A recent batch of WikiLeak documents reveals high-level Clinton campaign officials and supporters suggesting that that political forces should engineer a so-called “Catholic Spring” to rebel against the “middle-ages dictatorship” of the Catholic Church (folks like me, I’d guess). The emails also indicate that organizations have been formed and funded to divide the Church, apparently with the approval and support of these same high-level operatives.
Various writers have ably pointed out how egregious are such plans to interfere with the inner life of the Roman Catholic Church. They explain that this represents a serious breach in relations between Church and state, a disregard for basic human rights and liberties, and a special mark of contempt for Catholics as well as Evangelicals. I agree with these views. I also have to note at the outset the across-the-board moral bankruptcy of the current presidential campaign. At the same time, I’d like to take the discussion in another direction.
WikiLeaks revealed political operatives hoping to shake up the Church so that it would be conformed to their view of the world. Truth to tell, the Church does need to be shaken up, but not in the way these politicos imagine. It’s Pope Francis who’s shaking up the Church in a good way through an approach far different from that of these operatives. If we follow the Pope’s lead, not only will the Church be strengthened, so too society will become a more just, peaceful, and merciful place. Let me offer a few examples.
All it takes is a look at a recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to know that powerful political forces insist that the Church’s social service institutions be mere extensions of the government, with a moral compass indistinguishable from that which drives government policy. But Pope Francis insists that Catholic charitable and social service institutions must be more than mere NGO’s (non-governmental organizations). Rather, they must bind up the wounds of society with the compassion of Christ who alone fully reveals the dignity of each person. The Pope teaches us to think of the Church as a field hospital, and his arresting image highlights what Catholics bring to our public work: love of our neighbors rooted in our love of God. That’s not something on offer from the government.
Powerful political forces seek to provoke strong opposition to the Church because of its teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman. Yet Pope Francis called not one but two synods on marriage because it’s urgent that we strengthen the vocation of marriage and family life. His beautiful exhortation on marriage, “The Joy of Love,” guides married couples, the young, and the Church’s pastors in renewing marriage and family in our day. In fact, he’s jolting us out of our complacency as the true meaning and purpose of marriage are obscured and family life continues to break down. Pope Francis knows that it’s the young and the poor who will suffer disproportionately if this societal trend continues. Healthy societies and a healthy Church rest on healthy families.
Powerful political forces ridicule the Church’s teaching that one’s biological sex and one’s gender cannot be separated. They would force the Church to abandon a most elemental teaching of faith and reason: “male and female He created them.” But Pope Francis has forcefully challenged contemporary gender theory because he knows it’s the potential undoing not only of marriage but of a right understanding of human identity and dignity. When young people were told “you can be anything,” it used to mean that a wide range of careers was open to them. Now it means you can be a man or a woman or some other version of sexuality and that you can, God-like, create your own alternative universe. Pope Francis knows this is false and he wants us to make sure we know it, too.
Powerful political operatives have suggested that well-educated, professional people embrace the Catholic religion because it is more acceptable than the evangelical churches, thus insulting both faith communities. They have derided Catholics who take seriously the Christian formation of their children, who have had their children baptized in the Jordan River (where Christ was baptized), and who advance principles of Catholic social teaching such as subsidiarity (which stresses the importance of addressing problems and issues at the local level when possible). It doesn’t seem to occur to these political operatives that many people embrace religious faith because they actually believe it to be true and good.
Here, too, Francis is out to shake up the Church by calling us to authenticity, to become missionary disciples who go out to the margins. He’s challenging each of us truly to encounter the living Christ and to embrace the Gospel with enthusiasm, prompting us to compassionate action outside the sanctuary, at risk not only to our social standing but even to our personal security. He is urging us to be not only true believers but indeed the Lord’s messengers who bring the joy and healing of the Gospel to the peripheries of society.
These political operatives aren’t seeking to shake up the Church; they’re seeking to domesticate it. Pope Francis wants to revitalize it. Where the tactics of these operatives reveal a view of religion as something to be informed by political values, the Holy Father, in his book “On Heaven and Earth,” makes the case that religion should be informing politics with values, not engaging in partisan politics. Let’s follow his lead, not theirs.