In an interview with Jesuit magazine editors, Pope Francis I said it was time to restore some balance to our God talk. The Pope said for too long the Catholic Church has been very good at preaching what it is against, with too little emphasis on what it is for. Regressive Catholics had to blanche when Francis called for less rhetoric about abortion, contraception and homosexuality and a return to the central message of the gospels. (Whatever you do for the least of your brothers and sisters you do for Me.)
The Pope did not reverse any of the Church's positions on these hot button issues. He didn't plough any new theological ground. His was a call to restore some balance to a message which had been buried under a pile of judgmental and Pharasitic pronouncements about sexuality which ignored the individual person and instead made the Church appear more concerned about these issues, never mentioned in the gospels once, while ignoring the central message Jesus says he came to proclaim.
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, titular head of the Catholic Church in America, appeared on CBS to comment on the Pope's remarks. His praise for the Pope and his message was effusive and enthusiastic. The Pope was simply calling attention to Jesus' message according to Dolan. The Pope was calling Catholics to focus on the real essence of Christianity and he, Dolan, welcomes the remarks. Really?
With the selection of Popes John Paul II and Benedict the XVI, the Church has for over 30 years been trying to close the barn door, which was the Second Vatican Council, after the theology got out. The American Church became a bastion of regressive theology...bishops were picked not on charisma or lifestyle or fidelity to the message of Jesus, but rather on their adherence to orthodoxy. The Church rarely found time to talk about anything other than gays, abortion and contraception. Dolan, and his predecessor Cardinal O'Connor, presided over an American church which seemed embarrassed by Matthew 25...puzzled by stories of Jesus eating with sinners, prostitutes and tax collectors...oblivious to Jesus' insight that God wanted us to love our neighbors as ourselves, forgive with no limit, turn the other cheek and proclaim the Good News.
While the gap between the 1% and everyone else widened to Grand Canyon-like proportions...while millions of Americans found themselves in need of food stamps, unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid...while Wall Street, and the nation, lost themselves in the pursuit of more and more riches and the poverty rate increased...while this nation engaged in two immoral wars...the American church and its leaders were no where to be seen or heard.
When a Catholic Republican Congressman, Paul Ryan, proposed a budget plan for the House of Representatives which gutted funding for the poor...called for an end to Social Security and Medicare as we know it...demanded tax cuts for the 1% and increases in military spending, Dolan et.al had nothing to say. Even worse, when Catholic sisters raised their voices in protest and attacked the proposal as a repudiation of the Church's call for social justice towards the poor, not only did they receive no support from the Church hierarchy, they, and fellow women religious, were subjected to an inquisition questioning if they were somehow rogue or renegade women out of control and in need of being reigned in.
While neither of his two predecessors had a discouraging word for a nation which prized money and possessions over everything else, you couldn't shut them up when sex was the topic. American prelates were more than willing to enter the political fray over the question of women and choice. They could be counted on to condemn, hypocritically, any attempt to use contraception to plan and manage a family's shape and size. They went to war with President Obama when his new health care plan required them to make contraception available to employees in their health plans, employees working in Church public institutions. They formed political alliances with the Ryan's and the very political forces leading the charge to shred the social safety net while calling for lower taxes on the rich and corporations.
In California, the Catholic Church spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, not feeding or clothing people, but to help pass Proposition 8, which would ban same sex marriages in the state. This despite the fact no church would be obligated to participate in such marriages. Dolan and Church leaders visibly and vocally supported the Defense of Marriage Act as well as any state attempts to control or sanction homosexuality.
While willing to publicly condemn any politician, including Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo and John Kerry, who felt the matter of choice was up to individual women...felt contraception was something which should be available to all Americans...felt that what two people did in the privacy of their bedroom should not expose them to discrimination, Catholic bishops went so far as to state they would deny communion, the centerpiece of all Catholic liturgy, to these men and anyone else who agreed with them. As they tried to stop Notre Dame from inviting President Obama from speaking because of his position on choice...these same Catholic leaders refused to criticize or sanction Catholic law makers who publicly and consistently supported the death penalty, opposed increases in the minimum wage, fought against regulations for clean air and water, and pushed a military industrial complex which brought death and destruction in its wake.
The Pope now says "enough". Yes, the Catholic Church opposes abortion and thinks homosexual sexual activity is a sin. (However, the Pope recently asked how he could be expected to judge a good person striving to get closer to God who also happens to be gay?) He emphasized in the interview the strongest voices in the Church have to rise up in support of the least among us. To be a Catholic means working for justice...acting in a loving way towards others...working to improve the conditions of those most in need. Catholics must reject a culture of unregulated free-market capitalism which prizes those who die with the most "stuff". A nation as rich as America cannot have millions going to bed hungry, without adequate shelter and clothing. The Pope is calling for a restoration of balance in the Church's emphasis and message, a balance long ago lost in the name of ideological purity and Puritanism. For the Pope, a church which only engages its members when it comes to sex is a church which has totally abandoned any claim to be called followers of Christ.