The outlook of one of the Pope’s closest friends and advisers is of interest, so a little more about Rocco Buttiglione’s views, as set forth at Zenit and in a speech he gave at a conference, seems in order. So far as I can tell, the basis of his position is that modernity and in particular liberalism can be wholly accepted consistent with Catholic orthodoxy (one might call it a Catholic “neocon” position). In particular, he apparently believes that:
- Particular culture is unnecessary for social order, at least its formal public aspects, which can apparently be founded on reason alone: “multiculturalism is all right if grounded on the natural law, where we all have rights and duties.”
- In some respects, Catholic morals are also quite irrelevant to the legal order. When questioned in connection with his candidacy for EU justice commissioner he didn’t feel obligated to disclose his religious views on homosexuality: “I did not say that homosexuality is a sin, as many newspapers picked up. I said ‘I may think’ … this has no impact whatsoever on politics …”
- Other aspects of Catholic morals are nonetheless relevant to public life: while “[homosexuality] falls in the private sphere and morals, and does not concern the state … abortion, concerns politics and law.” It’s not clear how he draws the distinction between the “natural law” that is public and the “morals” that are private, or whether he rejects the classic Catholic view that sexual morality is a matter of natural law. It’s also a mystery to me how something as all-pervasive as the present-day European state, and as concerned with reforming all aspects of human life including the position of the sexes, can have no view whatever on what’s good and bad in connection with something as basic to human connections as sex.
- Unlike homosexuality, discrimination is very much a political and legal concern: “in politics we may not speak of sin, we should speak of non-discrimination, and I am solidly opposed to discrimination against homosexuals and of any type of discrimination.” He does not say though whether his opposition to discrimination extends to the usual view that eradicating it in all its forms is a fundamental overriding state concern. If so, it would make sense to penalize people like him who publicly say that it “may be” a sin, or at least avoid conferring high public honors on them.
- Although there is apparently an absolute private sphere with which government and law can have no proper concern whatever, which sphere includes sexual relations, and although all types of discrimination are bad, “family policy” is necessary to “reconstruct the alliance between the child and the mother.” In particular, the family should be distinguished from “gay marriage”: “the problem is … the ignoring of the difference between this reality [the family] which has a social function and other forms of living together which I respect, but which do not have a social function, and I don’t see why the state has to sustain them, or why it has to give them a social relevance.”
- More generally, any non-totalitarian liberalism requires “values” that are produced in the sphere of “culture,” which includes the Church, and the state should have a “positive attitude” toward that. It’s not clear whether those “values” include “private morals” such as standards of conduct relating to sex. It’s hard to see how they could include such “private morals,” since a “positive attitude” suggests concern, and it seems that the only aspect of homosexuality with which the state is appropriately concerned is the need to do away with discrimination.
- And finally, the reason it’s important to have a reference to the Judaeo-Christian roots of Europe in the European constitution is that they are in fact part of the roots of Europe, and if you don’t confront your roots, positively or negatively, you’ll live in a superficial way.
I find all this odd but generally in keeping with the current top-level attitude in the Church toward the EU, the UN, the international human rights movement and whatnot. I can’t help but think that these views reflect more an attempt to “keep a seat at the table” when things have been going against you for a long time than a position that’s coherent and will work in the long run. It strikes me that they emphasize the “suaviter in modo” far too much, to the extent of suppressing the “fortiter in re” and even the “rem” itself. Why go to such lengths for the sake of making nice with a constellation of thought that seems certain to fall apart anyway?