Last week I posted a much-needed fisking (by my pastor, Father Richard) of a column written by Cokie Roberts (who is Catholic) and her husband Steven (who is Jewish). Well, the two of them have penned another assault on Catholicism, ominously titled "The Pope against the people," taking direct aim at our new Holy Father. Now, part of me wishes to simply ignore this vile nonsense. And if this were just another fisking, it would be best to let it go. But I want to seriously (no, really!) ponder a simple question as I look at this column: What does Cokie think Catholicism is? Put another way: Why is she Catholic?
As Father Richard pointed out so well, Cokie is typical of
liberal/progressive Catholics in that she sees
nearly everything in
terms of power, status, and politics. The very first paragraph of her
new column illustrates this perfectly: "The new pope, Benedict XVI,
faces a problem common to many secular
leaders. Can he impose a rigid worldview on unwilling followers?"
Already Cokie is off on the wrong foot. She automatically—in true knee-jerk fashion—assumes the worst of the Authority Figure and the best of the Valient Enlightened Elite who oppose him. This is, to cut to the chase, infantile and intellectually arrested. It also indicates Cokie believes that Catholicism can only exist without authority—that it will not survive unless the Authority Figure either goes away, or establishes a special board of advisors (Cokie and her friends) that tells him what to think, or simply says (as the Anglican community seems to be doing): "Everything is fair game! Do whatever you like!"
Cokie realizes that her audience may not be completely lobotomized, so she proffers this weak argument to buttress her opening salvo: "The Roman Catholic Church has never pretended to be a democracy. But it is not immune from the laws of human nature, either, so the question is still valid. Will the faithful accept a pope who stands in stern opposition to the most powerful forces sweeping the world today?" Here we go again: it's all about a power struggle between the dreaded Authority Figure and Powerful, Sweeping Forces. What exactly are these mysterious, vague forces? Cokie turns poetic in her explanation:
From the purple fingers of Baghdad to the orange scarves of Kiev, people are demanding a greater say in how they live their lives. Yet the cardinals in Rome turned in exactly the opposite direction, picking a pontiff who favors centralized authority and doctrinal obedience while condemning even the smallest whisper of dissent.
Ooh...I'm getting chills. But that's probably just the draft rushing in as reason runs for cover. We have been given a big clue about what Catholicism is for Cokie: living your life as you wish. And spitting in the face of authority (centralized!) and doctrine (demanding!) while doing so. Thus being Catholic is dissenting....from Catholicism. Of course, she doesn't see it that way. She thinks that Catholicism is an ever-changing, ever-shifting, ever-vague combination of impulses and relationships that are meant to lead man—er, people—to....what?! That's not clear yet, nor can I promise that it will be. But we plunge on, fascinated by the possibility of finding some glimmer of logic, explanation, or even compelling prose. (By the way, am I the only one who can live with the small whispers of dissent, but is sick of the angry, prolonged screams of dissent that issue from people like Cokie?) Alas, we are doomed to failure, as we crash into one of Cokie's infamous tantrums, again aimed at the Big, Bad Authority Figure:
As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict was Pope John Paul's enforcer of discipline. Now he will have total control over church offices, appointments and pronouncements. But he won't be able to control the laity, the people who fill the pews and collection plates every Sunday.
Yeah, you horrible Pope guy! Take that! You can't tell me what to do! Very well, Cokie. But your wailing and gnashing of teeth only begs the question: why, for the love of all that is good and mentally stable, are you Catholic? You have to be aware that the Church has never ordained women and has made clear she never will—yet you still think she must. You have to know that condoms will not be handed out after Mass anytime soon—yet you think the Church will die if it doesn't change it's supposedly outdated teachings about sex. You hate authority. You especially hate religious authority. And you insanely hate the earthly authority of the Church you belong to. You refuse to believe most of what the Church teaches. You talk in teenage-like spasms about the need for some sort of neo-Marxist revolt or resistance. So, again: why, why, oh why be Catholic?!
No answer, just progressive "facts" that are, in fact, not factual at all:
Start with the priests. The numbers are plummeting, particularly in the developed world. Even major Catholic institutions like Georgetown University, where many of our relatives studied, are now headed by laypeople.
You're killing us, Cokie. Do you really think Georgetown is "Catholic"? And do you really think that because more lay people are teaching at Georgetown it logically means the priesthood must be radically and completely altered? If so, how so?
But, even more importantly, why do you even care about priests or the priesthood? In all seriousness: if you deny the authority of the Church and apparently don't care a bit about Jesus Christ (since you never talk about Him, as far as I can tell), why even give a damn about the priesthood? Don't you understand that if you hate the Big, Bad Priest in the Vatican, you must hate the priesthood? Or do you fail to see the connection? (Yes, I know, it's a rhetorical question. Humor me.)
Cokie's answer, so to speak, is that of quotas and egalitarianism, true to her obsessive prism of politics:
To many progressive Catholics, one obvious answer to this problem is ordaining women and married men. The elevation of Ratzinger not only closes off those options, it closes off even the discussion of them. But the reality of the problem won't go away. The seminaries and pulpits could get even emptier.
Let's assume this is true, even though it isn't (the numbers of priests is rising and have been for several years, especially in the "undeveloped" world). So what? Put more specifically, what is ordination? Does it have anything at all to do with Jesus? The Gospel? The sacraments? Naw, are you kidding? For Cokie, I am willing to bet good money, it is about power, power, power. It is about being able to tell people to do this, do that, jump this high, don't look me in the eye, etc. At last, we are making progress, for it is apparent that if Catholicism is all about power and you hate the Authority Figure, it likely means that you secretly (or not so secretly) want to be the Feared, Powerful Boss Person.
At this point Cokie plays the "Authority Figure Hates Women and Treats Them Like Dirt" card:
The new pope's disdainful attitude toward women hardly ends with the issue of vocations. He has been a fierce foe of feminism in all its forms, saying that women were becoming "adversaries" of men, and blaming them for the rising divorce rate while letting men who abandon or abuse their wives completely off the hook.
Ratzinger has taken particular aim at feminist nuns, some of whom voiced true distress at his elevation to pontiff. Cokie attended Sacred Heart schools for 12 years and dedicated her latest book to that order because of the powerful impact those nuns had on her life. But there are hardly any American nuns left--women in this country won't give their lives to an institution that treats them as second-class citizens.
Wow, how impressive. Is this all it takes to be on television and be a Media Star? Regardless, the fact that Cokie immediately and apparently without hesitation conflates being a women with "feminism" is quite revealing. Suggesting that the Pope secretly enjoys the thought of spousal abuse is a disgusting, but not surprising, ploy. However, there is a problem—apparently Cokie doesn't actually read books. Or at least not books written by Pope Benedict XVI. For if she read, say, God and the World—which is quite accessible, even for a political pundit—she would see that the then-Cardinal Ratzinger stated:
"It is theologically and anthropologically important for woman to be at the center of Christianity. Through Mary, and the other holy women, the feminine element stand at the heart of the Christian religion. And this is not in competition with Christ. To think of Christ and Mary as being in competition means ignoring the essential distinctions between these two figures. . . . That is not a competition, but a more profound kind of intimacy. The Mother and Virgin forms an essential part of the Christian picture of man." (emphasis added)
Oops. Well, perhaps he just said that to trick all of the stupid,
silly people who don't understand Authority Figures like Cokie does. Or
(dare we consider it?), perhaps the Pope actually understands
Catholicism better than "progressive Catholics." In the meantime, do
note that those orders of nuns who are not dissenters, who wear habits,
and who are loyal to the Pope are growing by leaps and bounds, while those running around in Action Nun Wear and chirping about saving whales and being sensitive toward serial killers are not. Did you
hear that, Cokie? Cokie? Where are you? Oh, there you are:
As a cardinal, Benedict had a particularly dismal record on the issue of relations with other religions. And as a mixed religious couple--Cokie is Catholic, Steve is Jewish--who respect and embrace each other's traditions, we find this element of his theology particularly disturbing.
Really? Oddly enough, this doesn't explain why the vast majority of
religious leaders—incuding many Jewish leaders—have expressed delight
at the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Could it be that they, having
actually met Cardinal Ratzinger or being familiar with his work and
writings, know something that Cokie and Steve do not? Hard to fathom, I admit, but it bears consideration.
Well, on and on it goes. I conclude my attempt to understand Cokie's Catholicism with this final section, which is perhaps the most revealing passage in the admittedly discombobulated column (and do pay attention to the words I have highlighted):
Behind these doctrinal issues is the matter of church governance. Benedict stands for total loyalty to Vatican authority. One example: he instructed U.S. bishops to deny communion to Catholic politicians, like Sen. John Kerry, who do not share the church's condemnation of abortion and homosexuality. Another: as a cardinal, the pope purged the Rev. Charles Curran from the faculty at Catholic University because Curran refused to retract his dissenting views on sexuality.
But the new pope doesn't just oppose dissent, which he equates with "infidelity." He condemns the basic concept of individuality, the defining core of modern philosophy and social thought. In a remarkable homily on the eve of the conclave that made him pope, Cardinal Ratzinger declared: "A dictatorship of relativism is being built that recognizes nothing as definite, and which leaves as the ultimate measure one's ego and desires."
We agree strongly that the value and virtue of religion is to advance basic principles of right and wrong. But it is profoundly misguided to condemn the free expression of individual thought and action as serving only "ego and desires."
Free expression is central to the highest aspirations of the human spirit. Can a pope who does not understand that effectively guide the world's largest religion?
Ah-ha! At last, we are getting somewhere. Sadly, it's a very frightening somewhere: the Land of Unfettered Individualism, Irresponsible Expression, and Revolting Arrogance.
If "free expression" is "central to the highest aspirations of the human spirit," we are still left with some big questions: What are the highest aspirations of the human spirit? And, did you actually read the quote you gave? Cardinal Ratzinger said: "A dictatorship of relativism is being built that recognizes nothing as definite, and which leaves as the ultimate measure one's ego and desires." In other words, when man becomes the final (that's what ultimate means, y'all) measure of what is good, bad, right, wrong, or otherwise, he is in serious trouble.
Why? Because that measure can change as man wishes to change it. True freedom is the freedom to do what is right, not what I arbitrarily and self-servingly say is right. Benedict XVI is not against freedom; quite the contrary. He is against slavery that disguises itself as freedom and against "freedom" that leads to slavery. In God and the World, he states:
Freedom really finds its creative space in the realm of what is good. Love is creative; truth is creative—it is under these conditions that my eyes are truly opened, and I can recognize things for what they are. ... Freedom is lost whenever it holds that it can only assert its own will in saying No. For in that case I have exercised my freedom but have thereby at the same time distorted it.
Cokie, like so many other "progressives," think that being Catholic involves saying "No!" to authentic authority, the true priesthood, the true Church, and the Cross of Jesus Christ. Strangely, they want to be Catholic without being Catholic. They damn authority while demanding they be given authority. Make no mistake: they want power, control, and more power. They want freedom that enslaves. As our Holy Fathers stated so powerfully in the homily at his installation:
At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” The Pope was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society. The Pope was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.