Put simply, we have to stop obsessing about what the Pope may or may not have said about Catholics obsessing. That Papal interview now seems so long ago, but in truth it was recent, and the ripples of its landing are still being felt both inside and outside of the Church. Everybody became an expert in interpretation overnight, which was sometimes enervating, sometimes embarrassing, sometimes helpful, and usually pointless. In a 10,000 word interview outlining orthodoxy and Catholic teaching, the Pope – the successor to St. Peter – explained in a very few words that, while the fight for the unborn was vital, it might not be the best approach to start with this issue and to speak of nothing else. He followed this up the next day with an eloquent plea to Catholic doctors to fight against abortion.
That the editorial board of the New York Times rather than the Catholic bishops were the first conduits and commentators was deplorable, demonstrating yet again how the Vatican Press Office often does more harm than good. By the time sound Catholic writers and intelligent, devout Catholic bishops could read and understand the interview, it had already become part of mass media folklore. Within hours the genuine monomaniacs and fanatics of the pro-abortion world were using the Pope’s ostensible comments to attack the pro-life community, and I was told than even some Catholic teachers and trustees did the same; but we surely all know the reality of Catholic teachers and trustees.
It was inevitable that the liberal, left, relativist, secular world, and their sordid little friends inside the Church would exploit all this, and it shouldn’t come as any surprise at all. But what of the right of the Catholic Church, those people who perhaps do obsess about certain key issues? Good Lord, they’re still moaning on about it, rather proving their chimera of misinterpretation to be correct. Look, you all know people who seem more concerned with being pure and absolute on the abortion issue than with saving babies. I do, and sometimes hear from the darlings.
Back in 1986, on my first visit to Canada, I delivered a long, dull lecture at the University of Toronto entitled “GK Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, the Marconia Scandal and Edwardian Anti-Semitism.” There’s a humdinger for you. Thing is, after an hour of detailed analysis of a specialized subject, an obese fellow with suspenders over his sweater stood up to ask a question: “Like, I dunno about Jews and stuff, but what would Chesterton have thought about abortion?” Ah, he was against it. Very much against it. But unlike my new friend, he was not an obsessive. So, yes, there are people who, while claiming to be our allies, rather play into the enemy’s hands.
We all know Catholics who prefer the bombed bunker to the victory parade, whose oxygen is not living faith but the despair of defeat. They positively thrive on what they believe is their persecution, when in fact most people are completely indifferent to them. It’s old lace and lethargy, a contrived cynicism towards the world, a nostalgia for a past that never was, a contempt for all that is contemporary and all those who do not share their precise views. Hard to see the face of Jesus in their grimaces. Could these be the sort of people of whom Pope Francis was referring?
In this struggle for human dignity and human life, there is an ocean of apathy, a lake of hostility, and a small island of resistance. On that island we who are pro-life co-exist but do not always agree. But those who want everybody on the island to speak the same way and behave in the same manner do untold damage. Because of my place in the public square, because of books that sells tens of thousands, and TV shows that are seen by hundreds of thousands, I reach people. Believe it or not, I convince and convert people. What I have discovered is that we have to be clever, funny, wise, subtle, indirect, and extremely pragmatic if we are to win. We cannot communicate the message if nobody is listening, and if you come across as, yes, an obsessive then you will not be listened to, and you are shouting into the wind.
Babies are dying every moment of every day. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Yes I am obsessed, with getting this right and with changing the world. But that’s not really obsession at all, that’s justice and truth.
Michael Coren’s new book is The Future of Catholicism (Signal Books). His website is www.michaelcoren.com, where he can be booked for speeches.