Pope Francis I, unsurprisingly given his recent denunciation of ideology posing as religion, “wants bishops in tune with their people.” He told his representative, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, that he wants ‘pastoral’ bishops, not bishops who profess or follow a particular ideology.”
Vigano passed this no doubt unwelcome message along to America’s ideologically hidebound bishops at the U.S. bishops’ autumn conference in Baltimore.
Vigano prefaced his remarks by saying that he was offering “a few reflections and observations I have since my time here in this country.” No doubt well aware of how hostile U.S. bishops would be to the Pope’s message, he said, “I ask you to take these thoughts into prayerful consideration. You know this comes from my admiration, respect, and loving concern for the Church in America.”
He quotes Pope Paul VI’s words that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if it does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” and went on to remind them,
Certainly, my brothers, no one can dispute the clear fact that our present Holy Father himself, as the Supreme Teacher, is giving us, by his own witness, an example of how to live a life attuned to the values of the Gospel.
While each of us must take into consideration our adaptability to the many different circumstances and cultures in which we live and the people whom we serve, there has to be a noticeable lifestyle characterized by simplicity and holiness of life. This is a sure way to bring our people to an awareness of the truth of our message.
Which brought him to the troublesome American bishops and the preoccupation with Republican ideology.
You would think from all the culture war rhetoric America’s Catholic bishops embrace that Jesus concerned himself solely with gays, lesbians, and contraception. For example, it was reported here this past May that “the United States Council of Catholic Bishops has sent out a call to arms urging Catholics to begin concerted opposition against the gay community ahead of Supreme Court rulings.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality (or any other kind of sexuality). He never once mentioned contraception. Jesus was concerned with the coming Kingdom of God, the plight of the poor and the evils of the rich.
In his Sermon on the Mount, his single longest speaking engagement he offered blessings, condemned materialism, and warned his flock “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Most importantly from the perspective of the Religious Right with whom the American bishops seem most enamored, he warned against false prophets.
Vigano concluded by saying,
I urge you, my brothers, to preserve a spirit of real unity among yourselves and, of course, with the successor of Peter, trusting in the way he sees best to live out his mission to mankind. Unity expressed in a real, prayer-filled communion of mind and heart is the only way we will remain strong and be able to face whatever the future may hold for us.
Pope Francis I is well aware of America’s diversity and so Vigano told the bishops that, “we must take care that, for us as a Church, this diversity does not grow into division through misinterpretation or misunderstanding, and that division does not deteriorate into fragmentation.”
The Catholic News Agency reports that, “Having said this, he noted an article which claimed that America’s political polarization ‘began as Americans lost confidence in their leaders.'”
There was a warning implicit in this. Changing demographics put the conservative-mined bishops at odds with American values. This conflict is seen in their opposition to the Affordable Care Act (one bishop even compared Obama to Hitler), and Muse wrote here in February 2012 that “women have felt the wrath of Republicans who have become the legislative arm of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in their drive to maintain their exaggerated sense of supremacy by enforcing the Catholic ban on contraception on the entire country.”
It is no secret that American Catholics go their own way and are generally more socially liberal than their bishops. Despite church teachings, most Catholics use contraception (up to 98 percent of Catholic women). In Europe, people have simply stopped going to church. Here, they might go to church but they ignore an unwelcome gospel raised in defiance of the First Amendment.
A more blunt speaking Vigano might have said, “Hint, hint,” but told the gathering instead, he said, this was, “well said, since the Catholic Church will preserve her unity and strength as long as its people have trust in their bishops. The sheep will gather together as one; they recognize and listen to the voice of their shepherd who calls out to them, walks with them, and is ready to give his life for them.”
“My brothers, let us go forward, filled with zeal and fervor of divine love. Let us be confident that the Lord will give us the wisdom and strength we need for the tremendous task before us to give genuine witness to the faithful,” he concluded:
Let us embrace our people with a fatherly embrace, let us make them feel that they belong, that they are not orphans or strangers. And we should also ask ourselves today a question posed by Pope Francis to the Bishops of Brazil: ‘ … are we still a Church capable of warming hearts?’ Let our response be a firm and wholehearted: ‘Yes, we are!’
A rousing speech no doubt, such as one might hope to hear at halftime during a losing effort on a Sunday afternoon, but will the bishops listen? So far, they seem focused on ideology to the extent they think they should be deciding what American law says, unthinkingly embracing the attitude that had Americans distrustful of the Catholic Church for two centuries. Pope Francis I has shown a way forward for a Catholic Church more in tune with Jesus’ radical teachings. It remains to be seen whether or not his message has come in time to save America’s bishops from themselves.
Photo from Catholic News Agency
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.