What’s Said, What’s Communicated

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Earlier this week, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, who heads the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities noted that in a recent speech President Biden said, “Here’s the promise I make to you and the American people: The first bill that I will send to Congress [after the mid-term elections in November] will be to codify Roe v. Wade.” Lori rightly responded, “This single-minded extremism must end, and we implore President Biden to recognize the humanity in preborn children and the genuine life-giving care needed by women in this country.”

One of the central features of our new digital media environment is that there are immediate and obvious differences between what’s said and what gets communicated. Most politicians, of course, will say almost anything at a given moment to get votes, even if they know they’ll never act on their words. Biden, who long ago sold large swaths of his Catholic soul for advancement in the Democratic Party, was urging “the base” to work to hold Congress if they want the return of a federal license to kill babies in the womb.

It won’t work and Biden – or at least his handlers – must know it’s a sign of desperation to make that promise. Still, they communicated a continuing commitment to the abortion radicals. That “extremism,” as Archbishop Lori rightly called it, is already baked into certain segments of the voting public. Polls show that the Dobbs decision initially energized Democrats and some independents, but has receded as a main driver in next month’s elections.

But what of the response of the bishops? William Lori said the right things – up to a point. Still, does anyone think that the American bishops saying to Biden “we implore” you to recognize the dignity of life in the womb will make the slightest bit of difference to Biden or any pro-abortion Catholic politician now? Biden has said what he would do if he had a Democratic Congress. What are the American bishops, after decades of being ignored and even rebuked, prepared to do?

Because – with all due respect to Archbishop Lori and the many other American bishops who have strongly spoken out in defense of the unborn, marriage, religious liberty, etc. – we’re way beyond the point where saying the right words fulfills their responsibilities as bishops. Everyone has heard those words many times before. And what now gets communicated to Catholic politicians and the rest of America is that the talk will, as usual, quickly fade, and pro-abortion Catholics in public life will continue to offer grave public scandal that bishops will do nothing to counteract.

Retired Archbishop Charles Chaput recently advocated a much more substantial response in a moving reflection on the beauty of the Eucharist and the scandal of those who receive it unworthily:

Mr. Biden’s apostasy on the abortion issue is only the most repugnant example. He’s not alone. But in a sane world, his unique public leadership would make – or should make – public consequences unavoidable. When you freely break communion with the Church of Jesus Christ and her teachings, you can’t pretend to be in communion when it’s convenient. That’s a form of lying. Mr. Biden is not in communion with the Catholic faith. And any priest who now provides Communion to the president participates in his hypocrisy.

Pope Francis has said essentially the same thing – about the hypocrisy. But unlike Archbishop Chaput, he has not only advised against withholding Communion to errant politicians, but he’s also been communicating a different message himself by his actions.


Many Catholics were scandalized by the news this week that the Vatican has appointed a pro-abortion professor – Mariana Mazzucato – to the Pontifical Academy for Life. Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the academy, has tried to justify the appointment, claiming that the academy dialogues with all sorts of people, not only those who support abortion but even those who are not Catholic.

That might be a justification in a secular academic setting, but not for one of the institutions of the Church. And the scandal is deepened by the fact that it’s being said that the pope himself read and praised one of the appointee’s books, and recommended her appointment, presumably because he or his advisers considered her good on the environment, the economy, or other subjects.

But here’s the thing. Let’s accept for the moment that the Church wants to hear from people who the pope and his advisers think are “good” on the environment or refugees or poverty. These are policy questions that have a moral dimension and it’s worth listening to good ideas on how to address policy problems, which can have multiple solutions, from whatever source.

But there are hundreds of thousands of university professors, think-tank intellectuals, policy advocates, active and retired public officials who doubtless make essentially identical arguments to those put forward by Mazzucato on crucial issues – and at the same time are pro-life.

The world is a big place. The Vatican has a presence everywhere. Is it really plausible that it could not find another candidate with both the desired views on policy proposals and pro-life credentials?

Rationalizations notwithstanding, what the pope and the Vatican have communicated by these appointments is that in some ways they do not really believe that seeking an abortion is like “hiring a hitman to solve a problem,” as the pope has repeatedly said. When it comes to action, they don’t really mind sitting down with – even employing – people who defend hiring a hitman. Which is to say, they’ve communicated that they don’t really believe what they’re saying on abortion.

And not only on abortion – a subject for another day.

This is a horrible position, for anyone, but infinitely worse for a Church whose Founder said he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and who communicated all those things to the world by his willingness to give His very life for what His words meant.


*Image: Pope Francis with Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia: October 22, 2022 [Source: Katholisches: Magazin für Kirche und Kultur]

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E. Christian Brugger’s Throwing St. John Paul II Under the Bus

Christine Vollmer’s When Waves Break Over the Barque of Peter

Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.