Papal Golf

The president of Catholic University of America seems to have taken too many meals at Outback — no rules, just right (no hell, just purgatory?):

What I really love about Pope Francis and the message that he’s trying to get across is that we’re Catholics, we belong to the Church, and we believe what the Church teaches because Jesus came to redeem us and show us His mercy.

The message to others isn’t, “Gosh, you ought to be Catholic because you should follow this or that set of rules.” The message is, “Good news: you’re redeemed. Here’s what a life lived in response to that truth looks like.”

Imagine you’re speaking to someone from Finland who has grown up north of the Arctic Circle, and had never seen a golf course and had no idea what golf was. You’re trying to explain to this person why you love golf and how important it is.

One way of doing it is saying while you’re in the tee box, you don’t want to hit it outside the white stakes because that’s out of bounds and the penalty is a stroke and distance, and you don’t want to go past the red stakes because those are lateral hazards and there’s a stroke penalty. And you don’t want to get in the sand trap because, while that doesn’t cost you a stroke, it’s hard to get out of.

You’d rather say, “Here’s the deal: you see that hole down there-we’re going down this short grass here and we’re putting it in the hole in the least number of strokes, and we’re going to have a nice visit while we do it.”

It’s not that there aren’t rules for golf-no out of bounds, no lateral hazards, no sand traps-it’s that focusing on avoiding sin is not the message that brings people to love Jesus.
Pope Francis is exactly right-the bull’s-eye of the Catholic message of the gospel is, “Jesus loves you.” Your life is messed up? We’ve got some good news for you. That’s what I love about Francis. There is nothing in any of that that doesn’t appeal to all of us. . . .

That’s not to say there aren’t out of bounds or rules or anything, which he’s stipulated, but because he’s so inviting, people are willing to take a first listen. Some in the media on the left would like to take from that the lesson that the Catholic Church has abandoned all the rules about lateral hazards and sand traps, and some on the right take the same mistaken view. And of course Pope Francis makes clear that’s not what he’s saying.

But when it comes to discerning a difference between the church and the world, no problem. The U.S. bishops are doing nothing different from the ACLU (I kid not):

When we invite someone to be a commencement speaker, the university is saying something. That’s why the American Catholic bishops say that Catholic universities shouldn’t give honors, platforms, and awards to people whose view is at odds with the views of the Catholic Church.

What they are saying literally is that universities like us shouldn’t endorse people like that. We should not say “Yay, Barack Obama, you support enshrining the ‘right’ to kill the unborn.” We shouldn’t give him honorary degrees or hold him up to our students as our example.

On the other hand, I would be perfectly happy to invite President Obama to Catholic University, even to talk about abortion if he wanted to. What better place than to have a conversation with the President about an issue that is important to Catholics and others? We’re just not going to give him a prize for taking a position that we condemn.

So, this notion isn’t at all inconsistent with notions of academic freedom on campus. It follows the standard kind of distinction that other universities follow.

Here’s a parallel example. Every year we see the ACLU bashing, say Montana State, for inviting some preacher to say an invocation before the commencement. The First Amendment rule about that is that public universities should not endorse religious positions, therefore, the preacher is welcome to come on campus to talk or to say prayers but they can’t make him the commencement speaker.

The ACLU doesn’t come in behind the bishops on their position, but they are saying the same thing.

Speechless.