Vivamus molestie gravida turpis
“While the world changes,
the cross stands firm.”
- St. Bruno
Imagine you lived in a dicey neighborhood, near a homeless shelter. I do. It’s a little unsettling late at night when I walk my dogs. Periodically, people who are clearly both mentally ill and self-medicating with illegal drugs approach me. Sometimes they’re muttering harmlessly. Occasionally, they’re menacing. I’ve learned to walk away quickly and briskly, and make my way to safety.
I know of a neighbor (call him “Jim”) who was walking his little pug, and encountered an enormous, morbidly obese man known for violent outbursts. The homeless man demanded money, which Jim didn’t have. So he attacked both Jim and his little pug. He beat them bloody. I found all this out when I saw Jim limping around with a cane, walking a heavily bandaged dog. He told me what had happened, and I wondered whether I ought to either a) move or b) get trained and certified for concealed carry.
Imagine if I went to my pastor with this, and he told me that instead I needed to do something very different. What if he’d said that as a Christian I had the duty to invite dangerous homeless people into my apartment? Regardless of the threat to my own safety. Or that of my beloved rescue beagles. Or of my elderly neighbors down the hall. Make it worse, and imagine that I had a wife and children of my own. But the pastor still said that the Gospel demanded I keep an open door to the homeless. That my concern for my own safety and my dependents’ and neighbors’ could not be an issue. Not if I were really a Christian.
Twist the knife one more time. Imagine that the pastor tried to impose this view on non-Christians, too. Imagine that he lobbied to change the laws so that unstable homeless people could come and go in citizens’ homes whenever they pleased. What if he said something like: “Someone who locks his door against the needy out of fear, this person is not a Christian?”
Does Christianity really teach that nations may not protect their own citizens first? The citizens whom it taxes? Drafts into wars?
I’m sure you’ve figured it out by now. I’ve just laid out the position that Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops have taken on immigration. Pope Francis just made a major public statement on the subject. His target was not just Americans concerned about migration from crime-riddled societies like Mexico. The pope also spoke to Europeans deeply worried by millions of intolerant, unassimilable Muslims who seem likely to enter Europe in the next few years, despite the wave of terrorism that came with the last wave.
As Nicole Winfield of Religion News Service writes, Pope Francis
demanded a simplified process of granting humanitarian and temporary visas and rejected arbitrary and collective expulsions as “unsuitable.” He said the principle of ensuring each person’s dignity “obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security.”
Francis has made refugees a priority of his pontificate, making his first trip outside Rome in 2013 to the island of Lampedusa, ground zero in Europe’s migration crisis.
Stream readers will remember that on his visit to Lampedusa, Pope Francis compared opponents of mass immigration to Herod, murdering the infants of Bethlehem, and Cain killing Abel. Now he is saying that Norway, for instance, must put the safety of newcomers from Syria who claim that they were in danger over the safety of its own citizens. That the U.S. must do that for self-proclaimed “refugees” from Central America. Indeed, the U.S. bishops followed up Pope Francis’ statement by saying just that, denouncing President Trump’s decision to end a mass influx via the Central American Minors program created by Obama.
I won’t call what Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops are promoting Catholic “teaching” because it isn’t. The pope has no authority to just make a speech and change what the Church has taught for centuries. He’s not an oracle.
Unless he invokes (as no pope has since 1950) the divine protection from heresy that Catholics believe Jesus promised St. Peter and his successors, what he says is not protected from error.
When popes and bishops talk about politics, they’re not even supposed to rely primarily on church traditions. Or even the bible. It would violate the religious freedom of non-Christians to make coercive laws based on Revelation
It gets worse when what one pope says contradicts what previous popes, councils, or official catechisms said on the same subject. When a pope flips over a centuries-old tradition you can be sure he’s on his own. That’s what happened on immigration. Pope Francis just contradicted the official Catechism of the Catholic church, a higher authority than his own, except in very rare circumstances. (That, is when a pope invokes infallibility, which no pope has since 1950.)
At times like these, the authority the pope speaks with is that of his intellect and knowledge. Should you trust it? It depends on his track record. To say any more than that is not Catholic doctrine. It’s rank superstition.
When popes and bishops talk publicly about politics, they’re not supposed to rely primarily on Church authority. Or even the Bible. It would violate the religious freedom of non-Christians to make coercive laws based on revelation that we accept and they don’t. Nope, when we talk about politics in a pluralist society, it’s our job to make all our arguments based on the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” You know, the way the Declaration of Independence does. For a careful account of what Catholic social teaching is and isn’t, see this column.
Read Catholic scholar (and Stream contributor) Samuel Gregg on the deep moral meaning of national sovereignty. He points out that in our globalized world, it’s the last line of defense for human dignity and freedom. Take it away or make it meaningless, and each of us is a lonely and helpless atom with no vote, no voice, and no recourse.
Does Christianity really teach that nations may not protect their own citizens first? The citizens whom it taxes? Drafts into wars? Whom it regulates, relies on, and when they violate laws, imprisons? By the very same logic, we shouldn’t look out for own children before we do total strangers. If that’s true, then it’s wrong to set aside college funds, vacation money, or cash for piano lessons for our own flesh and blood — not when anyone, anywhere is hungry somewhere on earth.
Likewise, on this logic, nations that have followed smart economic policies and inherited healthy political cultures may not protect what they have, while wishing others well and offering help as it seems prudent. Nope. We must open up our apartments to every mental patient, no matter the damage they do. However much terrorism the influx of Muslims brings into Europe, that’s the cross we must bear. And we must impose it even on our non-Christian neighbors. Because the pope said so.
This is the kind of misreading of the Gospel that the Gnostics used to produce in the early Church. You know, the same people who demanded that every Christian be dirt-poor and celibate, or else they betrayed “the Gospel.” It’s bad enough to impose such notions on Christians. To use the force of the state to demand of it of every citizen is even worse.
Vivamus molestie gravida turpis