Saturday, July 11, 2009

Who is More Catholic?

This is the kind of thing that can happen when you sell your soul to politics. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has written a piece reflecting on President Obama’s visit to the Vatican, pontificating (pardon the pun) on how Obama is more Catholic than the Pope.

Where, oh where, does one begin to mock such childish fawning? (And the article is full of the requisite fawning.) First of all, President Obama is not Catholic. The Pope is. Strike one. But of course she means that the President represents Catholic teaching and ideals better than the Pope does. Well, not exactly. What she means is that the President represents the polling data from American Catholics better than the Pope does.

In truth, though, Obama's pragmatic approach to divisive policy (his notion that we should acknowledge the good faith underlying opposing viewpoints) and his social-justice agenda reflect the views of American Catholic laity much more closely than those vocal bishops and pro-life activists. When Obama meets the pope tomorrow, they'll politely disagree about reproductive freedoms and homosexuality, but Catholics back home won't care, because they know Obama's on their side. In fact, Obama's agenda is closer to their views than even the pope's.

So here is the rub: when politics trumps substance, substance and truth become the results of polls. Kennedy argues in her piece that the Pope and Catholic teaching ought to conform themselves to American Catholics and their latest polling data. And may I say how intolerant and culturally insensitive that is.

Why shouldn’t the Pope conform his views to African Catholics? Asian Catholics? Why not Mexican Catholics? Why do American Catholics have pride of place?

Yet polls bear out that American Catholics do not want to be told by the Vatican how to think.

Well, Kennedy is not actually interested in the views of American Catholics. She is primarily interested with their views as they align with her own elitist views. Her article becomes more and more myopic, selfish, and bigoted the more we think it through.

What Kennedy is unable to grasp is that there are truths, even theological truths, beyond the scope of her personal preferences. There are truths about the world which refuse to conform to her polling data, or the coffee-klatch of her cocktail circuit.

The beauty of the church is, in part, that it will outlast, out-think and out-influence such parochial relativism.

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