The title question is frequently asked of me. It is generated by faithful Catholics who observe the miserable condition of the Catholic Church in America these days.
The majority of Americans read the headlines and see the scandals running wild in the Catholic Church today and do not even recognize the problem. That is, unless an alleged molestation of a child by a Catholic priest 40 years ago gets into the news—and then look out. The media makes darned sure that everyone understands how bad Catholic priests are. Most of the media, you know, don’t have much use for the Catholic Church or her doctrine.
This is part of the reason why believing Catholics are anxious, while most Catholics-in-name-only remain oblivious.
Everyone agrees that the priest-abuse incidents in the Church are a tragedy, but they are not any more of a source of great shame than such things as Catholic secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, stating at a Congressional hearing that she really does not know whether or not she can tell taxpayers which Obamacare insurance plans pay for abortions! Let’s be clear on this; the secretary really couldn’t care less. She is, after all, an avid abortion advocate.
William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, and a Georgetown alumnus, recently stated that aborting a child is “demonic.” His beloved university invited abortion-rights advocate Sebelius to give the commencement speech last year. Blatty is so upset by this that he has appealed to the Vatican to remove the definition of Catholic from Georgetown.
Good for Blatty, but what about the bishops?
Well, it is true enough that Kansas’ archbishop, Joseph Naumann, roundly criticized Sebelius for her support of abortion. That’s all well and good, but the truth is that only a few American Catholic bishops, including the Vatican’s Cardinal Raymond Burke, have spoken definitively on why Catholic law should be enforced by the bishops and their priests. To wit: Any Catholic in public life who advocates for abortion in any way should be denied the body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Some bishops have suggested that Sebelius impose Church law on herself, but that is a bit like telling a drunk driver to take himself to jail after an accident. Who’s kidding whom?
The Sebelius case is but one small example of the frustrations Catholics who love the Church are experiencing and wish the pope would do something about.
But Pope Francis and previous popes have laid out Catholic teachings, emphasized them, and do all they can to emphasize the clarity of such teaching.
The problem is not with the Holy Father. As a matter of fact, he just recently repeated, once again, that above all else, each of us, including priests and bishops, “must always be on guard . . . on guard against deceit, against the seduction of evil.”
Pope Francis went on to say:
Vigilance! Three criteria! Do not confuse the truth. Jesus fights the devil: First criterion. Second criterion: He who is not with Jesus is against Jesus. There are no attitudes in the middle. Third criterion: Vigilance over our hearts because the devil is astute. He is never cast out forever.
If these three criteria are lived by every person who calls himself Catholic, no offenses or scandals against Christ and the Church would ever occur.
However, these are challenging criteria, and today there are far too many who are willing to water down Catholic teaching or ignore it completely for the sake of government funds, political power, or simply to achieve the appearance of being tolerant.
The pope cannot fix that.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, wrote: “A man of conscience is one who never acquires tolerance, well-being, success, public standing, and approval on the part of prevailing opinion, at the expense of truth.”
Pope Francis is saying the same thing. The question is, who wants to hear?