against abortion has lasted through the intervening half-century, and may even have grown; but it has become detached from religion. While Catholic congregations do sometimes stage or encourage protests, one’s position on abortion must be individually conceived.

The autonomy of that individual has advanced by so many causes, including sixty years of Vatican II, just now being celebrated (or endured). Who, today, looks to the Church for counsel?

Or rather, those who do look to the Church now look through time. The latest encyclical from the latest pope has not much influence or authority. It is unlikely to receive as much publicity as the opinion of the Magisterium in times past.


The same may be seen in many other fields. I am aware of it not only in Canada, where I live, but by imaginative projection to China and elsewhere. I am vividly aware that Catholics in Communist China can no longer count on the support of the pope, or his agents. Catholics are abandoned to politics, which rules them entirely, not by their choice.

Politics also takes priority in free societies, such as Italy where a recent election returned a conservative government, whose candidates sometimes unashamedly declared their religious commitments. But in no case could they believe the Church was supporting them. The bishops stated that the Church was neutral, but the tone made it clear She was on the “progressive” side.

In other words, even an isolated or minority interest, broadly in favor of traditional Catholic teaching, can expect no buttress from the Church. Christian politicians and voters are on their own. Even if they attend Church, they must concede it is a private matter.

This may appeal to the modern idea of freedom. We’re all independent now, and alone. The Church lacks the means to command anyone’s loyalty, and as we see from sex and other scandals, it cannot regulate even the behavior of her clerics. This becomes more obvious as each season passes. Priests, too, are on their own, fearing discipline only from sources outside the Church, such as the law, or fashion.

I could not wish to bore my reader with a list of ecclesiastical utterances that, a few decades ago, would have been quickly withdrawn or corrected. But it is long.

Many – I seldom any longer use the term “most” – are only vaguely aware of the disaster that has befallen. Those acutely aware of it often assume that it is temporary; that, for example, we have a bad pope but later we will have a good one again. Catholicism will recover, we optimistically assume, when modern man comes to realize he has only one heavenly option. We must be patient, until this occurs to him.

But the truth is more desolating. There is no practical prospect for a recovery of any sort. And while God has worked miracles in the past, and the faithful may actually hope for Christ and His Angels to suddenly rescue us, this cannot be expected. There is, I think, little supplicatory prayer in secret, and what is offered in public has diminished radically.

It is in this light that I tend to be bored by the latest proposals or trends in apologetics, or other evangelical efforts. Where they have any chance of working, God bless them, but evangelizing we must do ourselves, not depend on external missions.

Pilgrimages are perhaps an exception for hope, and by attending the Mass in Church we may seek formation in the company of others. Private prayer and meditation will certainly continue. But everything else strikes me as a promotional game, a species of advertising or of political propaganda.

This is a sad situation. I have my own opinions on how the Church fell into this historical rut, but I am not historically learned, and my views would not be interesting unless I could propose some novel way out.

The only comfort I can insert is: that the fundamental Catholic account of the universe remains majestically true.


*Image: The Loss of Faith by Jan Toorop, 1894 [Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands]

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David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: