Church vs. Temptation

Our civilization, and especially our country, is based on “the laws of nature and nature’s God,”—standards of right and wrong independent of earthly power—preached by the Christian churches. But clerics, including popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests have always flirted with the temptation to swap God’s laws for the rulers’ causes and prejudices. When it’s Christians versus Caesar, clerics mostly choose Caesar.

Today, a chapter in that temptation is playing out among us as America’s Catholic bishops consider how better to identify and punish some of their colleagues and the priests they supervise who have been sexually abusing adolescents, 80 percent of them boys and young men.

On November 11, 2018 under pressure from enraged parishioners, and internal resistance notwithstanding, the U.S. bishops were about to vote on some proposals better to identify and expel what, by definition, is homosexual predation. But homosexuality ranks high among the icons of progressives, robed and not. Pope Francis demanded they reconsider and wait for his guidance.

Predictably Progressive Priorities
That guidance arrived this month in the form of 3,800 words of coded generalities the point of which is: take no votes, condemn no one, especially homosexuals in the Church. Place responsibility upon the whole body of bishops, united in prayerful penance, and practice mutual forgiveness. To do otherwise, to “point fingers” at malefactors, is to define the Church as the “idol” of one of humanity’s tribes and as the servant of its mores. This would divert the Church from the overriding need to align itself with greater humanity’s greater causes—protecting the environment as well as incoming Third World migrants.

President of the U.S. bishops’ conference Archbishop Daniel Di Nardo pronounced (most of) his colleagues “not happy” with the pope’s November demand. Presumably, they were even less happy with his guidance. For them to dodge personal accountability by trying to bury the sex abuse scandal in a cloud of operationally meaningless words is to alienate themselves from their flock—which, in America, is also the Church’s sole pecuniary source. But the pope is the pope. As Mao Zedong used to say, fish begin to rot from the head.

Sex abuse, and homosexuality itself, are not the issue. We have no evidence that the pope and his party within the Church are homosexuals, never mind sex abusers. But they surely are a party in the fully political sense of the word, and leave no doubt that, for them, homosexuality, sex abuse, and even abortion are small stuff in comparison with the great issue of the Church’s alignment in our time’s socio-political struggles.

This points to the overriding issue: whether or not the Catholic Church will henceforth purvey a god of their own making that reflects the ruling class’s priorities.

A Bogus Translation and the Bigger Picture
A god of their own making? Yes, no less. We may see the size of the prize at which this party is grasping in Francis’s change in the words of the “Our Father,” the principal prayer that has defined billions of Christian lives over 2,000 years. The change, from “lead us not into temptation” to “abandon us not when in temptation” is far, far less significant than the attempt to substitute the pope’ own words for Christ’s.

The claim that this is simply a new translation is fraudulent because what Christ said is not in question. The Gospels, our only source, were written in Greek. The original texts are unchallenged. Anyone with a Greek dictionary can see that Christ’s prayer begins with the negation μὴ, moves to ἡμᾶς “us,” and then to εἰσενέγκῃς which combines the words “into” and “carry.” These are followed by πειρασμόν, which means temptation, or trial, or test. Nowhere in Christ’s words is anything like “abandon,” and “when.”

While we may argue about what God means, there can be no argument about what Christ says. Francis and friends are claiming that they know God the Father better than God the Son.

But why then the “translation” in the first place? Francis and friends argue that God the Father would not actually lead us into the Devil’s temptation. Hence, they are changing Christ’s words to fit the image of a kinder and gentler god. Tailor-making a god to fit progressive needs is what this party is all about. But why? So that, reliably, this god will bless all that progressives are and do.

Changing the meaning of words from the top is neither abstruse nor small stuff. It is the intellectual heart of the enterprise that Antonio Gramsci, the greatest of Communist theoreticians, sketched to conquer society by asserting hegemony over its concepts, retaining their form while reversing their substance.

Compared to this, sex abuse and homosexuality really are small stuff.

“Tools of the Devil”
Pope Francis has made a very big deal of dismissing concern with this small stuff. His first newsworthy remark was about homosexuality: “Who am I to judge?” This refusal extended to refusal to believe or even to consider believing that clerics belonging to his party may be sex abusers. The most embarrassing was his denial that he had ever heard of accusations by Chilean bishops against one of their own—until a photo showed him having being handed the details from an accuser.

The latest revelation of abuse going back many years concerns an Argentine protégé of the pope’s, whom he made the Vatican’s finance minister. But the most clamorous has been by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former papal ambassador to the United States, who fingered the well-known homosexual rapacity of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., and the fact that Francis had lifted the sanctions that the previous pope had placed upon him. The big deal is Francis’s reaction to the discovery of his own complicity.

Simply: Francis has refused to answer any questions about what he knew when, or to comment on any aspect of the matter. In addition he—and don’t forget that this is the pope speaking—has condemned the accusers as being tools of the devil—words that he and members of his party have also used about Italian elected officials who are barring illegal entry by migrants. And in his guidance to U.S. bishops, he characterized accusations of sexual abuse as a sin in not-so-veiled language.

Obviously, this sort of thing does not play well with the larger public, especially the American public. The pope’s chief American ally, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, defended the pope’s refusal to address accusations that he had protected sex abusers by characterizing the whole matter as “a rabbit hole”—meaning unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Obviously, the party strategy is to focus the public on its view of the grand scheme.

Perhaps if the public can be led to regard as agents of Satan global-warming deniers, migrant-excluders, and those who see homosexuality as a problem as “homophobes”—if the Church can get its followers to deplore the deplorables—then all will be well. But that is a task akin to belling the cat.

It is easy enough to see how people engaged in defeating a culture they despise would treat the public’s reaction to revelations of sexual abuse by a category allied with them and constituent of the ruling class as an obstacle to be overcome. Dangerous as well, because identifying with homosexuals, though it may endear them to the ruling class, has proved and will continue to prove debilitating for the Church as a whole, and corrosive to society.

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Photo Credit: Vatican Pool/Getty Images

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About Angelo Codevilla

Angelo M. Codevilla was a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness. He was professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of several books including To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).