Michael Novak at the Stake | The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Michael Novak at the Stake
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The same liberal Catholics who condemn Pope Pius XII for “not doing enough to stop Adolf Hitler” don’t want Saddam Hussein stopped. Suddenly they consider “preventive” action bad and passivity good.

These same Catholics, who normally approve of dissent from the teaching authority of the Catholic Church, are criticizing Catholic theologian Michael Novak for dissenting from the Catholic bishops’ stance against war with Iraq. How dare he go to Rome and speak in favor of war as a guest lecturer for the U.S. embassy, they said last week. These heretics and flakes have finally found a dissenter they don’t like.

In a letter to Jim Nicholson, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, these so-called “Catholic leaders” — the list resembles a Who’s Who of post-Vatican II dissidents from decaying religious orders like the Jesuits — say his selection of Novak as a speaker could “lead to a misrepresentation of the teachings of our Bishops.”

Misrepresenting teachings has never bothered liberal Catholics before. And Novak isn’t even questioning a Catholic teaching. He is questioning an opinion that the bishops are passing off as a teaching — or at least letting liberal Catholics conveniently hawk as a teaching.

Novak, in fact, understands the Catholic just war teaching better than the American Catholic bishops do. They have reduced the just war teaching to de facto pacifism, placing the threshold for just war so absurdly high no set of facts could meet it. The teaching is called the just war teaching for a reason: wars can be just. But the American bishops are rapidly turning it into the unjust war teaching.

The letter from “Catholic leaders” to Nicholson is a joke, including such whoppers as this war “will not respect the autonomy of the modern nation-state.”(Would stopping Adolf Hitler before he invaded Poland have violated the modern nation-state? Would they have opposed that?) Or this: “In a country where we have a time honored and legally protected right to the separation of Church and State, the appointment of a theologian [Michael Novak] seems to us to violate that separation.”(Here we have priests and nuns raising their voices on behalf of the ACLU’s anti-religious interpretation of the First Amendment.)

The letter speaks outrageously of America’s “threats against Iraq” — Iraq of course is no “clear” threat to America — gives a thumbs-up to the U.N.’s feckless no-weapons-here inspection strategy, and pronounces “preemptive strikes” morally indefensible.

This position would certainly be news to St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, the chief teachers of the just war tradition. What liberal Catholics call “preemptive strikes” they called self-defense. If the no-prevention position is taken seriously, then you can’t preempt aggression underway; you must wait until the aggression is complete. Then it is too late, of course, and you still can’t defend yourself because you would be preempting the second strike (and who knows, maybe it wouldn’t come). This is the illogical hash that dimwitted Catholic officials have made of just war teaching. Wouldn’t it be more honest if they just came out and said, “Look, we don’t agree with Augustine and Aquinas. We don’t think war can ever be just,” instead of mangling the tradition?

Novak’s critics do not speak for the Catholic just war tradition. They speak for post-1960s pacifism, a position alien to Catholicism’s perennial teaching of a natural right to protect oneself and one’s neighbor.

The Pope-Pius-XII-didn’t-do-enough crowd doesn’t want anything done about Saddam Hussein. Leaving innocent people at the mercy of a mad man is prudent for them. Hussein isn’t an “imminent threat,” they say. Which is true. He isn’t an imminent threat. He is an existing threat. Novak understands this; they don’t. Their suicidal pacifism reflects not Catholic teaching but their own hypocritical foolishness.

George Neumayr
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George Neumayr, a senior editor at The American Spectator, is author most recently of The Biden Deception: Moderate, Opportunist, or the Democrats' Crypto-Socialist?
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