Walther took over Michael B. Dougherty’s space at The Week. Both are trad Roman Catholics but Michael tended to be less sectarian than Walther, who almost two months before Spadaro and Figueroa, authors of the article that condemned U.S. evangelicals and Roman Catholics together for an “ecumenism of hate,” wrote an article about VPOTUS Mike Pence. Walther gave his own reasons — pre-Vatican II inspired — for Roman Catholics not looking to Protestants for help:
Pence has renounced Catholicism. Why on Earth are Catholics asking him to stand for us?
My coreligionists who protest that it doesn’t matter because he is faithful to the right causes are missing the point. To the devout, the only cause that matters is that of Catholic truth, ancient and undefiled. Schism is a mortal sin, one that endangers his immortal soul. Pointing this out is not bigotry or crotchetiness on my part, much less zealotry, in which I am shamefully lacking. I have friends and relations who have left the Church, people I love dearly. I do not subject them to daily harangues about their persistence in schism. But I would also never dream of asking them to hold forth in a public forum on religious questions. Sorry, not sorry.
Pence grew up one of four brothers who served Mass at St. Columba in Columbus, Indiana. The Pence boys were so experienced at the altar that even as college students they would receive phone calls from the rectory inviting them to vest up during their summer vacations. It was while he was an undergraduate at Hanover College that he found himself seeking “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ” (which is admirable, though it should be noted that as far as personal relationships go, literally eating someone is a pretty high bar to clear). According to Father Clement T. Davis, Pence’s mother, Nancy, was despondent when her son left the Catholic Church and became an evangelical Christian.
Pence came of age during a period of crisis in the Church, the years of confusion and experimentation and indifferentism following the Second Vatican Council and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. Its fruits are everywhere in evidence: empty pews, a decline in vocations to the priesthood, the near-collapse of women’s religious life, people taking Communion every week who have not been to confession in decades, ostensibly catechized adult Catholics who do not realize that the Mass is a sacrifice at which the priest asks the archangel Michael to carry his offering to Christ’s altar in heaven rather than a tawdry historical re-enactment of the Last Supper with breaks for hand-holding and quaint little songs.
These trends are only now beginning to reverse themselves now at the hands of Catholics a generation or two younger than Pence. His story is one that could be told by any number of lapsed conservative Catholics in his age bracket (John Kasich, for example). That is why it was so strange hearing him at the prayer breakfast. He described himself with evident affection as “the son of two devout American Catholics” and noted how proud his mother would have been to see him on that stage. He joked about being “from a mid-sized Catholic family: only six children.” And he spoke almost wistfully of the role that “the hymns and liturgies of the Catholic faith” played in his youth. “I stand before you today as Michael Richard Christopher Pence,” he said, referring to his confirmation under the patronage of St. Christopher. Here my hair stood on end. Intentional or not, this sounded like a tacit acknowledgment of the fact that, despite his willful attempt at separation, he is still one of us.
Though we disagree about many things, I like Pence. He is my kind of politician, a charming, down-to-earth Midwesterner and a fundamentally decent man. Which is why I am praying that the vice president will repent and submit to the pope. I am worried about our vice president’s immortal soul.
Walther is a breath of fresh air among Roman Catholic apologists who rarely have the gumption to say that Protestants are in danger of eternal death. And he’s also refreshing for standing up for a view of Throne and Altar politics that puts the church squarely above the state. I suspect he would even like to bring back the Papal States.
But how you self-identify as such a traditionalist while also noticing that the magisterium steered the church at Vatican II in a different direction, one that makes evangelicals and Roman Catholics together possible, and one that allows Roman Catholics to look to Pence as “orthodox,” is mystifying.
At least Walther is clear that the stakes of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism closely aligned salvation and politics.