2009: Old Myths and Fake Rights

Two weeks ago, many of the offices of the [Chicago] archdiocesan Pastoral Center moved from 155 Superior St. to the refurbished Quigley building on Pearson Street. It was good to move to a place that was not built as an office building, for the church is not basically a civil corporation. The Quigley Center is a building that was built to house a high school seminary and has been part of the archdiocese’s life since 1917.The archbishop’s office in the Quigley Center was once the school library. Around the walls of the room now used by administrative assistants and secretaries are statues of figures important to the intellectual and artistic life of the church through the centuries. No one would be surprised to find statues of St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez, Giotto, Michelangelo or Cardinal John Henry Newman; but some who live with the conviction that a permanent state of enmity exists between the faith and scientific inquiry might be surprised to find in a seminary library a statue of Galileo.

Galileo was a believing and practicing Catholic all his life, as is evident in his lengthy correspondence with his daughter, who was a nun. Had he been content to teach his theories about the motion of the sun and the planets as a hypothesis, as had others before him, he would not have been censored. As a matter of fact, much of the scientific community of Galileo’s day was not completely convinced of the truth of his teaching, and the final scientific confirmation of Galileo’s theories came some centuries after his death. But the myth has him uniquely a victim of the church. The myth, which strips away complicating circumstances in a sorry moment of church history, serves many purposes; and so it will continue to live and shape people’s mindset.

The current resurgence of anti-Catholicism in the media and in many classrooms is based, I would argue, not so much on old myths as on protecting fake rights. Those who want to claim that we should have the right to kill an unwanted unborn child or who want to have the right to change the nature of marriage itself or who claim a right to kill those who say they want to die find their primary obstacle in the teaching of the Catholic Church about human life as a gift from God, to be respected at all stages of its development. The church can therefore expect to be attacked in order to weaken her moral influence.

No one can claim a moral right to do what is wrong; and a state with laws that invent false rights destroys the collective happiness of its citizens. That the breakdown in sexual morality and married life should go hand in hand with a breakdown in financial security and in political trustworthiness should not be a surprise. Morality is neither public nor private; it’s just a matter of right and wrong in every domain.

A thorough and timely analysis of political morality and its relation to the church’s teaching has been offered recently by Archbishop Charles Chaput in his book, “Render unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life,” (Doubleday). Archbishop Chaput works patiently and with keen intelligence through false myths and fake rights that control our political life. The book makes a good New Year’s present, because the year 2009 will be a pivotal year in our political and economic life. The church’s social teaching applied to public life in our country can help us and our nation to face the challenges before us with intellectual honesty and moral authenticity.

The social teaching of the church is offensive to those who want social policy grounded on desire rather than reason. “If I want something, the law should permit me to have it,” is a popular way to describe what the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called “the triumph of the will.” There is a chasm between non-violent demonstration against an unjust law, like the laws that once protected racial segregation, and making violent threats against those who disagree with you. Taking advantage of the economic chaos of the 1930s, fascists in Italy and Germany took to the streets in protest, but their protests provoked the very violence they claimed to be protesting and the violence, in turn, strengthened their claim to power. The United States today is not completely immune to forms of fascism, and the church, which stands for rational principles that judge every political arrangement, is a likely target.

As we enter a New Year filled with uncertainty, the church’s social teaching remains a sure anchor for our personal lives and for social polity. We can be grateful for the vision it gives us and resolve to use it well in the New Year to make decisions that shape our lives and the life of our country. With intellects enlightened by faith and wills strengthened by grace, we can face the future with confidence in God’s Providence. A happy New Year to all of you.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago

Francis Cardinal George, OMI


Cardinal Francis George is the Archbishop of Chicago.

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  • jamespereira

    Since we are praying for political morality, why not record your opinions about how Obama will perform as President? Use this online poll to record your opinion.

  • Grace Harman

    Obama wants to kill babies who survive abortion attempts. Obama wants to bring back gruesome “partial birth” infanticide. Obama supports funding Planned Parenthood which openly targets minorities here, and people of color around the world -(openly racist). He also supports “redistribution of wealth” or taking your savings to force you to “help” those who practiced dishonesty and caused this financial mess-or perhaps those who refuse to work?. He also wants to support “gay marriage” instead of traditional marriage between one man and one woman for life.
    These are NOT Christian goals, They don’t fit in with God’s rules. That kind of “Change” will not help our country or the world.

  • unclefrank

    Your Excellency, Thank you for your courageous and truthful words! I honor you and all bishops and priests who stand for truth with no compromise. I am on my way to the store to purchase Archbishop Chaput’s book as you suggest. As a high school physics teacher for 15+ years, it has been very frustrating that so many alleged scientists who are just trying to promote their secular agendas use the “Galileo argument” against the Church. How foolish…and untrue. I agree that arguments like these always serve to undermine the Church b/c there is some underlying moral issue that the one who proffers such arguments is really struggling with. It is similar to the argument that “the Church is against scientific research” is used in the case of stem cells. Of course, we know that the Church has no problem with research that does not kill human beings (e.g. embryonic stem research). I fear that many who are pushing for embryonic research–although there has not been ONE breakthrough to date with such methods–are really just trying to justify their pro-abortion arguments. If they admit that embryonic research actually kills babies, then abortion arguments fall apart!

    Keep fighting the good fight, Excellency. My prayers are with you!