Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is angry at the Holy Father and the Catholic Church. Why? Because the Holy Father continues to preach truth while confirming his brethren (Luke 22:32) and the Church founded by Jesus Christ does not feel free to change the law of God. Writing for Newsweek just prior to President Obama's meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, Ms. Townsend wrote:
"Tomorrow Pope Benedict XVI and President Barack Obama meet for the first time, an affair much anticipated and in some circles frowned upon by American Catholics in the wake of Obama's controversial Notre Dame commencement speech in May. Conservatives in the church denounced Obama's appearance as a nod by the premier Catholic university to a conciliatory politics that heralds the start of a slippery moral slope.
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.
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.
Even more intriguing is the pope's support for political activism, which he refers to in the encyclical as "the institutional path … of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly." As a member of a family that preached that politics is an honorable profession, I see that he is opening the church to roles that for too long have been neglected. Here Obama (the community organizer from Chicago) could teach the pope a lot about politics—and what a Catholic approach to politics could entail. They agree, too, on poverty and Middle East peace. So far so good on papal-presidential concordance.
But there they part ways. Politics requires the ability to listen to different points of view, to step into others' shoes. Obama might call it empathy. 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 the same vein, American bishops in the 1970s struggled to produce a paper that would address the concerns of women. After nine years of effort, they gave up. Why? According to Bishop P. Francis Murphy, bishops see themselves as "teachers, not learners: truth can not emerge through consultation." Pope Benedict, having lived in the safety and security of the Vatican for much of his professional life, is part of this culture that silences dissent. (His last job was as the enforcer of doctrine.) "
And so, because the Church founded by Christ to teach men and to bring them to salvation refuses to justify sinful contraception, homosexuality and lesbianism and will not ordain women - it cannot do so and remain faithful to Christ - Ms. Townsend would accuse Christ's Mystical Body of lacking "empathy."
In his Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, No. 46, Pope John Paul II writes, "Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life. Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends."
Ms. Townsend cares little (if at all) for truth. And especially religious truth. This is tragic. For as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us authoritatively: "Man tends by nature toward the truth. He is obliged to honor and bear witness to it: 'It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons...are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth." (2467).
Ms. Townsend, filled with rage because Pope Paul VI upheld the Church's constant and clear teaching regarding contraception in his Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae and because the current Pontiff also refuses to abandon the law of God, has no sense of history. If she did, she would know that all of the Christian churches held contraception to be gravely sinful prior to the Church of England's Lambeth Conference of 1930.
The Catholic Church doesn't roll dice or draw straws to determine what she believes. The Holy Father is not a politician, even if his office requires great political skill. He doesn't wet his finger to see which way the wind is blowing. The only "wind" he heeds is the wind of the Holy Spirit Who brings truth.
The Church is not, and never will be, a democracy Ms. Townsend. But this shouldn't trouble you for too long. Like the relativistic culture in which you live and move and have your being, your convictions will no doubt change. Like a straw being blown about by the wind, you have no roots. Your morally bankrupt culture has no roots. Which is why it is dying.
Meditation: John 15: 1-10