Late last year, when Italian philosopher and cabinet minister Rocco Buttiglione
was denied the post of European Minister of Justice because his convictions on
sexual ethics and marriage were unacceptable to a gaggle of libertine
Euro-parliamentarians, there was a certain plausibility to the whole exercise.
What is at least from the point of view of secularists, leftists, and the
establishment European media. Buttiglione, after all, was a minister in a
center-right Italian government; Buttiglione is a devout, intellectually astute
Catholic whose thinking is shaped by natural law reasoning and Catholic moral
theology; and it’s an article of faith in the left-leaning worlds of European
secularism (which include most of the mainstream Euro-media) that Catholic +
conservative = in vitro fascist.
Why, then, has Britain’s Ruth Kelly been getting the Buttiglione Treatment in
Who, you ask, is Ruth Kelly? Let me introduce you.
Born in Northern Ireland in 1968, Ruth Kelly is a graduate of Oxford and the
London School of Economics, where she earned a master’s degree in the dismal
science. After working as an economics correspondent for the (very
left-oriented) Guardian, and later at the Bank of England, Kelly was
elected to Parliament at age 29 in 1997 as a Labor Party candidate. Having held
a series of sub-cabinet posts, Ruth Kelly was appointed to the cabinet last
month by Prime Minister Tony Blair as Education Secretary. (At which point,
observers remembered that Britain’s first female prime minister, Margaret
Thatcher, was another Oxford graduate who’d begun her ministerial career in the
department 36-year-old Ruth Kelly now headed.)
Then came the Buttiglione Treatment.
The fact that Ruth Kelly doesn’t conform to certain feminist conventions — she’s
a Catholic, a daily communicant, married once, the mother of four small
children, and vigorously pro-life — evidently didn’t agree with one fellow-MP
(another woman, no less), who labeled Kelly “that cow.” Kelly’s previous
decisions to decline the Health and Overseas Development cabinet portfolios
because those jobs would have entangled her with contraception and abortion
didn’t sit well with the keepers of the feminist flame, either.
The British science establishment quickly went into its default mode in such
matters: the Galileo case was back! A senior geneticist, Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge,
told newspapers that it was “very worrying” that someone with Kelly’s religious
convictions might, in overseeing government funding of scientific research,
impede embryo-destructive stem-cell research, thus producing a “schizophrenic”
and “confused” situation like that in the United States. (By which adjectives,
Dr. Lovell-Badge apparently evidently means a situation in which the law
requires that scientific experimentation take place within boundaries that
protect innocent human life.) The Times of London summed up this change
in the Ruth Kelly indictment by writing that “some MPs [Members of Parliament]
fear her religion may cloud her judgment.”
“Cloud” was the give-away, of course. In an objective news story, that sentence
would have concluded, “...inform her judgment.” But in the intellectually
insular world of European secularism — which has many parallels on this side of
the Atlantic — religious faith in general and Catholicism in particular are, by
definition, obscurantist and irrational. How could Catholic moral theology
“inform” anyone’s judgment? Catholicism, according to the settled mythology of
the Euro-secularist Left, clouds judgment. Or distorts judgment. Or replaces
“judgment” with robotic obedience.
Inflamed by The Da Vinci Code, British conspiracy theorists are in a
lather because Ruth Kelly has participated in activities organized by Opus Dei.
What really earned Ruth Kelly the Buttiglione Treatment, though, is the fact
that she’s a myth-breaker: day by day, her public life refutes the canard that
serious public Catholicism in the 21st century means incipient fascism. For who
could plausibly accuse this bright and accomplished trade union member of being
— gasp! — one of those dreaded conservatives? Conservatives and former
Guardian writers don’t get elected Labor MP for Bolton West.
Ruth Kelly isn’t just a sign of contradiction for Britain’s secular Left,
though. What will accommodationist Catholic legislators in America — Nancy
Pelosi and Barbara Mikulski, for example — make of a popular, competent,
liberal, Oxford-certified Catholic woman and politician who’s convinced that
Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae got it right?
George Weigel. "Ruth Kelly, Myth-Breaker." The Catholic Difference
(January 12, 2005).
Reprinted with permission of George Weigel.
George Weigel's column is distributed by the Denver Catholic
Register, the official newspaper of the
Archdiocese of Denver. Phone: 303-715-3123.
George Weigel's major study of the life, thought, and
action of Pope John Paul II,
Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II
(Harper Collins, 1999) was published to international acclaim in 1999, and
translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Czech,
Slovenian, Russian, and German. The 2001 documentary film based on the book won
numerous prizes. George Weigel is a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News,
and his weekly column, "The Catholic Difference," is syndicated to more than
fifty newspapers around the United States.