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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Contra ambiguity: Francis, Biden, and the US bishops

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 04, 2021

There are strong indications that US President Joe Biden will have an audience with Pope Francis later this month. Biden will be in Europe for a NATO summit meeting, a United States-European Union summit, and a meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Combine this story with the offer of Cardinal Reinhard Marx (Munich) to resign because of his failure to work effectively against sexual abuse by clergy—a resignation offer combined with his praise of the German Synodal Path which seeks to change official Catholic teaching on things like homosexuality and the ordination of women.

Marx has been a key collaborator with Pope Francis, and it is not known whether his very provocative offer to resign will be accepted. So all this occurs against the background of the leadership pattern established by Pope Francis who, despite occasional remarks reaffirming the Church’s opposition to abortion and gender ideology (for example), has appeared to be steadily opening the door ever more widely to churchmen who go along with modern secular culture to the point of calling for changes in faith and morals.

Moreover, Francis has already offered what appeared to be preemptively warm greetings to Biden upon his election. Thus far this Pope appears reluctant to claim his rightful authority to instruct even world leaders in the moral obligations they incur if they identify themselves as Catholic. The logical response on our part to all this is found repeatedly in Scripture—in Psalms 13, 35, 79, 89 and Isaiah chapter 6: “How long, O Lord?” Even the follow-up questions are telling:

  • “How long, O Lord, wilt though look on?” (Ps 35)
  • “Wilt thou forget me forever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me?” (Ps 13)
  • “Wilt thou be angry forever? Will thy jealous wrath burn like fire?” (Ps 79)

And the answer given to Isaiah was bleak:

Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate, and the LORD removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains standing when it is felled. [Is 6:11-13]

This is a reminder that the faithful are put in this world at least partly to suffer and win graces for the unfaithful. A fundamental tenet of Catholicism, it is what we call the folly of the Cross.

Elimination of Catholic ambiguity

Now there is nothing whatsoever I can do about any of this except to pray, bear witness to the truth, and to become ever more faithful to Christ over time. This is a particularly propitious time for American Catholics especially to renew their daily prayers for effectively faithful papal and episcopal leadership. We must pray especially that those US Bishops who are prepared at last to follow a path of “Eucharistic coherence” will not lose their resolve. We do not know (and I would not presume to predict) what witness Pope Francis will give if he meets personally with the single Catholic on the face of the globe who is the most recognized symbol of the modern betrayal of the Faith he claims to profess. We can only recognize that a meeting between a Pope and a Catholic American President who is determined to contradict Catholic teaching is a singular opportunity for apostolic witness.

But we do know that, sooner or later, either a Catholic prelate will call such men and women to account, or Christ will do so when He comes again. For myself, I would much prefer the latter, not because I am presumptuous concerning my own salvation, but for no better reason than that I am tired of the whole mess. I am hardly alone in this, and the question we face is indeed “How long, O Lord?” In a general or universal way, of course, we also know that the full answer to this question for each one of us is “until I die or He comes”. I look to both of these circumstances with hope. But for the sake of all traitors—all who claim the name of Christ without at least struggling to accept His teachings—I pray for decisive action by popes and bishops with courage and, in the spiritual realm, with teeth

It is not a priority of any kind for Catholics to eliminate sinners from the Church; we are all sinners. Nor is it a top priority to eliminate suffering for Christ; we are all called to carry the Cross. But it is a very high priority indeed to eliminate ambiguity; for we are also called to let our yes be yes and our no be no—simply because anything else comes from the Evil One (Mt 5:37). Our Lord loved sinners but He was never ambiguous about the requirements for entering into eternal life. Nor were Peter and the other apostles.

For the Church, spiritual health means to be full of sinners who acknowledge not only their sins but even their vicious tendencies as serious problems which require both God’s mercy and God’s help. Conversely, spiritual sickness for the Church means to be full of sinners who pretend that evil is good and good is evil. The Church cannot fulfill her mission effectively if she is full of those who refuse to acknowledge their sins. It is instructive to read again what St. Paul wrote in Romans 1:18-23 about how “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth”. And if we turn back again to Isaiah, here is what he prophesied:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight! (Is 5:20-21)

In contrast, when Our Lord sent His disciples out to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, He called them to be not only as wise as serpents, but also as innocent as doves (Mt 10:16).

Clarity

We do not know what Pope Francis will do if and when he meets with the President of the United States or what the US Bishops will tend to favor in their discussion of Eucharistic coherence at their annual Fall meeting. All we have to go on is that Pope Francis has seldom significantly contradicted the suppositions and moral sensibilities of the dominant culture; his dearest writings seem to be those which rather piggyback on popular cultural ideas. And as for the US Bishops, all we can say is that they have been only very slowly progressing toward any effective Catholic coherence. But that the juxtaposition of these two events causes significant foreboding among all those who accept the moral teachings of Christ is a compelling indicator of the failure of the leadership of Pope Francis, without asserting anything about his “real intentions” in a pontificate awash in plausible deniability.

If ambiguity about Catholic faith and morals is contrary to Christ and the apostolic Tradition He inaugurated, then such ambiguity is subversive of the Church herself. There is, after all, always something fundamentally ambiguous about the wolf in sheep’s clothing, whether a president or a pope, a politician or a priest, a partisan or a parishioner.

Universal holiness is not possible even among the members of the Church, and we should be truly grateful for that. Clarity, on the other hand, is never too much to ask.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: FrHughM - Jun. 09, 2021 4:43 AM ET USA

    Great piece. Let's pray his pulling back from the brink, on German Synod, Amazon celibacy, & 'gay' blessings may be more than politics. Massimo Borghesi well grounds the claim that Pope Francis' neo-Hegelian thinking affirms that, "Catholicism [is] called to find a way of living with apparently contradictory poles in tension, without either of them being destroyed." https://tinyurl.com/mzufnn5b. Such thinking has been popular - not least from German RCs. It urgently needs to be challenged.

  • Posted by: td4207 - Jun. 05, 2021 9:42 PM ET USA

    Quo Vadis, Bishops?

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Jun. 04, 2021 6:59 PM ET USA

    "Now there is nothing whatsoever I can do about any of this except to pray, bear witness to the truth, and to become ever more faithful to Christ over time." You forgot fasting. Don't forget fasting. Mortification is how the saints obtained what they wanted from God.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Jun. 04, 2021 6:34 PM ET USA

    It seems that there is the fear of being accused of the act of judgement (especially by the Pope) which is inhibiting solidarity regarding fraternal corrections (an error, but..) If this is the case, there is an easy, potent solution: make the situation a real, hard hitting "teaching moment" by forcefully, i.e. through public statements and sermons (not homilies!) about the consequences of receiving the Eucharist in the state of sin. St. Paul in 1 Cor. 11:30 provides the basis for this approach.