The Summer of Our Discontent

Doubtless it is because summer means vacation time for most Americans and Europeans that there is always a feeling not much happens – there is no big news – during June, July and August. The feeling is probably due to folks being preoccupied with their own concerns: how to keep the kids busy when they’re not going to school, wondering if they can afford a week at the beach, stuff like that.

In fact, huge events often occur in summer. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by a Serb gunman in June, 1914. During the next month members of the great extended family of European royalty, most of them cousins and friends, tried frantically to prevent that spark from igniting armed conflict but would be thwarted by bankers, arms manufacturers, newspapers boosting circulation by hyping the crisis, and ambitious politicians looking to put themselves in their place. In August the guns started firing and World War I began. When it was over three great Christian monarchies had fallen, those of Austria-Hungary, Germany and Russia, and with them most of the foundation of Christian social and political order in Europe.

World War II obliterated what was left, replacing it nearly everywhere outside Communist countries with the liberal world order run by bankers, defense contractors, news and entertainment media and ambitious politicians. The ground was cleared for it when foreign ministers of archenemies Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union suddenly signed a friendship treaty in August, 1939, followed by the two totalitarian powers invading Poland and then dividing it between them (the independent Baltic republics were also absorbed into the Soviet Union).

There was also major news during summer this year, especially for Catholics, particularly Catholics where I live, Washington, D.C. First there was the news that Pope Francis had ordered Washington’s former Archbishop Theodore Cardinal McCarrick to withdraw from public ministry, soon followed by the announcement that McCarrick had resigned his cardinalate. Then came the Pennsylvania grand jury report in which Washington’s current Archbishop Donald Cardinal Wuerl was named 206 times. More recently, a former nuncio of the Holy See to the United States has stated in writing that he told Pope Francis about McCarrick early in Francis’s pontificate – long before McCarrick’s public disgrace. All of it is summed up in one word: scandal.

Brother Andre Marie, prior of Saint Benedict Center, has written about it for the website and I have little to add. Let me say this: Yes, the Church has a mandate for eternity, but it is written nowhere that she will endure in a particular place. All of North Africa and most of what we now call the Middle East were lost to Muslim conquest. Northern Germany, Scandinavia and England were lost to the so-called Reformation. Maybe the U.S., where it has never really taken deep root anyway, will also be lost, but it won’t be due to sex-and-cover-up scandal. It will be due to tepid Catholics having always preferred living according to “the will of the people,” which is to say, their own will instead of God’s. Of course such Catholics may seize on the misdeeds of priests and bishops as an excuse for their own laxity and give up altogether their practice of the Faith.

They would resemble brethren on the other side of the Atlantic who showed the myth of Catholic Ireland to be just that, a myth, when they elected an open homosexual for prime minister and voted to legalize same-sex marriage and abortion, but turned holier-than-thou, and stopped going to Mass, when it came to their own sex-and-cover-up scandal.

Actually the Irish had given up on being Catholic long before, else they would not have joined the EU, an entity belonging to a world denounced by Robert Cardinal Sarah at a conference in Poland earlier this year as one “where the only things that matter are consumption and production.”

The Cardinal’s denunciation brings us to another matter that has roiled Washington this summer: the continuing effort to delegitimize the presidency of Donald Trump by proving that Vlad the Bad Putin engineered the election defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016. The denunciation leads to thoughts of Trump because the man is the very embodiment of materialism of the crassest, most vulgar kind. His life seems dedicated to conspicuous consumption – a private jet with gold-plated seat buckles, a glitzy, utterly tasteless Manhattan apartment, stretch limos, women with high price tags attached.

It is necessary to distinguish between the man and his policies. “His” policies, I say, even if they be less his than ones he perceives as favored by his supporters. His perception is correct. Evidence of this was an August Gallop Poll (a piece of good summer news) that showed sixty percent of Americans, even after years of anti-Putin propaganda, prefer negotiation with Russia instead of confrontation. Yet, try as he has, Mr. Trump’s efforts to forge better relations with Russia have been blocked by forces at home. Similarly, it looked for a moment as if peace was going to break out with North Korea, but that appears now to be stymied. The President has stated that he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, but they remain in place and keep dying. Worse, the U.S. is arming its “ally,” the Saudis, in their atrocious war against Yemen. The question arises: to what extent is Trump in charge? Even some of the men and women closest to him sometimes act at odds with what he says.

One remembers how one of Emperor Franz Josef’s closest advisors flat-out lied to the Emperor that the Serbs had preemptively opened fire on Austrian troop positions in order to secure His Imperial and Apostolic Majesty’s authorization for war. Is Trump stronger and wiser than Franz Josef? Are we living August, 1914, but protracted, all over again? Let us pray not.

Meantime, there were other bits of good news this summer besides that August Gallop Poll. One bit involved Russia again. I speak of images broadcast out of Yekatirinberg, Siberia, on July 17, the 100th anniversary of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. At least I found them good. They showed Patriarch Kiril, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, leading a procession of 100,000 from the Church of the Blood, built on the site where the family were killed, to the place outside the city where the Bolsheviks hid their remains. On that hallowed ground the Patriarch celebrated outdoor Divine Liturgy. It is difficult imagining such an event, a ceremonial fusing of patriotism and Christian religious piety, taking place anywhere in the West today.

Everyone should agree that some news from Argentina was good. It looked as if abortion was about to be legalized in the country, not by popular vote as in Ireland, but by congressional action. That was when the lower chamber of Congress voted for it. However, to the relief of Argentina’s still-practicing Catholics, the Senate rejected the measure. It doesn’t mean this prolife victory was final. Next year is a presidential election year in Argentina and the nation’s feminists are determined to secure the “right” to kill their preborn babies. They aren’t yet as strong a political force in Argentina as they are in the U.S., but strong enough to make abortion an issue in 2019.

Finally, there was news out of France over which I rejoiced. It was that the French parliament passed legislation prohibiting students in the nation’s elementary and high schools from using their smartphones while on school property. The lawmakers didn’t spell out how the prohibition is to be enforced, but school administrators and teachers will know that whatever action they take, they will have this new law backing them.

Would that some major U.S. school district did as the French!