The June 27, 2005 issue of THE NEW YORKER carried a series of letters from a group of self-styled Catholics generally denigrating Pope Benedict XVI in response to a lengthy article by Peter J. Boyer entitled A Hard Faith. Interestingly, there were no letters counseling patience, no “wait and see” letters, no recognition of the towering intellect of the Pope and his quiet, sincere devotion to the Church over many years. This hard veering to the theological left by extreme dissidents illustrates and explains, in part, the current confusion about some basic questions: “What IS the Catholic Church about anyway?” or “What is the REAL Catholic teaching?” or “Who is the Church?”
For example, one of the contributors was a nun, of the “modern” variety who was aghast that some YOUNG seminarians would find her placard (which read Nuns for Kerry) “scandalous.” These young men were not tired old carryovers from the Woodstock era but bright and INFORMED contemporary thinkers. That young Catholics would be upset by a NUN supporting an extremely liberal “Catholic” who voted for abortion rights, same sex marriage, late term abortion and who claimed that his conscience was formed by Pope Pius 23rd, is apparently incomprehensible to her. How explain her “unawareness” of this existential contradiction? Or is it that she is irritated that today’s young people are not buying into her patently obsolete and oxymoronic perception? Is it that Sister can’t understand why young people don’t see HER view of the Church? Perhaps, she might recall that the magnetic and instant bonding between Pope John Paul II and young people was partially because he KNEW WHERE THEY WERE SPIRITUALLY AND EMOTIONALLY!
The same magazine in an editorial (May 2, 2005) innocently comments that certain matters do not concern Faith----like sexuality, celibacy, Choice (presumably about abortion), the use of condoms and stem-cell research (again presumably EMBRYONIC since the Church clearly supports appropriate stem cell research). Such commentators would reduce the Church to the levels of irrelevance which characterize so many of the Main line Christian groups today. They urge us to be like so many others and endorse abortion and same sex marriage. Teach pretty Bible stories, give to AIDS research and be “nice” and don’t dig too deep! Demonstrate for the protection of whales and oppose oil exploration. But do stay on the sidelines of Life. In effect these “modern” thinkers tell the Church what she ought to do and what to teach and how to behave for acceptance into the Politically correct world. Or more bluntly, become religiously castrated!
We saw a certain anguish at the election of a believing and courageous Pope when the “modern” Catholic had hoped for someone who would “go with the times.” Going with the times usually means unimpeded license to implement the politically correct list in the May 2nd comment noted above.
One such disappointed Catholic, on April 19, 2005, shouted, in St. Peter’s Square, “He is the WORST possible choice.” Whom are we to believe? Who can tell us what is the Catholic Church’s true position on life and eternity? Consider even the ROLE of God Himself in our way of life and our political decisions. Is it healthy to have the Lord in the midst of everything? Is a “Public Square” unhealthy and unnatural where religious Faith seems unwelcome and dangerous? Does the Catholic Church acquiesce to a public square stripped of God and religious faith? Incidentally, we might remember that the statement “Jesus is Lord” is not religious but political. Jesus was hung on a cross for His claim of “Lordship.” Christianity was ILLEGAL for the first 250 years of the Church’s life BECAUSE Christians proclaimed in the public square (where the Emperor was ALL) that “Jesus is Lord” not Caesar. It looks to me to be a fairly obvious political focus.
So then, to whom does one go for the REAL Catholicism? Is there any real structure of Orthodox Catholicism? There are so many voices claiming to have the authentic Catholic answer. Is it Catholics for a Free Choice which demands that abortion be removed from the categories of evil? They call themselves “Catholic.” Is it Richard McBrien? Or Charles Curran? Or Gregory Baum? They claim that they, as theologians, though controversial or dissident, are truly Catholic. Is the Theologian more precisely Catholic than Pope Benedict XVI? Or is it that everyone is right and no one has a monopoly on denotative Catholic truth? Didn’t someone note that “tolerance is the last virtue of a degenerate society”? Is Catholic truth to be operationally defined by well-heeled “Catholics” who, without knowing it, have gradually become non–Catholics and who happen to go to Mass for some anachronistic social or political reason? Does political and financial clout empower the Big Names to make theologic decisions over the Faith of the poor, little non-Harvard guy who just about “makes it” in life?
My old Irish Grandmother who went to the Third grade in a parochial school knew the answer with ease. JESUS IS THE TEACHER! In the words of Dylan Thomas, “Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.” Catholicism obviously bases everything on the total belief in and trust of a loving God Who became man and died for our sins and by His resurrection promised us eternal life with Him. This Divine Jesus left His legacy in a Church which He promised would never fail nor (in the ancient formulary) be overcome by “the gates of Hell.” This Church would be harassed and persecuted through the ages by Arians, Gnostics, Cathari, Albigensians, Jansenists, angry dissidents and slick talkers but would always survive, even if bloodied and weakened.
It would be burdened from the start with the Judas type adherent, through hypocritical teachers and evil homosexual priest molesters of young people but would survive. It would produce thousands and thousands of holy women and men whom we call saints, publicly acclaimed or otherwise. It would be entrusted to Peter (Cephas) and his successors whom we have called “Popes.” These Popes in collegiality with those who succeeded the Apostles (Bishops) would articulate the teachings of Christ’s Church with protection from the Holy Spirit of God Himself, and though they, themselves would be weak (like Peter) the TEACHING would be transmitted unscathed.
Jesus left His gifts of the seven sacraments whereby we can become holy. We would become children of God through Baptism. Our sins would be forgiven by the Sacrament of Penance and our souls nourished by the Eucharist. There would be high requirements expected of these Catholics and many would rebel and dissent from basics. Some would break off and create new forms of the ancient Faith--- which would not be Catholicism but another form of Christianity. While thoughtful disagreement about Policy was encouraged, rejection of revealed truth was not. Refusal of Christ’s truth through His Holy Church, mainly the infrequent infallible teaching of the Pope, was considered “heresy.” To dismiss the Pope’s teaching, even in an ordinary form, was considered theologically gauche. To split off from Christ’s own Church was called “schism.”
One clear criterion to determine which group was Heretical or Schismatic or Authentic was to search for the Bishop of Rome or the Pope. The old axiom was: Ubi Petrus est, ibi ecclesia. Where you find the Pope, you find the Church. God’s Will would be gleaned and taught from Sacred Scripture and the Living Tradition. And God’s Will is important for the serious Catholic. Our Catholic Truth would be expressed through the teaching organ of the Church, the Magisterium, always under the protection of the Holy Spirit. Hence, serious positions of Christ’s Church, even if not infallible, are to be taken seriously. A “serious” Catholic does not dismiss, out of hand, a strong if controversial global Catholic position on faith and morals, but considers the position with respect and maturity before considering a legitimate disagreement. But the mature Catholic is exceedingly clear about the REAL Catholic Church. The “marks” are all there for those who “can see”. Pope Benedict XVI and his remark about “studied ambiguity” are of particular relevance here.
Meanwhile, we hear the chilling threats of “dissidents” telling us if we do not “line up” with “Their” thought, millions will leave the Church abandoning her to become just another musty museum! How convenient to overlook the Lord’s PROMISE: “I am with you all days even unto the consummation of the world.” And yet so intimidating! Fr. Ronald Knox, a brilliant English convert and son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote, many years ago, of a future age when there would be a “remnant” of those Catholics who kept the Faith and whose numbers greatly diminished in the face of outside pressures. They would keep the Faith pure and untarnished to hand over to the Lord on His Second Coming. It is somewhat reflected in the Pope’s vision of the “creative minority” whereby the Catholic stronghold (do we call it siege?) becomes highly unified and cohesive. Meanwhile, modern disagreements are not always respectful and issue-oriented but are often resulting in lamentable and vicious personal attacks on the “Messenger.” This technique may have been borrowed from American “dirty” politics whereby one American attacks another, not on the issue, but on the person. Consult the Sen. Kennedy attack on the person of Sen. Santorum in the recent case of the ill woman in Florida.
To dismiss such latent apprehension might be naïve. In an interesting piece by Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. entitled “Liberal Jesuits and the Late Pope” a point is made that there was wide spread Wojtyla hatred in his Society (posted April 4,2005, No Sound Off). He illustrates:
1) “…..I’d hear my Superiors pray that Wojtyla come to an early death…..and go unrebuked in that jocular vein that signals sympathy...”
2) Fr. Cyril Barrett, S.J. “….in a bellow that filled a London restaurant, ‘The only thing wrong with that bloody Turk was that he couldn’t shoot straight.’ ”
P. Mankowski assesses the remark: “Note that this is not the language of passionate disagreement, this is hatred, pure and simple.”
3) From a Jesuit academic: “The Society has not sold its soul to the “restoration” of John Paul II.”
4) From a Jesuit Historian: “he is not one of the worst popes: he’s THE worst. Don’t misquote me.”
The author claims that the reason for the hatred is no mystery. There is a pressure for doctrine to change. The venom of critics toward this charismatic Pope was the bitterest in the area where he differed least from his predecessors (and in which his successor will differ least from him) IN REPEATING THE TRUISM THAT DOCTRINE, BEING UNCHANGEAGEABLE, WILL NOT BE CHANGED. Mankowski suggests that these critics did the Pope an injustice in pretending that he is free to unpope himself by altering the deposit of Faith. Even the Protestant politician Newt Gingrich points out that the Pope being the Vicar of Christ can do nothing but speak the truth. He has no choice.
The dreams of the “Progressivists” were frankly “infantile.” They were and are stunned that JPII didn’t make their dreams come true. One thing we do know. What they clamor for is not the Catholic Church. They seek some kind of make-believe Church of their own making without which they will continue to seethe, no matter who is the Pope. Some one jested on a recent TV talk show that disaffected Catholics might join some other Church more to their liking where there are plenty of empty pews.
A similar kind of venom was spewed at Cardinal O’Connor when he was Archbishop of New York basically because he steadfastly taught official Catholic doctrine. This was unacceptable to many and hence he was caricatured and insulted regularly by those who wanted him to change Church teaching!! The plan is to destroy the messenger if he will not change his message to suit the desires of the attacker!
In my own Website, I often articulate what my Church teaches to the chagrin and fury of some of my readers. A recent e-mail to me read thusly: “Thank god [note the lower case] you are close to death [a reference to my 84 years]. You are a …. Supersititious Fascist. You write lies about a natural thing like homosexuality. Your Church is likewise dying. Ha Ha!…………………………”
Another reader characterized me as a “……mean spirited old man…” after I had been interviewed in MSNBC by Ron Reagan Jr. and Monica Crowley in which I stated the simple and loving rationale of the Church towards the same-sex attraction tendency. I am an old bat and dinosaur but I have never been categorized as mean spirited by those who know me. But I plead for adult dialogue on the ISSUE not on my character or on the character of Pope John Paul II or Cardinal O’Connor or anyone who sincerely tries to implement the Catholic teaching.
If one wishes for the Real Catholic Church to stand up amid all the pretenders, one must look at the Teachings and Presence and Traditions and indeed the theology and Scripture which “Rome” represents. But look and study the role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Finally, if bias, prejudice and personal desires blind a person who seeks real fulfillment, it is God’s grace that helps one see the TRUTH of Catholicism. A short cut to it: Seek the help of Mary, the Mother of the Lord, the Patroness of Catholicism and ideal of women. She has helped many to inner Peace and ultimate Salvation.