John Zmirak has written an interesting article on religious liberty at Aleteia (a site I’m not familiar with, but why isn’t it spelled with an “h” — aletheia?, ἀλήθεια) and what he calls “Illiberal Catholicism”. If I understand him correctly, he also describes Illiberal Catholicism as paternalism, and the object of his criticisms is a familiar one: tyranny in any form. Marxist, Nationalist, and to some extent, the shapeless democratic mob. What makes the article especially provocative is his take on the pedigree of this “paternalist tumor”:
We ought to be deeply thankful for the heritage of the Enlightenment — because the American anti-Catholics of the 19th and 20th century were dead right about one thing: Catholicism minus the Enlightenment equals the Inquisition. Do I exaggerate? Consider the fact that during the Spanish occupation of New Orleans, before the Louisiana Purchase, an officer of the Inquisition was interrogating heretics and collecting torture equipment — which he never got the chance to use, thank God. (The Inquisition did take root in Florida, and continued in Cuba until 1818.) Protestants in Spain were subject to legal restrictions as late as the 1970s. The great defender of Pius IX and Vatican I, Louis Veuillot, summed up what was for centuries the dominant Catholic view of religious liberty:
“When you are the stronger I ask you for my freedom, for that is your principle; when I am the stronger I take away your freedom, for that is my principle.”
What was the Inquisition like in Florida and Cuba? Did they torture people? I like this kind of global analysis of political problems and trying to see how a relatively local politics fits into the larger pattern, and Zmirak includes a number of contemporary anecdotes as well. While I don’t doubt that they’re true, I’m not sure how representative they really are of the these contemporary paternalists.
Some of this is a continuation of the argument about whether we should hold Voltaire responsible for the gulag.
It is, however, difficult for me to see “what nostalgic, Renaissance Faire Catholics have in common with neo-Marxists”, let alone an unwitting alliance between Cardinal Dolan and “the right-wing Catholics who downplayed the bishops’ plea for religious liberty in the face of the HHS mandate”. I appreciate any attempt to look at the contemporary scene in a way that doesn’t break down according the Republican/Democrat (or Conservative/Liberal) divide, but that distinction has become so pervasive that avoiding it can become a way of sidestepping the issues themselves. It seems to me that the way the terms “conservative” and ‘liberal” are thrown out by proponents and detractors alike indicates that they are still useful. The word “illiberal” strikes me as purely pejorative, and I’m not sure how much it really adds to the debate.