My wife and I have sent our 5-year-old son to kindergarten at the small Catholic school in our Westchester town for the reasons you'd expect: We're Catholic, we love the school's old-fashioned curricula and its friendly but disciplined atmosphere (including the sharp uniforms), and we weren't impressed with the local public school, where the classroom walls, festooned with feminist and multi-culti icons, shout politically correct indoctrination, and early 'tweens dress like hookers and hoodlums. Our first parents' association meeting, with lots of talk of phonics and high math achievement, convinced us that we'd made the right choice. Until the pastor, "Father Bill," spoke.
Thanking us, Father Bill (not his real name) - Irish and a bit past middle age - had a big announcement: "This year, we're adding a new curriculum, and I'll be teaching it: peace studies."
I said to my wife: "He's not going to say what I think he's going to say, is he?" Sadly, he was.
"Tomorrow, September 11, a group led by friends and family of those who died on 9/11 will make a walk for peace, beginning at Gandhi's statue in Union Square and finishing at the World Trade Center site. They're saying that they don't want the memory of the tragedy to be hijacked by the warmongers," Father Bill said gravely. "And that's what I want to teach your kids." Looking around, I saw several parents who seemed as uneasy as we did with this left-wing bunkum.
He continued: "Look at our colleges, where the ROTC can recruit people to kill. Yet how many kids to day know the Nobel Peace award winners?" By now, I was really squirming. To impugn the ROTC when Americans were fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks to boot, was unconscionable. And what Nobel laureates did he mean? Yasser Arafat?
Father Bill concluded: "We can't denigrate an entire race [sic] just because of a few fanatics - we have fanatics on our side, too."
The doctrine of moral equivalence, beloved by the far left as a way of attacking America, had reared its head: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld equals Osama bin Laden. Most of the crowd clapped, but without enthusiasm. My wife and I just glared. Nobody said a word. As parish pastor, after all, he was head of the school.
Peeved as Father Bill had made me, I shouldn't have been surprised. Catholic priests - especially those, like him, who came of age during the 1960s and were swept up in the heady spirit of the Second Vatican Council - tend to look to the New York Times editorial page or even to the "liberation theology" of radical Third Worldist priests for political guidance, not to the teachings of St. Augustine or Aquinas on a fallen world and the potential for evil that runs through every heart.
Instead of the Christian doctrine of the just war based on this realistic view of man's nature, which recognizes that military force is sometimes necessary and moral, the liberal priests embrace a pacifism utterly at odds with it. War, in their view, is always bad; "dialogue," even with mass murderers, is always good.
In social policy, moreover, Catholic tradition teaches that the church's duty is to lay down the principles that should guide judgment, not - as Father Bill did - make the particular judgments. Reasonable Catholics can disagree about the war on terrorism, just as they can on other political issues.
Ultimately, Father Bill's "peace studies," like other political causes espoused by church leaders since the 1960s, undermine the church's already battered moral authority. My son's experience illustrates the point. After a service presided over by Father Bill, he told me: "You must never war, Daddy - that's what Father says." I had to correct him: Sometimes there are bad men in the world, and we need force to stop them.
On reflection, he had no problem with that. One of his favorite television shows is "Justice League," chronicling the (often violent) adventures of Superman, Batman, and other heroes as they oppose monstrous villains. However, now he's likely to treat all of what Father Bill says with greater skepticism. The pastor's radicalism hasn't outweighed the other advantages of choosing a Catholic education for our boy. But it sure has made that choice less satisfying.