Tuesday, September 24, 2013
On The Whole Interview Thing....
What follows here won't necessarily be coherent, just a few observations.
1.) When I first read the interview (still haven't read it all the way through), I won't deny my first emotions were regret and anger. It felt like we were being betrayed. It seemed like the Pope was throwing in the towel on pro-life and pro-marriage issues, and delivering a giant wet kiss to the secular left, and especially liberal bishops who will gladly tell their flocks to stop caring about pro-life activities.
2.) When I'm honest with myself, perhaps Francis has a read on things better than I realized. He warns of a "collapse" if we don't change our approach. As a traditionalist, I say forget the warnings: that collapse has arrived. Eight years ago we were banning partial birth abortions, and gay marriage was a decisive loser at the ballot box. Now we have an HHS mandate the public mostly supports (seriously, stop deluding yourselves into thinking the public doesn't support "free" contraceptives, most Catholics support them!), and legalized gay marriage in America is an inevitability. In America we chose to fight a culture war, and we've lost decisively. If anyone has an idea why, I need to listen to them, and everyone else does as well.
3.) The Pope sees the Church losing the culture because Catholic social teaching has essentially become a creed of thou shalt nots. The decline is a really complex issue with a lot of causes. Yet let's not kid ourselves, this is a big part of it. We've done a lot of great work on pro-life causes, and there's actually a chance we might start moving the needle on the abortion debate, if ever so slightly. Yet how much of Catholic social teaching do we Catholics promote, especially in America? The conservative movement (of which I am proudly a part) for the most part looks at the concept of "social justice" as "socialist justice." Why? Because for the most part, we Catholics have ceded the personal responsibliity social teaching emphasizes to the welfare state. The support networks that have flourished in Catholic culture throughout history are non-existent today. Go to the USCCB website on marriage and family. You have to do a lot of digging before you find serious treatments on the issue that everyone is just starting to pay attention to in secular culture: the collapse of the nuclear family, especially amongst Catholic circles. We can't blame the liberals for this, this breakdown has happened amongst our own.
What are the problems the nuclear family faces in America? What can Catholics do to promote the nuclear family again? How can we do that without stimagitizing people who made mistakes yet still need salvation and compassion? What policies should Catholics lobby for to take our country in a more pro-nuclear family direction? How much do lay Catholics talk about these things? Are we talking a lot about how to deal with the long-term unemployed, and the real pain and suffering associated with that? This kind of stuff is where a lot of people really are suffering right now, and the Church doesn't have creative answers to that. We need them.
4.) Whenever you talk about this stuff, we hear "oh you are just a seamless garment liberal who wants to move away from abortion." This kinda proves the whole point. It isn't that the fate of the unemployed is on the same threat level to society that abortion and gay marriage are. They aren't. Yet these views really do flow from the dignity of the person and family that we use to defend marriage and pro-life views. We don't have to water down abortion when we talk about these things. We can also use these things to bring people to the truth of the dignity of the person.
5.) We can, but in the end, we also can do the opposite. Decline is a choice. We can choose to ignore abortion and gay marriage, become "pastoral" and just become another NGO with our talking points. Or we can flesh out our views on abortion/gay marriage with several other issues. We can do this without being a Bernadin seamless garment liberal. (And maybe it's just time for the tribalism to stop already, trads/conservatives can talk about this stuff as well!) Even if the Pope said we shouldn't talk about being pro-life (and he didn't), the Pope isn't the head of a personality cult where we must do his every bidding. Yet he is the Vicar of Christ who we should listen to carefully, and be challenged by. I heard two friends lately, one a traditionalist, and another who isn't, who feel we should just stop listening to what the Bishop of Rome says because of how confusing everything is. That can lead to a very dangerous place, and I'm not ready to walk that line unless I had no choice.
6.) I'm not saying I'm a huge fan of "the interview." Personally I don't know what to think. I do wish "The Vatican" (such as it exists) would develop better message disicpline and a communications strategy. (They had to know this was going to blow up the way it did.) Yet can we develop discipline yet maintain the "shoot interview" Pope Francis is notorious for, where he breaks the stereotype and says something which, for better or worse, is truly authentic? That's going to be a tough balancing act. I have my ideas of what "I would do differently", but honestly, you can get far better ideas from every other big name commentator out there. Me, I find myself being self-critical here. I certainly don't have a better idea, so maybe, just maybe, I should listen to the Pope. I don't have to do everything how he does it, but there's a chance that maybe some of it could help me be a better witness to the Gospel. I really wish people would do that rather than jump out with "what the Pope REALLY means is X" or "the Pope is just naive and doesn't understand the reality on the ground, etc."
We will never be able to escape battles surrounding abortion, contraception and gay marriage, nor should we. Yet I really think we should be more open to criticism and self-reflection, or at least as open to it as we are to throwing out criticism and reflecting on others.