Left: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in September 2013 (CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters). Right:
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, gives an address at the second annual March for Marriage on the West Lawn of the Capitol in Washington June 19. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)
have to be progressive; that is, they have to live in the future,
because they know they have done nothing but evil in the past." G. K.
Chesterton, Avowals and Denials, 1935.
last citadel in the Western world of God-given moral prescriptions
concerning man's use of his sexual faculties is the Catholic Church."
Monsignor George A. Kelly, The Battle for the American Church, 1979.
authority." This well-known slogan, which has a Socratic heritage (more
on that later), also has roots in Benjamin Franklin's statement, "It is
the first right of every citizen to question authority."
guess, having lived in Eugene, Oregon, for nearly twenty years, is that
most people in these progressive part of the woods understand "Question
authority" as a call to reject authority, and I suspect that holds true
for most Americans. I've joked on occasion of how fun it could be to
track down a car with the "Question authority" bumper sticker and ask
the owner, "By what authority do you advocate that others question
authority?" The inherent humor of such subversive inversion is
appealing"See, I'm questioning your authority to tell others
to question authority..."but I doubt the conversation that would likely
follow would live up to the irony of it all. Besides, and let me be
perfectly clear, most progressives aren't openminded enough to tolerate
the question of their authority.
In fact, most people who
communicate by bumper stickers aren't usually given to thinking through
the logic of those mostly trite, if occasionally funny, statements. But
in an age of soundbites, slogans, and snarky one-liners, they can pass
for cleverness, even wisdom. They also, in many situations, are meant to
stop any and all real thought, a sort of "Oh, yeah!? Take this!" type
Which brings me to the Most Famous Papal Statement of the Past Three Thousand Years: "Who Am I To Judge?"
Of course, as countless folks have noted, Pope Francis originally said
something a bit more qualified and specific than that. Even taken out of
the larger context, which is quite essential to the sentence in
question (made at the end of his June 28, 2013, interview while returning from World Youth Day), the difference should be obvious.
If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?
Catholics have debated the wisdom of that remark; as one priest said to
me, "That's all that most people know about Francis, and that's all
they'll ever know." That discussion, however, is different from noting
that the purposeful misuse and abuse of the pope's remark is not only
bothersome, it is disingenuous, cynical, manipulativeand effective.
Which is why, of course, many politicans and other public figures have
used it repeatedly.
Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is the Minority Leader of
the United States House of Representatives and the highest-ranking
female politician in American history. She is also a Catholic who
defines her "Catholic" faith"my religion", she calls itby her
rejection of clear and constant Catholic teaching, and she recently drew
upon that sentence of Pope Francis in an attempt to stop
San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone from giving a talk in
support of marriage in Washington, DC (that talk was given, and can be read here).
the larger scope of global events and Really Important Stuff, Pelosi's
pathetic stunt might be of little interest, but I think it is a near
perfect example of just how banal, nonsensical, and ridiculous matters
have become in the United States. As the San Francisco Chronicle
notes, Pelosi, "is one of the country's most powerful Catholic
politicians," which in and of itself is cause for either laughter or
lamentation, as Pelosi's brand of "Catholicism" is barely a caricature
of a mirage of a distortion of actual Catholicism. She talks about "conscience" without displaying any substantive knowledge about the Church's actual teaching about conscience. She presents herself as a "devout Catholic"
while openly rejecting Catholic teaching on, well, nearly everything
while thumbing her nose at the bishops. As I wrote two years ago,
"Pelosi has made an entire career out of outlandish, ridiculous, false,
and hideous statements because it works. And she gets away with it.
Again and again and again."
The Chronicle, of course, was
undoubtedly happy to leak Pelosi's letter, which apparently contained
five basic points, all of which are either nonsensical or beside the
First, Pelosi urged the archbishop to not attend the
controversial March for Marriage event, which she characterized as
"venom masquerading as virtue." But, really, who is she to
judge? If someone is supporting marriage and is searching for the Lord
and has good will, then who is she or anyone else to judge him? Sigh. Of
course, it doesn't really work that way, does it? Again, most
progressives aren't openminded enough to tolerate the question of their
authorityor their judgment.
Secondly, she wrote to Abp.
Cordileone, "We share our love of the Catholic faith and our city of San
Francisco..." Even if that is true, so what? It has nothing to do with
the matter at hand. But, really, what sort of love has Pelosi shown for
the Catholic faith during her many years of public service? Her public
actions and statements consistently demonstrate a willingness to subvert
Catholicism to her progressive ideology, which leads to some brazen (if
not very logical) conclusions, as when she said, in 2012,
"My religion compels meand I love it for itto be against
discrimination of any kind in our country, and I consider [the ban on
gay marriage] a form of discrimination. I think it’s unconstitutional on
top of that." In sum, she is "compelled" by a religion she doesn't seem
to understand or really follow to support something"gay marriage"that
is a fiction, for actual marriage consists, fundamentally, of a man and
a woman. This is the same sort of deception used by those who promote
the "ordination" of women to the Catholic priesthood, as if something
that cannot and does not exista female priestcan be created out of
thin air (and thinner thinking) simply by wishing it so and saying it
Third, the Chronicle reports, "She urged him to
abandon an event in which some of the participants show 'disdain and
hate towards LGBT persons.'" That begs a number of questions, including
her definition of "disdain and hate," which undoubtedly is located in
any and all critical references to homosexuality, bi-sexuality,
transgenderism, and "try-sexualism" ("We'll try anything, anywhere, at
any time!"). In just the past couple of years, it has become obvious
that even harboring any sort of disgust at the thought of homosexual
acts and relationships is somehow hateful, bigoted, and narrowminded.
More to the point of the National Organization for Marriage’s annual
rally and march, held on June 19th, it is increasingly clear that
publicly advocating for marriagetrue marriage, between a man and woman,
etc.is being construed as hateful, bigoted, and narrowminded.
Of course, this is the same woman who two years ago said that
those lawmakers who voted against Obamacare due to moral concerns "will
be voting to say that women can die on the floor and health care
providers do not have to intervene if this bill is passed." A reasonable
person might question her grasp of reality. An observant person,
however, might admit that she is the perfect politician for our times.
And a cynical person, dare I say, might wonder if she is the epitome of
the typical "American Catholic".
Fourth, Pelosi told Cordileone,
"While we may disagree on the subject of marriage equality, we do agree
that every person is a child of God, possessed of the spark of divinity
and worthy of respect." This is a non sequitur, because being
created in the likeness and image of God does not mean that every act
committed by people is objectively good. Put another way, respecting a
person for what he is objectivelya man created and loved by Goddoes
not mean that all of his actions are worthy of respect. This is Moral
Theology 101, but to be fair to Pelosi, many other Catholics are equally
confused or confusing on such foundational truths.
Finally, the Chronicle
reports, "Invoking the words of Pope Francis with regard to gays and
lesbians, [Pelsoi] wrote, 'If someone is gay and is searching for the
Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?'" Again, Pelosi and
nearly all those who support "gay marriage" have shown, again and again,
that they are either incapable of distinguishing between judging
persons and judging actions, or they are muddying these waters so that
people think that any and all judgment is bad, period.
Church is not against proper judgments within necessary bounds, but
against judgmentalism (just as the Church is not against science, but
against scientism). Judging the inner state of souls is God's
place, not ours. But we can certainly judge actionsand we must do so as
it's impossible to live otherwise. The Catechism puts it very
clearly and simply, so that even children and politicans can understand,
if only they will listen: "However, although we can judge that an act
is in itself a grave offense, we must entrust judgment of persons to the
justice and mercy of God" (par. 1861). To give a specific example of
Right judgment: "Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are
masturbation, fornication, pornography, and homosexual practices" (Catechism, par. 2396)
Judgmentalism: "If you masturbate or fornicate or have homosexual sex,
you are a retrobate loser who will burn in hell forever."
Right judgment: "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents
homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always
declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.'" (Catechism, par. 2357)
Judgmentalism: "I refuse to show you love and respect until you stop being homosexual."
is ignored (among other things) by those who continually mouth that
sentence by Francis are the two huge qualifiers he employed: 1) "is
searching for the Lord" and 2) "has good will". That can be applied, of
course, to all sinnersthat is, to all of us. Was Nancy Pelosi, in
trying to strong arm the archbishop, searching for the Lord? Was she
exhibiting good will? No, it appears that she was simply trying to
misuse the pope's words as a tool of power and coercion for the sake of
an ideology and agenda that is contrary to thae teachings of the
This past Monday, in his homily, the Holy Father once again spoke of judging others, remarking on the Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-15). ZENIT's summary states, in part:
Holy Father reflected on the liturgy of today, in which Jesus commanded
his disciples to: “Stop judging, so that you may not be judged. For as
you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure
will be measured out to you.”
warned faithful not to usurp the role of judging. He said it's not any
person’s responsibility and if one does try to judge his brother, he
will be a “loser, because he will end up a victim of his own lack of
mercy. This is what happens to a brother who judges."
Speaking on mercy, the Pope stressed that Jesus “never accuses,” rather he does the “opposite,” he defends.
again, is not aimed at proper moral judgments, but at a judgmentalism
that fixates on condemning others out of pride, selfishness, insecurity,
and other sins and sinful attitudes. Jesus' own words indicate the need
to provide moral guidancebut only once our own sins have been
do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive
the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let
me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your
eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (emphasis added)
entire Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) is filled with moral judgments:
against unrighteous anger (5:21-26), adultery (5:27-30), divorce
(5:31-32), swearing false oaths (5:33-37), retaliation (5:38-42),
hypocrisy (6:1-4), self-serving piety (6:5-8), and so forth. There is
also Jesus' statement, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with
right judgment" (Jn 7:24), which is a timely bit of wisdom, especially
in an age of illusion and deceptive appearances.
Which brings me back to Socrates and the matter of questioning authority. A graduate student, in remarking upon the topic,
made this excellent point: "Questioning authority was [Socrates'] whole
game. But he did not question authority in the same way an angst-ridden
teenager might; he sought to get at the root of an individual's core
beliefs by questioning their knowledge." Everyone relies in some way
upon a source of authority, and our approach to understanding authority
is deeply rooted in how we understand the question, "What does it mean
to be human?" The Catechism nicely makes this point by stating,
"Every human community needs an authority to govern it. The foundation
of such authority lies in human nature" (par. 1898). And therein lies a
central problem when it comes to the intertwined issues of marriage,
sexuality, family, and right living: a lacking anthropology. In the
words of an archbishop, who told me last summer that the battle over
marriage is the biggest challenge facing Catholics today: "How do even
begin to talk to people who have a completely different understanding of
what it means to be human?"
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the publication of Monsignor George A. Kelly's book, The Battle for the American Church (Doubleday, 1979),
a book that offers a wealth of insights into the past and the present,
and is worth tracking down for that reason. Kelly, who died in 2004,
referenced the work of the author and sociologist Fr. John L. Thomas,
SJ, who wrote several best-selling books on Catholicism, family, and
marriage in the 1950s and beyond (one book, The American Catholic Family,
sold over one million copies and was named "Book of the Year" in 1954
by the Catholic Sociological Association). Fr. Thomas highlighted
several points of contention between the Catholic understanding of
marriage and the views of many Americans of the mid-20th century. The
prevalent American perspectivein the 1950sincluded:
the "denial of the sacramental bond of marriage"
the rejection of the "influence of religious doctrine on the formation of marriage and family values"
the American habit of being "practical in judgment without necessary reference to principle or doctrine"
and "the tendency of social scientists to look upon the human person as
nothing more than a complex combination of basic urges, conditioned
reflexes, and acquired habits"
Is it any surprise that we are where we
are? When true authority (via reason and revelation) and an authentic
anthropology (again, rooted in reason and revelation) are jettisoned, we
are left with absurdityinhuman, ideological, intolerant, and sophistic
absurdity. Yes, we are to pursue lives of charity and mercy, but we are
also to judge with right judgment, avoiding, as Archbishop Cordileone wrote in response to his critics, "judgments based on stereotypes, media images and comments taken out of context."