Newsweek took their criticism of Pope Benedict XVI to the next level on Thursday- not only did guest columnist Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend affirm that the pontiff could learn from President Obama (something Newsweek and their partners at the Washington Post agreed upon back in April), but also blasted the Bishop of Rome and the Catholic hierarchy for their supposed “disdain” towards women and homosexuals.
The former lieutenant governor of Maryland began her column, titled “Without a Doubt: Why Barack Obama represents American Catholics better than the pope does,” with the context of the pope’s upcoming meeting with the American president, and how it was “much anticipated and in some circles frowned upon by American Catholics in the wake of Obama’s controversial Notre Dame commencement speech in May.” She then laid out her central thesis about these two leaders: “In truth, though, Obama’s pragmatic approach to divisive policy…and his social-justice agenda reflect the views of American Catholic laity much more closely than those vocal bishops and pro-life activists…[T]hey’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.”
Before outlining the standard heterodox American Catholic complaints about Church teaching, Kennedy-Townsend, as you might expect, laid claim to the pope’s recent social teaching encyclical: “It’s fitting that Obama’s visit comes just days after the publication of “Charity in Truth,” a Vatican encyclical that declares unions, regulation of capitalism’s excesses, and environmentalism to be ethical imperatives. The document gives moral credence to Obama’s message and to progressive politics writ large.”
While this is the standard left-wing spin of the papal document, as exemplified by AP and Reuters’ coverage of it, the Democratic politician omitted that these three issues she names are secondary to the link that Benedict XVI made between “life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that ‘a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized.” The pope would go on to condemn “the tragic and widespread scourge of abortion…the systematic eugenic programming of births….[and] practices… [which] foster a materialistic and mechanistic understanding of human life.”
Kennedy-Townsend seemed to ignore this emphasis in the document, and turned to her complaints, making it clear that she disagrees with the Pope and Catholic teaching, and not just concerning these “life issues:”
While the pope preaches love, listening to the other has been a particular stumbling block for the Catholic hierarchy (as it is for many in power). The hierarchy ignores women’s equality and gays’ cry for justice because to heed them would require that it admit error and acknowledge that the self-satisfied edifice constructed around sex and gender has been grievously wrong. Before he became John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla had a telling all-or-nothing formulation: “If it should be decided that contraception is not an evil in itself then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit is on the side of the Protestant Churches.”
That attitude has resulted in some heinous decisions. Most famously, in the lead up to the encyclical “Humanae Vitae” in 1968, an advisory body of theologians and laity empaneled by the pope advised that the church should reverse its position on birth control and concede that the issue should be a question for morality and for science. But authority—not truth, not love—prevailed: Pope Paul VI, listening to the advice of Wojtyla, disagreed with the majority of these advisers, who had voted 69 to 10 for change, fretting that to change this position would weaken his authority….
In 1979, Sister Theresa Kane, the head of the Sisters of Mercy and the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, greeted Pope John Paul II on his first visit to the United States by proposing that the Church provide “for the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of our Church,” including the priesthood. This was greeted with revulsion at the Vatican, which insists that the only people who can represent God in the priestly role are those with male sex organs.
After outlining all this, the Democrat boldly proposed that Catholic truth should determined by a majority vote, something that the pontiff (when he was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) bluntly objected to:
Yet polls bear out that American Catholics do not want to be told by the Vatican how to think. Despite the rhetoric of love and truth, the Vatican shows disdain (if not disgust) toward gays. But 54 percent of American Catholics find gay relationships to be morally acceptable, according to a 2009 Gallup poll. Meanwhile, against all scientific evidence and protestations from clergy on the ground, the pope claims that condoms aggravate the spread of AIDS. Seventy-nine percent of American Catholics disagree, according to a 2007 poll by Catholics for Choice.
When Sen. John Kerry, a pro-choice Catholic, ran for president in 2004, several bishops decided to deny him communion. A poll done at the time by Time magazine showed that 73 percent of American Catholics disagreed with that decision, and 83 percent said the bishops’ move wouldn’t change their vote. In fact, more than two thirds said the church shouldn’t try to influence the way Catholics vote at all or tell candidates—even Catholic ones—what stance to take.
For Obama, respectful disagreement and a willingness to recognize differences was the animating spirit of the presidential campaign, and it was central to his Notre Dame speech. That is the kind of politics many Catholics practice. They’re tired of watching the church grasp frantically for control at the expense of truth and love. In America last November, it showed: 54 percent of Catholics voted for Obama.
Despite her chest-thumping about how the American Catholic populace apparently disagrees with the pope and Catholic dogma, and her claiming of the recent encyclical for the “progressives,” it is clear that Kennedy-Townsend, a member of a family of notoriously heterodox Catholics, didn’t learn a valuable lesson from the papal writing. From paragraph 3 of “Caritas in Veritate:”
Only in truth does charity shine forth [emphasis in original], only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. Truth frees charity from the constraints of an emotionalism that deprives it of relational and social content, and of a fideism that deprives it of human and universal breathing-space. In the truth, charity reflects the personal yet public dimension of faith in the God of the Bible, who is both Agápe and Lógos: Charity and Truth, Love and Word.
The predictions of Paul VI concerning contraception in “Humanae Vitae,” the encyclical which the columnist condemned in her column, have been thoroughly proven to be true- “widespread use of contraceptives would lead to ‘conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality,’ and that many a man would lose respect for the woman in his life and ‘no longer [care] for her physical and psychological equilibrium’ to the point that he would consider her ‘as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion,’” as Kathryn Jean Lopez summarized them, quoting from the 1968 encyclical. More importantly, the Catholic Church, through its fidelity to its traditional teachings on human sexuality, is not merely trying to preserve its “authority,” as Kennedy-Townsend accused in her column (viewing the Church through the rose-colored lenses of left-wing political philosophy), but is motivated its vision of truth and love, those two things which she denies are the driving forces of the Church in this key area of human affairs.
It is clear that Kennedy-Townsend, and the millions of Catholics who dissent from Church teaching, will not be satisfied, nor will they tolerate the Church, until she conforms to the secular order. Now who are the intolerant ones?