“When thieves fall out, honest men get their due.” By the same token, when the enemies of liberty start tearing at one another, its friends may well rejoice.
For any liberal of my vintage, regardless of denomination, Pope John XXIII is one of the great heroes of the ’60s. It is one of the ironies of history that the ecumenical movement associated with the Second Vatican Council was among the preconditions of the movement Andrew Sullivan calls “Christianism”: the effort by theologically and politically conservative Catholics and Protestants to ally Christianity with reactionary politics.
The fear and hatred that divided the Evangelical right from the Catholic right was, it turned out, among the bulwarks of American liberty. The identification of the anti-abortion cause with Catholicism greatly slowed its adoption by right-wing Protestants, especially in the South. But after Pope John made the Catholic bogey-man less scary, it became easier for Jerry Falwell to play on the same political team with Cardinal Law, once John Paul II had moved the Church back to he right politically while more or less maintaining its outreach to Protestants. (The Jewish element of the lunatic right is much more secularized, but the systematic abandonment of the anti-Semitic elements that had marred Catholic doctrine and liturgy probably made the AIPAC/Commentary crowd less nervous than it otherwise would have been about lining up with the Christianists.)
Of course, there have been points of potential tension: Bob Jones University, the efforts of the Catholic Church to use state power to stomp out the Evangelical revival in Latin America, Margaret Thatcher’s alliance with the Catholic-baiting Ulster Unionists. But as long as all the Christianists could remind themselves how much more fun it was to hate liberals than to hate one another, the basis of the political alliance remained firm.
So I won’t even pretend to be unhappy that Pope Benedict has decided to stick by his roots in the Holy Office and restate the claims of Papal supremacy in their most sweeping and offensive form. He has now (re)announced that Protestant denominations aren’t really “churches.” (He had earlier announced that the beliefs of non-Catholics aren’t actually “faith.”) If this gets the publicity it deserves, it ought to help split the Christianist movement. Wouldn’t it be delicious if Rudy Giuliani, by all odds the strongest general-election candidate the Republicans could run, lost Catholic votes due to his deviations from Catholic teaching and also lost Protestant votes due to his identity as a Catholic?
Footnote This is mere speculation, but I wonder if anyone has looked into the possibility that the loss of the Catholic bogey-man also weakened the “mainline” Protestant denominations of the National Council of Churches?
At least one prominent Anglican fired back, in terms far less polite than Protestants have recently used about Catholicism:
The Rev David Phillips, General Secretary of the Church Society, said: “Nothing new is said, but it does clarify the way in which the Vatican has torn apart Christianity because of its lust for power. They remind us that in their view that to be a true church one has to accept the ludicrous idea that the Pope is in some special way the successor of the apostle Peter and the supreme earthly leader of the Church.
“These claims cannot be justified, biblically, or historically, yet they have been used not only to divide Christians but to persecute them and put them to death.
“We are grateful that the Vatican has once again been honest in declaring their view that the Church of England is not a proper Church. Too much dialogue proceeds without such honesty. Therefore, we would wish to be equally open; unity will only be possible when the papacy renounces its errors and pretensions.”
Anglicanism is an interesting case, of course, since England was Christian before it was Catholic.