In the past few weeks we have received a great blessing: the demonstration that for a large section of the Catholic Church around the world Pope Francis has gone too far. All the indications until now were that there was no limit to the capacity of the faithful to accept this Pope’s paltering with Catholic truth; but we now see that the limit was there, and that with Fiducia Supplicans it has been overstepped. All the same, against this benefit there is a much greater evil: the state of the Church that made Francis think that he could get away with his shameful document in the first place. This low state includes many aspects, large among which is a time-serving and subservient hierarchy, but the one I want to discuss here is the failure of the Catholic Church in the past sixty years to put across to the faithful its teaching on the family and on sexuality.
The attack on the Christian ideal of the family began centuries ago, with the Protestant acceptance of divorce, and in the nineteenth century it began to assume a more ideological tone with the rise of Feminism. The impact of the First World War visibly shook traditional mores, as women began to abandon the standards of modesty that had prevailed since Europe became Christian; divorce became widely accepted, and the advocacy for contraception began to shake the instinctive abhorrence of it which had survived even in Protestant societies. Against this tide, Pope Pius XI found it necessary to publish in 1930 the encyclical Casti Connubii, opposing the new trends. Thereby, Pope Pius fulfilled the perennial duty of the Church of reaffirming Christian teaching against the errors of the time. But the enemy did not consist in isolated moral evils; it was a whole false anthropology that was arising from a newly godless society. Prompted by the ideology of the French Revolution, the advanced world was beginning to see human society as an artificial collection of citizens, in which sexual difference was a mere physical accident, the means that evolution had happened to find to procreate life.
Today, the moral framework that Pius XI expressed in Casti Connubii has become totally alien to the modern world, so far have we travelled on the neo-pagan road; but worse is the fact that that alienation abounds among Catholics too, both laity and clergy. The cause of this is the disintegration of Catholic philosophy provoked by the Second Vatican Council. It was glimpsed even in the documents of the Council itself. The programmatic declaration of the Council, Gaudium et Spes, in its zeal to preach a “modern” message, thought it appropriate to urge the social progress of women and to speak as if the capitalist regime of unfettered competition, even between the sexes, were the natural order of society. The breakdown became general in the climate that followed the closure of the Council. In the priesthood and in the seminaries, an assumption spread that the rule of celibacy was about to be abolished, with dire repercussion on vocations and especially on the ethos of chastity in the clergy. Among the laity there was a parallel assumption that the Church’s teaching on contraception had been superseded and was soon going to be changed. When Pope Paul VI attempted to restate the traditional teaching in Humanae Vitae he provoked a collapse of papal authority. His encyclical was met with immediate vituperation and in the sequel was widely ignored.
These were incidents in the disintegration of the whole Christian way of thinking. Taught to regard aggiornamento as the new rule of faith, Catholics surrendered to a neo-pagan ideology of human nature. The laws of sexual morality became to them isolated prescriptions which they no longer understood, because they had lost touch with their philosophical foundation. There is therefore no hope of teaching the modern generation to understand Christian morality unless they free themselves from the categories of the modern world and replace them with the perennial philosophy of the Church.
That view is in fact older than the Church itself, and belongs to the first revelation of God to mankind. It stems from the lessons taught by the first chapters of Genesis, which are confirmed by natural reason, and they constitute a luminous proof that those chapters are the inspired Word of God. Genesis teaches firstly the transcendent truth that God created man in His own image. Secondly it teaches that God created a man, and created a woman to be his wife and companion. From that truth stems the fundamental reality of the family, and thence the whole nature and meaning of human society.
Yet implicit in these two truths lies a paradox. The human family is the image of the perfect union of Persons that exists in the Trinity; yet in the Trinity there is no division of sexes. The Son is begotten by the Father, and the love between them, as St Augustine teaches, is personified in the Holy Ghost. In earthly society we have a difference. A human person is not begotten by a father alone but brought into being by a father and a mother. This is a relation that does not exist in the Trinity, and we need to ask ourselves why it is so. Clearly, God could have devised a human race with no sexual difference, with a different means appointed for procreation. Why therefore did God create a race divided between men and women? The answer must be that He did so for the sake of the Incarnation. The reason why every human being derives his nature equally from a man and a woman is that that was the only way in which a Being could come into the world who was by nature both God and man.
The alternative would be to think that God invented an arbitrary order of humanity and then improvised the Incarnation from its accidents; that is the absurdity implied by those absorbed in the assumptions of the world. The truth is the opposite: the human race was devised to make the Incarnation possible. The duality of the sexes is the natural precondition for the supernatural duality of the Incarnation. It follows that the difference of the sexes is not a physical accident imposed on a personality, but is integral to human nature and its relation to God. A man is the kind of human being that God devised in whom the Incarnation was to be realised; a woman is the kind of human being that God devised as the vessel of the Incarnation. God could only have become incarnate as a man, because the male sex was formed to represent Him; He could only have become man as the son of a woman, because the female sex was formed to bear Him.
From this anthropology we also learn the meaning of the family as the reflexion that God intended of the Trinity, making divine truth the model of human society. The family was to be the setting of unchanging love in which each child should grow and draw his first notions of reality, of value, of virtue and of what it is to be human. So fundamental was this divine plan that we see the instinct of the family planted deep in human nature, even human nature as it struggled on after the Fall. In primitive societies, though unable to articulate their moral framework, we see a respect for the marriage bond that could almost be thought superstitious, together with a natural horror of lusts that work against it. The loosening of the institution of marriage and the acceptance of perversion appears as an artificial vice in over-sophisticated societies such as ancient Athens and Rome, and it has always been recognised as the harbinger of decadence.
Human marriage is therefore one of the loftiest ideals that God puts before us; but when we consider the gulf between the ideal and the morass of sexuality as the Fall has made it, the lesson we must draw is the essential place that the virtue of chastity has in protecting the marriage bond, the castum connubium that Pius XI exerted himself to defend. The lesson is even stronger when we look at the havoc that our own unnatural society has wrought with the ways of nature. We learn how important it is that Christians should understand the divine plan of human nature and repudiate the false ideology that has arisen amongst us. That was the challenge that faced the Catholic Church in the twentieth century, and she has failed it sadly. Where we should have had wise and courageous defenders, we have been led too often by mealy-mouthed shysters whose gospel is accommodation to the habits of the world, who talk of the need to be pastoral and to recognise the reality of human situations, and who even turn on the Church herself and accuse her of historic bigotry and intolerance as the basis of her moral teaching. What we now have with Fiducia Supplicans is this betrayal raised to the status of papal magisterium.
One needs to recognise also the diabolic effect that this betrayal has had on our world. The weakening of the Catholic Church had its impact on other religions, notably the Anglican Communion, which by now has abandoned any attempt to uphold Christian sexual morality; and the same failure has afflicted most of the other Protestant sects. The collapse set in from the time when the Catholic Church’s witness began to fail at the time of the Second Vatican Council, and its result was that the Christian underpinning of secular societies rapidly gave way. Abortion, sodomy, pornography lost the legal prohibition and the stigma that they had had before, and an ethos of pagan hedonism conquered what had previously been Christian nations.
We learn from this the free rein that is given to the Devil when the Church and the Vicar of Christ fail in their duty. The most grievous example of it has been in the last few years. Having won all his previous battles against the natural family, the Devil found a new insanity to let loose on neo-pagan society, and it was the ideology of “gender.” Suddenly about ten years ago the oracles of modernity began proclaiming that sex is not a biological reality but a social construct, that there are not two sexes but forty-seven, or whatever number the cabbalist wishes to conjure up, that a person’s sex is not what nature made it but what he or she chooses to “identify as”; and they launched a fanatical campaign to encourage people to undergo surgical mutilation, and to indoctrinate children with a message of confusion as to their sexual identity.
This madness sprang out of nowhere a decade ago, and the most shocking thing has been the silence of the Catholic Church in the face of it. If we had had a Pope who knew his duty as Pius XI did, he would have made it clear at once that to change one’s sex, or another person’s sex, is a moral enormity of the worst order and absolutely forbidden by the Church’s law, and he would have taken arms against the campaign of insolent falsehoods to which modern society has surrendered. Instead, the flock have been left without a shepherd. While the Devil advanced with giant strides among human souls, Pope Francis has been talking about climate change.
This is the context for the Pope’s gross failure to proclaim Christian teaching regarding the sin of sodomy, a subject on which he has shown himself by many private statements to be an obvious heretic. It has been brought into the open by his publication of Fiducia Supplicans, and by the subsequent disclosure that the head he has appointed to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is a man with the theology of an erotomaniac. The wider betrayal, however, has been the Church’s dereliction of duty when it comes to the ethics of the family and the virtue of chastity. The situation of the world today is the one of which Sister Lucia of Fatima warned Cardinal Caffarra: “A time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family.” It needs no supernatural vision to affirm this, since it is with us for anyone who has eyes to see. The Prince of Lies has been making willing subjects in their millions around us, and the Church has not been standing for the truth. And that failure will continue as long as this past-master in deviousness sits on the throne of Peter.