While the man in the hat (not the funny one the pope wears), Bryan Cross, and I debate the extent and significance of liberalism within the Roman Catholic Church, the pile of links that warrant a perception that Rome is far from conservative — so why would a conservative Protestant go there, mainline Protestant may be another matter — mounts.
First, a word from the archbishop of Denver, Samuel Aquila, on how good the good news is (beware, this may be Nadia Bolz-Weber territory):
To Christians, I encourage you to remember, as Pope Francis reminded us in the aforementioned interview, that “Christmas is joy, religious joy, God’s joy, an inner joy of light and peace.” We must be witnesses of such joy, and we must contemplate the great mystery of God, who came to dwell among us.
“With Christ,” he writes in “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), “joy is constantly born anew.”
The Pope used the word joy in his letter more than 50 times, underlining the absolute centrality of joy in the life of a Christian. He invites Christians to “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus to Christ.” He urges us to listen intently to God’s voice in our hearts, and to experience the “quiet joy of his love.”
To non-Christians, I urge you to take another look at Christmas. Look at it again with fresh eyes. Look at what we celebrate: let the eyes of your souls go past the presents, the trees, the fat Santa and red-nosed Rudolph, and stop at the center of the manger. Listen to the everlasting message of love and peace, and you will know what Christmas is all about, the God who loves you eternally even if you do not wish to receive that love. It’s a message that benefits us all.
Then a couple of responses to Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, that suggest conservative Presbyterians have room for concern. First an SSPXer’s letter to Pope Francis:
Evangelization thus takes on a salvific importance – it has a supernatural end, and this has always been understood by Catholics throughout the ages. The purpose of evangelization is primarily to save souls.
However, in Evangelii Gaudium, the impetus for Christian evangelization of other cultures for the purpose of eternal salvation is explained in terms of a “dialogue”, and the supernatural end (eternal life in heaven with God) seems replaced by a natural one. You write, “Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christian” (EG, 250). The obligation for Christians to evangelize is “peace in the world”, not the salvation of souls. This seems to substitute a worldly, naturalistic cause for evangelization for the more traditional supernatural one. Indeed, the two greatest issues Catholic evangelization has to respond to are said to be inclusion of the poor and world peace. (cf. 186, 217) It seems Your Holiness is suggesting that it is purely worldly concerns that the Gospel is here to address, not the salvation of men’s souls or the false religions that keep them from that salvation.
Then a brief retort from Peter Leithart, possibly a little payback to Stellman:
In the midst of many wonderful things in Francis I’s exhortation, there are some missteps. One of these comes towards the end in his pastoral advice concerning Islam. I don’t object to his exhortations to Christians to treat Muslims with dignity and love. He’s undoubtedly right that “Many [Muslims] also have a deep conviction that their life, in its entirety, is from God and for God. They also acknowledge the need to respond to God with an ethical commitment and with mercy towards those most in need.” Whether their lives are in fact for God, I have no doubt of their conviction that this is the case.
But the basis for his exhortation is mistaken, and seriously so.
Quoting Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, he says that “we must never forget that they ‘profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, who will judge humanity on the last day.’” He adds, “The sacred writings of Islam have retained some Christian teachings; Jesus and Mary receive profound veneration and it is admirable to see how Muslims both young and old, men and women, make time for daily prayer and faithfully take part in religious services.”
On both counts, Francis’s statements are at odds with the New Testament.
Next, in an ironic twist, while the Jesuits who edit America have found the era of Pope Francis to be one where — how convenient! — the labels of conservative and liberal no longer apply, the Roman Catholics who oversee the Catholic Theological Society of America received a report about the need to make room for conservatives within the organization and at its annual and regional meetings.
First America on America (thanks to our charismatic correspondent):
Third, America understands the church as the body of Christ, not as the body politic. Liberal, conservative, moderate are words that describe factions in a polis, not members of a communion. It stands to reason, moreover, that America’s fundamental commitment precludes certain self-conceptions. Since the word of God is incoherent when it is separated from the church and its living teaching office, America could never envision itself as “the Loyal Opposition.” Nor do we understand the phrase “people of God” as a theological justification for setting one part of the body of Christ against another. The people of God are not a proletariat engaged in some perpetual conflict with a clerical bourgeoisie. It is obvious to us, moreover, that a preoccupation with episcopal action, whether it bears an ultramontane or a Marxist character, is nevertheless a form of clericalism. None of this is to say that America cannot bring a critical eye to ecclesiastical events; this is, in fact, our very purpose.
. . . Fifth, America’s fundamental commitment means that we view ideology as largely inimical to Christian discipleship. Revelation is humanity’s true story. Ideologies, which are alternative metanarratives, invariably involve an “other,” a conceptual scapegoat, some oppressor who must be overthrown by the oppressed. Only the Gospel’s radical call to peace and reconciliation justifies a radical politics. Catholic social teaching is not the Republican Party plus economic justice, nor is it the Democratic Party minus abortion rights. Yet neither is it some amalgamation of the two. Catholic social teaching is far more radical than our secular politics precisely because it is inspired by the Gospel, which is itself a radical call to discipleship, one that is subversive of every creaturely notion of power. There is more to Christian political witness than the tired, quadrennial debate about which presidential candidate represents the lesser of two evils.
Sixth, our fundamental commitment means that we are not beholden to any political party or any special interest. “America will aim,” wrote Father Wynne, “at becoming a representative exponent of Catholic thought and activity without bias or plea for special interest.” Admittedly, we do harbor one bias: a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. “The poor,” however, “are not ‘special parties’ and they usually have no ‘special parties’ to speak for them,” wrote Father Davis in 1959. America believes that the work of social justice is a constitutive element of Christian discipleship. We also share with the Society of Jesus the conviction that “the faith that does justice is, inseparably, the faith that engages other traditions in dialogue, and the faith that evangelizes culture.”
Then the place of conservative theologians in CTSA:
A.Many CTSA sessions, both plenary and concurrent, include jokes and snide remarks about, or disrespectful references to, bishops, the Vatican, the magisterium, etc. These predictably elicit derisive laughter from a part of the audience.
B.Many CTSA members employ demeaning references. For example, the phrase“thinking Catholics” is sometimes used to mean liberals. The phrase “people whowould take us backwards” is sometimes used to mean conservatives.
C.Resolutions are a significant problem because an individual member can bring to the floor of the business meeting a divisive issue that not only consumes important time and energy but exacerbates the ideological differences that exist among theologians, typically leaving conservatives feeling not only marginalized but unwelcome. (CTSA members who have trouble understanding this as a problem might ask how they would feel if they were part of a professional society that passed resolutions criticizing a theologian they hold in high regard or endorsing views they reject.)
D.In recent decades, conservative theologians have only rarely been invited to be plenary speakers and respondents.
E.In CTSA elections, there is a general unwillingness of many members to vote for a conservative theologian. Scholarly credentials seem often outweighed by voters’partisan commitments.
F.Some conservative theologians have experienced the feeling that a number of other members “wish I wouldn’t come back” to the CTSA.
G.In sum, the self-conception of many members that the CTSA is open to all Catholic theologians is faulty and self-deceptive. As one of our members put it,the CTSA is a group of liberal theologians and “this permeates virtually everything.” Because the CTSA does not aspire to be a partisan group, both attitudes and practices will have to shift if the CTSA is to become the place where all perspectives within Catholic theology in North America are welcome.
And if outsiders believed the problem was only with academics and clergy exposed to higher criticism and inclusive theology, poll numbers on the church in the U.S. reveal matters that might keep Jason and the Callers away from claims of superiority:
American Catholics support same-sex marriage 60 – 31 percent, compared to the 56 – 36 percent support among all U.S. adults.
More devout Catholics, who attend religious services about once a week, support same- sex marriage 53 – 40 percent, while less observant Catholics support it 65 – 26 percent.
Catholic women support same-sex marriage 72 – 22 percent, while Catholic men support it 49 – 40 percent. Support ranges from 46 – 37 percent among Catholics over 65 years old to 64 – 27 percent among Catholics 18 to 49 years old.
Catholics like their new Pope: 36 percent have a “very favorable” opinion of him and 53 percent have a “favorable” opinion, with 4 percent “unfavorable.”
“American Catholics liked what they heard when Pope Francis said the Church should stop talking so much about issues like gay marriage, abortion and contraception,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
“Maybe they were just waiting for a Jesuit. Overwhelmingly, across the demographic board, Catholics – men and women, regular or not-so-regular church-goers, young and old – have a favorable opinion of Pope Francis.”
American Catholics support 60 – 30 percent the ordination of women priests. Those who attend religious services about once a week support women priests 52 – 38 percent, compared to 66 – 25 percent among those who attend services less frequently.
There is almost no gender gap.
Support for women priests grows with age, from 57 – 32 percent among Catholics 18 to 49 years old to 68 – 28 percent among those over 65 years old.
Catholic opinion on abortion is similar of the opinions of all American adults:
16 percent of Catholics say abortion should be legal in all cases, compared to 19 percent of all Americans;
36 percent of Catholics say abortion should be legal in most cases, compared to 34 percent of all Americans;
21 percent of Catholics say abortion should be illegal in most cases, compared to 23 percent of all Americans;
21 percent of Catholics say abortion should be illegal in all cases, compared to 16 percent of all Americans.
Finally, to round this out, some priests (even former Protestant ones) believe the church needs to recover the language of hell in its evangelistic efforts:
The most insidious cancer in the Christian church today is universalism and semi-universalism combined with indifferentism. Indifferentism is the lie that it doesn’t really matter what church or religion you belong to. Universalism is the lie that everyone will be saved because God is so merciful he will not send anyone to hell. Semi-universalism is the commonly held lie that there may be a hell, but there probably won’t be very many people there. All of these beliefs are clearly contrary to the plain words of Scripture.
Ralph writes clearly and concisely with abundant quotes from Scripture and the documents of the Church. He tells us what the New Evangelization is, answers the question “Why Bother?”, discusses the laity’s role, the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s power. He then goes on to outline the simple message of salvation: human beings are sinners separated from God from sin and they need salvation or they will go to hell.
Sorry folks. That’s the message, and the message is clear from Scripture and the unanimous teachings of the church from antiquity to the present day. Ralph goes on to advise how to share this message with joy and compassion–avoiding the “bull in a china shop” approach and avoiding any sense of being judgmental and un loving. There is no room for the Westboro Baptist approach, but plenty of room for a joyful, honest and firm proclamation of the faith.