That question hopefully seems absurd. A Catholic cannot not be pro-life. But an anonymous blogger named “Steve” has further polluted the Internet with a post over at the hateful-Reformed blog Triablogue about Frank Beckwith.
If you’re not familiar, Beckwith was head of the Evangelical Theology Society (ETS), but after reading up on the Early Church Fathers, reverted back to the Catholicism of his youth. His is a sort of classic story: he fell away from the Church because of how bad the catechesis was in the immediate post-conciliar period, came to know and love Jesus in a more fundamental way within Protestantism, and was eventually lead to Catholicism through Protestantism. That is, the very things which make Protestantism awesome are the things which lead it into Catholicism. His is the story of many Catholic “reverts,” but on a grander scale, since he was one of Evangelicalism’s leading lights. This reversion is, from a Catholic view, the fulfillment of Protestantism, just as Christianity in general is the fulfillment of Judaism. But just as many of the early Jewish believers regard Hebrew converts to Christianity as traitors, Triablogue’s got a serious case of sour grapes about Beckwith.
Nowhere is this clearer than “Steve’s” post on the “The Decline and Fall of Francis Beckwith” (note: it uses un-Christian language and perverted imagery: I don’t advise it). It begins:
Back in his better days, as an Evangelical ethicist, Francis Beckwith distinguished himself as leading advocate for the rights of the unborn. Unfortunately, by converting to Rome, Beckwith has now betrayed the very constituency he used to serve. For he has become a shameless enabler of a pedophilic institution.
This conveniently lets Steve pine longingly for old Evangelical Beckwith, while regarding Catholic Beckwith with uncharitable disgust and derision. He actually compares him to “a guy who punches the clock 9-5 as a fireman while moonlighting as an arsonist on his off-hours.” By that logic, Beckwith doesn’t just “enable” pedophilia, he commits it himself (since “arsonists” aren’t “people who think arson is defensible”).
All of this is what is called calumny. It’s damnable lies. Beckwith simply isn’t less pro-life than his Evangelical days. If anything, he’s more. He has a strong systematic theology and morality, takes a stronger stance against birth control, and is by any sane person’s measure more thoroughly pro-life than ever before.
But what about the substance of Steve’s arguments, such as they are? Well, Steve’s entire thesis is built upon the idea that “the Roman Magisterium has been facilitating clerical pederasty for decades,” a thesis which is demonstrably untrue. The Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church. The bad bishops in question failed in their pastoral responsibilities, but that’s not a Magisterial function, even though it’s an episcopal function. The only way you could say with any degree of honesty that the Magisterium was at fault is if the Catholic Church taught that pedophilia was ok, which of course, it doesn’t. The opposite, of course, is true: She condemns it as a grave sin worthy of Hell. The fact that She has members, even clerics, who are terrible sinners doesn’t make Her a sinful institution any more than the presence of murderers within the nation’s borders makes America a “murderous country.” That’s terribly flawed reasoning.
This isn’t a subtle distinction. The Church’s teachings aren’t simply the collection of the actions of the Church hierarchy. That’s not true of any Church, and particularly not of the Catholic Church, who expressly denounces that ecclessiology. Here’s why it’s important. If the Church doesn’t teach pedophilia, which it doesn’t, that leaves Steve to argue:
- Frank Beckwith defends Catholicism.
- Some Catholic bishops misused their office and betrayed their mandate, enabling pedophiles.
- Therefore, Beckwith is personally complicit in pedophilia, which is against an holistic vision of pro-lifeness.
But applying this logic to any other context shows its absurdity:
- America has laws permitting abortion: does that mean that all US soldiers are “betraying” the unborn by defending her? *
- Are all taxpayers responsible for the abuses and scandals caused by politicians, since their tax dollars “enable” the government, and thus, somewhere along the line, pay a minute portion of the salary of the politican?
- Or those who defended the Twelve during the time of Christ: does that mean that they agreed with Judas’ betrayal of Christ? Judas was, after all, a member of the original Magisterium, so by Steve’s logic, betraying Christ is Apostolic, Magisterial teaching.
*This is the closest one to a logical construction. Since America actually has laws permitting abortion, it’s far closer to the sort of child-destroying institution than the Catholic Church is. But, of course, America is defended by pro-life soldiers in spite of, not because of, her sometimes terrible flaws. In the case of the Catholic Church, Beckwith is defending an institution which condemns pedophilia, not promotes it.
I struggled with whether to even post this, because I don’t want to add fuel to the fire, and I don’t particularly want to get involved in the ugly spat. Ultimately, I decided to for a couple of reason. First, I’ve heard some variation of the “Catholic Church protects pedophiles” meme to let it go unaddressed any longer: that’s poor logical construction, and it’s an evil rumor which needs to be halted immediately. And second, in this particular case, Steve’s below-the-belt attacks were on Frank Beckwith and by extension, Trent Dougherty (who wrote the piece Steve was flailing against), both of whom I’m very pleased to call brothers in the faith. Besides, my sincere hope is that Steve’s lashing out is rooted in some way in a Christian love for the truth which just hasn’t found a full or authentic expression yet in the manner in which God longs for it to. Hopefully, this post, and my response on his blog help nudge him and those similarly situated towards, and not away from, God’s Church.