Pope Francis says no — thank God.
You’ve almost certainly heard about it by now. In Washington D.C., Pope Francis met with beleaguered Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who has refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and on the plane going back to Rome gave a ringing endorsement of conscientious objection for government officials like her.
My purpose here is nor to discuss who arranged the meeting or when, or how many people were there or what the Pope knew and when he knew it — though you can read an interesting update here. No, my primary interest here is in the reaction.
The reaction included a predictable nuclear meltdown from the left, which includes most of the press. They came up with the wildest conspiracy theories explaining how the Pope was “tricked” into meeting Davis. Or they would whine that Francis has “ruined” his U.S. trip. He’s squandered all the good will he’s received! He’s the Pope who is supposed to be cool with gays. What happened to “Who am I to judge?” Yes, but who made up that narrative? The left and the press, of course. They have spent the last two years twisting and distorting Pope Francis’ every word, taking things out of context, and ignoring everything he said that didn’t fit the preconceived script. They were betrayed not by the real Pope, but by an imaginary Pope of their own creation.
There are certainly some on the left who know that this is a false narrative. But they are still burned about the meeting anyway, and this includes the Catholic left. It’s difficult to understand why. The left has always been for conscientious objection and civil disobedience, haven’t they? From Vietnam draft dodgers to infiltrating nuclear facilities, the left has praised principled lawbreaking. Evidently the Catholic left is uncomfortable about this seeming hypocrisy. So Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter comes up with a justification. You see, Davis is not a “real” CO:
Davis lost her right to consider herself a conscientious objector when she forbade other people from issuing the marriage licenses she did not wish to issue herself. Davis was not jailed for practicing her religion. She was jailed for forcing others to practice her religion. . . She is a public official with a sworn duty. If she cannot carry out that duty, she should seek a work-around or an accommodation, which is what she ended up accepting, or she could have done what a real person of conscience would do: quit. (NCR)
Here we have two major mistakes of fact in a single paragraph. First, the other clerks in Davis’ office are not independent agents; they can only issue licenses under her authority and with her signature. She objected to having her authority used in this way. Second, Davis has sought a workaround from the beginning, as clerks in other jurisdictions have successfully done. She had no desire to force others. She was willing to have licenses issued by other clerks as long as it was without her signature. But the governor refused to accommodate her. It took a court order to give her what she had been asking for all along. If this is the argument that Kim Davis isn’t a “real” conscientious objector, the argument is a failure.
Other, less sophisticated commenters, usually in comboxes, simply say: “She’s a public official, she swore to follow the law and if she doesn’t want to do that she should just resign.” Or “Public officials should check their consciences at the door” (These are actual quotes I’ve seen). Do they realize what they’re saying? In an age when lack of conscience in public officials is one of our country’s greatest problems?
We should all be concerned about the erosion of support for conscientious objection evidenced in these arguments. Have people forgotten Nazi Germany? Remember the Nuremberg trials? What was the response,again and again,of government officials who committed the atrocities, but “I was just doing my job”?
Those officials who ignored their consciences, by the way, included those who followed orders to throw homosexuals into concentration camps.
We need conscientious objection more than ever as a witness against unjust laws and tyrannical government. We have a chance now to witness now as free people, before tyranny takes over. I’ve never been an alarmist, but in the face of not a patently unjust and harmful law and blatant abuse of judicial authority of the Obergefell decision, resistance is necessary. We won’t keep our freedom long unless we resist abuse of authority from the beginning.
That’s why I’m so grateful for what Pope Francis said. Terry Moran of ABC News asked him what he thought about CO cases like Kim Davis’.
Pope Francis: Conscientious objection is a right . . . And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. . .
Moran: Would that include government officials as well?
Pope Francis: It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right. (read the whole thing here)
The Church has made this clear, especially in regard to the specific question at hand. The document “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” published by the CDF, in June 2003, with the explicit approval of John Paul II: says:
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection. (Emphases mine).
So I would say to those hating on Kim Davis, including those with their hands out for those gay marriage licenses: Thank your lucky stars you live in a nation where conscientious objection is a recognized right. You don’t have to agree with Kim Davis or think she’s a terrific person, but you should support her right to her conscience. Because a society that trains people to “check their consciences at the door” to public life, is a society that will not let you or anyone keep their rights for long. And if you don’t start caring about this now, when tyranny comes, and tells an official without a conscience to throw you into a concentration camp, it’s going to be too late.