Meet the New Catholicism, Same as the Old Catholicism

2013-09-21 Pope Francis

The Internet was all abuzz this week with news that Pope Francis had announced bold, sweeping changes to Catholic teachings on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Except, of course, that he hadn’t. Even a little bit.

This is the second time that Pope Francis has issued statements that amount to basically restating fundamental Christian theology, and has been met with awestruck praise from the mainstream press for revolutionizing the Catholic faith. Don’t get me wrong: I’m pleased (even as a non-Catholic) that everyone seems to love the New Catholicism so much. I’m just scratching my head because it is actually the same as the Old Catholicism.

Of course that’s a bit of an exaggeration: Pope Francis’s tone is markedly different. But that doesn’t actually justify all the “did you hear what the Pope just said!?!?!” coverage that is coming out, because the secular press is just as incapable of understanding the New Catholicism as it was of understanding the Old Catholicism. It hated the one and loves the other, but it understands neither

Pope Francis has a particular style and focus, but the Gospel has not changed. It has always comprised of basically two facts. First: we are sinners in a fallen world. Second: Jesus saves. Pope Francis is teaching the same things that have been taught before. The media seems to take his emphasis on the second prong as a subtle hint that he is denigrating the first, but that’s a completely unwarranted assumption. In the original interview he stated “The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church.” If that wasn’t clear enough, he has given his strongest remarks about abortion to date in the days following the reaction to that interview. He has reiterated the fundamental Catholic doctrines about the sanctity of all human life, and the incompatibility of abortion with that doctrine.

On the optimistic side, I’d love to believe that the world at large will give new attention to what it means to be “pro-life.” It has never been a synonym for “anti-abortion”. Being pro-life is about the belief that all human life is sacred, from conception to death, and it entails not only an opposition to abortion but also the Pope’s exemplary compassion and love for everyone, including the disabled, the poor, and–yes–the sinner. (We are all sinners, after all.)

Realistically: the mainstream media is a vapid and shallow institution that relates to the Pope’s comments the way a small animal relates to a squirrel in the park: something to be excited about for a moment, but quickly forgotten. Which is a shame. If they paid more attention, they might find something life-changing about a Christianity that is a deeper than just “be nice.”

10 thoughts on “Meet the New Catholicism, Same as the Old Catholicism”

  1. First of all, in my opinion, the “new Catholicism” is not the same as the “old Catholicism; though it is claimed that “doctrine” and “dogma” have not changed. In fact, they have in the minds of the “new” Catholics, and some of the priests and bishops. And I’m concerned that the statements by Pope Francis concerning the “excessive” focus of the Church on things like “murder–I mean abortion”, homosexuality–I mean the destruction of moral standards around the world, making everything and anything acceptable; as long as one can justify within one’s own mind and conscience; and the question by the Pope of: “Who am I to judge”? That concerns me just a bit…. He’s the Pope for God’s sake! If he feels that he has no right to judge sinful behavior, who does? I think that severe damage has been done; and like the poor frog in the slowly heating water; it will be too late when the proverbial crap hits the fan…. Inclusiveness is a good thing as long as one doesn’t sacrifice truth in the process. Many many Christians were slaughtered (and still are) for the truth of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Faith; guts ripped out and spilled on the ground, women raped, children maimed, and worse. Christianity is really not an “inclusive” business; unless you are willing to accept non-acceptance…..a tough nut to crack, no doubt. I can already hear the liberal minded priests, bishops, and nuns “praising” this seemingly new direction of the church. Fly you fools! Fly!

  2. Mike: last time I checked, only God can judge. I understand the Pope’s role in the church, but he makes an excellent point. It’s not out place to judge, and also condemn.

    I understand the feelings about abortion and homosexuality, even though I disagree to the fullest, but it is not your place, nor Pope Francis’s to judge them, nor any sinner.

    I went to Catholic high school, and one of the most important things I learned there from our priest was the power of being nonjudgmental and forgiveness. Everyone is a sinner. And that’s his point. I’m surprised you didn’t get that.

    And as for homosexuality being the destruction of morality around the world, is rather owe they one to violence against women, children, and men, rape, and selfishness. But certainly not to two people in a committed relationship that is different than yours or mine that has no difference on us.

  3. So let me understand. The pope says, “Who am I to judge.” More importantly, Jesus says, “Judge not, or you will be judged.” (Matthew 7) And you still ask — so then who does have the right to judge sinful behavior. You talk about sacrificing truth, but isn’t the truth about not judging others as plain as it can be made? Yet it sounds as though you have a problem with that. Am I more or less accurate in summarizing your views?

  4. Pope Francis did not claim that he couldn’t judge sinful behavior. What he said is that he doesn’t have the knowledge or the right to judge the state of someone’s soul in God’s eyes. Only God can do that.

  5. I think it is also worth pointing out that there is major difference between judging an action as immoral, wrong, or sinful and passing a kind of final judgment on individuals. People have a tendency to conflate the two. Given the setting of this teaching (i.e. Sermon on the *Mount*), there are allusions to the temple:

    “Judging (krinō) is a common theme of the Temple, particularly divine judgment. As one encounters often in the Old Testament, but most elaborately in the Psalms, God is rightfully the sole judge of the world: “The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness” (Psalms 7:8; 35:24). “God is a righteous judge” (Psalms 7:11; see also 9:8). In his appearance, he “has made himself known, he has executed judgment” (Psalms 9:16; see also Psalms 9:8, 19; 10:5; 50:4, 6; 58:1, 11; 72:1–2; 82:8; 96:13; 98:9; 103:6), which brings joy to his people and the whole earth (Psalms 67:4; 96:12–13). For this reason alone, one should not judge, for that is God’s role. Especially in a temple-centered world view, God is the rightful and righteous judge of all mankind. Any other forms of judgment are likely flawed and presumptuous. Moreover, it is thoroughly understood in the Psalms that the Temple is the premier place where God’s righteous judgment is found. There God dispenses judgment, seated on his throne or mercy seat: “Thou hast sat on the throne giving righteous judgment” (Psalms 9:4); “righteousness and justice are the foundation of thy throne” (Psalms 89:14; 97:2). The judgments of the Temple are both personal (Psalms 7:8) and cosmic.” (John Welch, ‘The Sermon on the Mount in Light of the Temple’. Ashgate, 2009, 165)

    The entire sermon consists of ethics, which obviously requires proper judgment. Not sitting in God’s role as judge, declaring the state of individuals, is the point.

  6. Hello again. And just to be clear, I knew when I began my response that I should just keep my big mouth shut; but I just could not resist…. :-0

    I’d like to direct your attention to what I wrote concerning Pope Francis and “judging”…. “If he feels that he has no right to judge sinful behavior, who does?” Note that I am referring to judging of “SINFUL BEHAVIOR”; not the sinners. We are all called as Christians to judge sinful behavior and to address that sinful behavior in accordance with our capacity to have an effect upon it. We are not to slip it under the rug, out of view; in the name of love. Remember that saying “tough love”? And by the way, I like what I see in Pope Francis and am not in any way passing judgment upon him. I’m just very concerned that the liberal faction/s within (or without?) the Church are going to misinterpret what the Pope is saying and run with ever more gusto in the wrong direction; all in the name of love.

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