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Religion, Politics, and the Golden Gate Bridge

How do we avoid and correct the secular encroachment of the Catholic faith or religious violations of reasonable non-religious duties? The geography of San Francisco provides an analogy.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California. (Image: Maarten van den Heuvel/

Our Catholic religion often falls victim to manipulation by priests and laity for political purposes. How do we avoid and correct the secular encroachment of the Catholic faith or religious violations of reasonable non-religious duties? The geography of San Francisco provides an analogy.

The ancient Israelites generally expected a political Messiah, partly explaining the Roman coin test of Jesus. In the early Church, the Romans persecuted subversive Christians who refused the patriotic duty of venerating Roman gods.

Immediately before the Ascension, the Apostles asked: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) Their political expectations are familiar and continue throughout history.

Before His Ascension, Jesus reveals to His politically-minded priests — the Apostles, the day will come when Jesus will indeed rule all nations, the living and the dead – fulfilling the Psalms: “All the nations thou hast made shall come and bow down before thee.” (Ps. 86:9). But the timing belongs to the Father alone: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

Until then, Jesus commissions the Apostles to continue His work of redemption as their primary duty: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

The Ascension of Jesus requires the Church to encounter Him in faith, keep His commands, and continue His saving work. Until the Second Coming, Jesus desires our freedom, fidelity, gratitude, and apostolic zeal. So Jesus returns to His Father and sends the Holy Spirit upon us. Fully incorporated into His Mystical Body, we become His instruments to transform our lives, families, and world in His grace – according to our distinctive roles in His hierarchical Church with bishops, priests, and the laity.

The clergy’s role is primarily religious as they carry out the redemptive priestly mission of Jesus. “Christ, to be sure, gave His Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order. The purpose which He set before her is a religious one.” (Vatican II, GS 42)

The role of the laity is primarily secular, or “in the world.” “Secular duties and activities belong properly, although not exclusively to laymen. Therefore acting as citizens in the world, whether individually or socially, they will keep the laws proper to each discipline…” (GS 43)

It isn’t difficult (for the most part) to distinguish between doctrinal religious authority and negotiable political opinions. Yet, violations abound. The secular culture demands the Church modify her teaching on marriage and the family to modern expectations. We see popes dabbling in the politics of immigration and endure bishops supporting the neo-Marxist Black Lives Matter. The USCCB usually encourages big federal social spending.

Such non-binding-in-conscience political posturing undermines binding religious authority.

A proposal: The City by the Bay provides an analogy that helps clarify our understanding of the complementary relationship between priest and people. The San Francisco Bay represents the religious domain of the clergy (with Alcatraz as the Vatican). The vast Pacific Ocean belongs to the laity and their innumerable secular duties. The Golden Gate Bridge separates the secular Pacific Ocean from the religious San Francisco Bay. The roles of priests and laity are distinct but overlap. The two bodies of water intersect, to some extent lacking clarity. But the Bridge provides a convenient line of demarcation.

The religious Bay includes Scripture study, the Creed, prayer, and the Sacraments. The Ten Commandments are essential to the priestly mandate. “If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them.” (1 Jn. 1:3) Priests typically avoid the choppy secular Pacific Ocean waters and focus on spiritual improvement: overcoming anger, impatience, and rash judgments; and promoting kindness, charity, and goodwill.

As a priest approaches the Golden Gate Bridge, he enters brackish cultural and national waters. As he critiques the secular culture by applying the Ten Commandments, the response is mixed, partly because the laity often fails to distinguish between the religious Bay and the secular Pacific.

The response of politically-minded laity — adrift in the Pacific, varies. Some are offended because the Commandments challenge their new morality of diversity, equality, and inclusion. Others typically don’t object because the Ten Commandments are somewhat compatible with their oceanic cultural hot tub. Nevertheless, careful priests are not practicing the art of politics.

Their authority indeed remains well within the religious San Francisco Bay. The leaven of the “Catholic cult” informs the “culture.” Apostolic authority encompasses carefully crafted critiques of the culture — according to God’s immutable laws — that extend far into the secular Pacific Ocean but do not go into the details of navigation.

The economic teachings of the Church related to the Fourth and Seventh Commandments are challenging, often navigating the choppy waters of the laity’s secular Pacific Ocean domain with priests as chaplains. Our understanding of the religious rights and duties of families — with borders and security, helps craft our immigration policies. As stewards of creation (cf. Genesis), we must avoid despoiling the environment. Except for egregious violations, devising and implementing those policies belong to the laity in charge of sailing the ocean blue.

The Catholic faith is universal, transcending, informing, and permeating all cultures. But religious teachings do not deprive the laity of their secular rights and duties. The complementary harmony of the Pacific Ocean and the City by the Bay, separated by the splendor of the Golden Gate Bridge, helps us critique, restore, and maintain a proper understanding of the respective roles of the laity and clergy.

This analogy is subject to correction by authorized Alcatraz officials.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19-20)

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About Father Jerry J. Pokorsky 39 Articles
Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.. He holds a Master of Divinity degree as well as a master’s degree in moral theology.


  1. We read: “This analogy is subject to correction by authorized Alcatraz officials.”

    But, from which direction commeth the Bay area fog? From the Pacific, but also from Alcatraz? When visible, the lane lines on the bridge are clear enough even for those who are “walking together”–natural law and Veritatis Splendor.

    • I just woke up from a 21/2 hour sleep, a very
      Vivid and disturbing nightmare woke me up. I dreamt the world was ending and I was on my way to a very dark and dreary place.

  2. This essay should be a must-read for the politically active and misguided priests like Altman and similar others as well as the defrocked Pavone.

      • I read “Golden State” naturally as part of the allegorical view; in that the popular idea is that our religion is going through a “springtime” and thereby will be “reaching unto” a real-true “heyday” and a new “Golden Age”. It captured an imagination and sense of humour.

        Then Alcatraz was decommissioned. ….. Ooops! It’s a tourist attraction now. And it’s a set for extreme-something movies and strange books, etc.

  3. A quote from the article: “The USCCB usually supports big federal social spending.”

    This is first time in my 19 years as a Catholic (converted in 2004) that I have seen a statement, written or spoken by Catholics, in which the funding of charitable needs by the federal government appears to be considered a “negative”. Hooray–I hope. I would not be surprised if I have misinterpreted that statement–if I have, I apologize.

    Usually, the articles and speeches by Catholics appear to call for supporting more and more federal spending, as well as state and local spending, making it appear that Catholics are not prepared or willing to make a total commitment through their local parishes to feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger (immigrant), clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners.”

    We are happy to let “the government” provide all these needs, which, considering the lack of success of the government to provide all these needs, seems to be a rather cold-hearted, or perhaps even sinful, attitude for us Christians.

    The lack of success of government (federal, state, and local) to adequately provide the needs of the poor and hungry, unclothed, immigrant and other stranger, the ill and injured (oh, wait, the insurance agencies, including Medicare and Medicaid, and all the other hundreds, perhaps thousands, of insurance options, care for these people–and don’t they do just the greatest li’ ol’ job of it?!), and the prisoners should galvanize Catholics and other Christians to take the words of Jesus seriously and start doing the work ourselves instead of approving higher taxes so that the government can continue to fall very short of funds and personnel and turn to evil methods (e.g., abortion, euthanasia) to meet social needs.

    By approving higher taxes, we Catholics and other Christians inevitably find that we are too short of cash to give to the Church as generously as we wish, and this means that the charitable outreaches of the Church are probably the first to suffer, as we have to provide for our priests and lay staff, and we have to pay the utility bills for our parishes. And of course, those higher taxes make it hard to find the money to send our children to Catholic schools, so we opt for the free public schools (which we pay for with our taxes), where children and teens are often indoctrinated with secular philosophies–it’s no wonder that fewer and fewer Americans are calling themselves “Christian.”

    We need to shoulder our responsibilities rather than handing them and our money over to the government.

    • Very Good Mrs. Sharon!

      Jesus says, “Which of these three, in your opinion, who was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

      Yes! Popes, Bishops and Priests, bypassing the poor of society in order to give some lip service to secular leaders, is Catholic Clergy failing to grant ‘mercy’ to the poor. Jesus tells us of secular Good Samaritans who are helping the poor, and that the Catholic Church should, “Go and do likewise.”

      Luke 10:29 The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
      But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them…
      …Which of these three, in your opinion, who was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

  4. The analogy of using this “hoosegow” island as the Vatican defies its real mission.

    Alcatraz Prison (1934-1963)

    The prison became famous for housing the most dangerous criminals in the federal prison system, such as Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly, either the most violent or the most likely to make escape attempts.
    Lets offer a better analogy.

  5. The one major concern with big government spending is the amount of power that this gives to the government. Some Catholic Social Teaching advocates appear to have an idolatrous relationship with government, where the government is all knowing, all powerful, and with seemingly unlimited resources. Pretty much acting like the government has the power of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. In the Bible passage where Christ performed the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes He rejected the attempt of the people to make Him a worldly king. He also rejected worldly power in His Temptations in the Wilderness. This fits in well with the point of the article.
    The concentration of power in fallible human beings invites the corruption of the people wielding this power. The Founding Fathers created a constitutional republic with a system of checks and balances and due process to decentralize power to keep corruption in check. To me this explains why they are held in such low esteem by the governmental absolutists of the left.
    Sex, money, and power have been the downfall of many in religious life. The counter to this are the Evangelical Counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience. We have seen all too much evidence of corruption in the Church hierarchy with the clerical abuse and financial scandals in the Church. The Vatican as Alcatraz may be sadly too close to the truth what with all these previously mentioned scandals. The Fall of the House of Eli comes to mind.

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