Funny stuff, right? It is, I suppose, except that some people have apparently taken this December 5, 2013, “story” quite seriously, even though the first few lines should have set of the spoof alarms:
For the last six months, Catholic cardinals, bishops and theologians have been deliberating in Vatican City, discussing the future of the church and redefining long-held Catholic doctrines and dogmas. The Third Vatican Council, is undoubtedly the largest and most important since the Second Vatican Council was concluded in 1962. Pope Francis convened the new council to “finally finish the work of the Second Vatican Council.” While some traditionalists and conservative reactionaries on the far right have decried these efforts, they have delighted progressives around the world.
The Third Vatican Council concluded today with Pope Francis announcing that Catholicism is now a “modern and reasonable religion, which has undergone evolutionary changes. The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone. Even atheists acknowledge the divine. Through acts of love and charity the atheist acknowledges God as well, and redeems his own soul, becoming an active participant in the redemption of humanity.”
I first heard of this satirical piece, published on the Diversity Chronicle site (which carries this descriptive/disclaimer: “The original content on this blog is largely satirical”), about two weeks ago. A friend forwarded me the link, and explained that several of his non-Catholic friends and co-workers were touting it as real “news”. Was there, he asked, a response to this nonsense? In a better world, it wouldn’t be necessary to respond to nonsense, save uttering a loud and long laugh. But anyone who has spent time involved in apologetics knows that there is much nonsense to be addressed, especially when it becomes an impediment to understanding what the Catholic Church really teaches (and doesn’t teach) and has really done (or not done).
Since we’re on the topic of strange and surprising stories, the New York Times recently published a piece about Francis, the “Radical Pope”. Why is it surprising? Because the author, Robert Calderisi, rightly points out that while Francis has done some unusual things, he actually “represents an essential continuity in the Roman Catholic Church’s mission.”:
In Victorian times, Pope Leo XIII (in office, 1878-1903) was also denounced as a “socialist” when, in 1891, he issued the Catholic Church’s first formal statement on economic and social issues. In “Rerum Novarum,” he called for a living wage, opposed child labor and (a little belatedly) supported the idea of trade unions. Leo’s strong defense of private property in the same letter did not seem to win over critics.
Even Pius XII (1939-58) — one of the least-loved popes, thanks to the Vatican’s ambiguous wartime role — insisted that when fighting unjust social conditions, “Charity is not enough, for in the first place there must be justice.” In the late 1940s, it was a future pope (John XXIII, 1958-63) who, as the Vatican’s ambassador to France, helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations.
The statements of Pope Francis have certainly been more spirited than we have heard for a while — complete with exclamation marks, extremely rare in papal documents — and he has found new images to drive his points home. Poor people, he said recently, have been waiting a long time for the rich man’s glass to overflow. Instead, all that seems to happen is that the glass keeps getting larger.
In many ways, though, he has simply been putting a personal stamp on traditional Catholic social teaching.
He could have also pointed out that while the Church has strongly advocated the ownership of private property and given a qualified endorsement of free markets, it has traditionally had, at best, a tense relationship with capitalism (a key document in this regard is John Paul II’s “Centesimus Annus”; see pars. 42-43, for example). And some of the more scorching Catholic denunciations of capitalism came from the pens of orthodox stalwarts, G.K. Chesterton and Abp. Fulton Sheen. Anyhow, back to Calderisi’s article:
As a result of its work in basic health and education — and despite its obtuse views on birth control — in the last 50 years the church has probably lifted more people out of poverty than any other civic institution in history.
Of course, the Church has helped so many people not despite her “views” on birth control, but because of her comprehensive vision of what it means to be truly and fully human, part of which involves a correct understanding of sexuality, procreation, and marriage. It should also be noted that Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and similar groups do not, in any way, help people out of poverty—not physical poverty and certainly not spiritual poverty. But, while I think Calderisi’s article has flaws, it is a refreshing change from the usual brainless fare served up by the Grey Lady.
That said, I rolled my eyes at his concluding sentence: “Pope Francis has renewed the hope of Catholic activists that faith and charity can go hand in hand.” He might want to go back to the first encyclical of Benedict XVI, which contains passages such as this one:
Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc. The Church’s charitable organizations, beginning with those of Caritas (at diocesan, national and international levels), ought to do everything in their power to provide the resources and above all the personnel needed for this work. Individuals who care for those in need must first be professionally competent: they should be properly trained in what to do and how to do it, and committed to continuing care. Yet, while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity. Consequently, in addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal5:6).
And so forth. Alas, memories are often short and selective, and prejudices are abiding and unruly.