November 11, 2021 Wayne Northey

Commentary on: “Gomez, painting Catholics as victims, goes after his woke oppressors”

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Nov 10, 2021

by Thomas Reese, Religion News Service

Opinion

Politics

photo above: Wikipedia

WN: I felt gobsmacked by the Archbishop’s earlier speech. More: I felt embarrassed to identify as a Christian alongside such seeming anti-Christ sentiments (though I’m not Roman Catholic). As I read that article, I kept thinking, surely he’ll pull up from the nosedive plunging him into the classic Gnostic heresy (false choice)1 of driving a wedge between heart and mind, wisdom and facts, spirit and body (“. . . a fundamental theological error,” as cited in the article highlighted below).

As to Gomez’ contention that “woke” movements are alienating Christianity/Christians, Fr. Thomas’ conclusion seems justified:

Thus, Gomez is guilty of the very attitude he puts in the mouths of others: “We are also painfully aware that our group is suffering and alienated, through no fault of our own. The cause of our unhappiness is that we are victims of oppression by other groups in society.”

The Archbishop’s theology seems sadly akin to so much of white American (and Canadian at times!–and wider afield) Evangelicalism. There are many posts about that travesty on this website. Doing church thus indeed rightly evokes the wokes in censuring such obvious betrayals of the Gospel. Please see for instance this post about arguably one of the most woke 20th-century voices: Fifty Years On: MLK’s Concerns Still Plague Us, Including Militarism.

In acknowledging the wisdom and insight of Fr. Reese, there is a sense of deep sadness that such prelates rise up to such heights through the Church’s hierarchies, and so distort the sheer liberating power of the Gospel. In Gomez, there seems little to no “Good News.” Where does that leave his flock near and afar?

As an antidote, I propose turning to this post: Gustavo Gutiérrez and the preferential option for the poor. Now that’s the Good News! One can hope and pray Archbishop Gomez may yet catch a whiff of it . . .

excerpts:

In a video speech to an international conference in Spain on Nov. 4, Archbishop José Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, attacked social justice movements, identity politics and intersectionality, as well as “wokeness” and “successor ideology,” as “pseudo-religions.”

“They provide people with an explanation for events and conditions in the world,” the archbishop told the Congress of Catholics and Public Life, meeting in Madrid. “They offer a sense of meaning, a purpose for living, and the feeling of belonging to a community.”

Abandoning the term “social justice” to those he considers enemies of religion is surprising, considering the long history of the church’s social teaching. It should be equally surprising that Gomez didn’t have anything negative to say about libertarian capitalism or rugged individualism, quintessential American heresies that have been critiqued by Catholic social teaching.

Gomez, on the other hand, believes “the best way for the Church to understand the new social justice movements is to understand them as pseudo-religions, and even replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs.”

It should be equally surprising that Gomez didn’t have anything negative to say about libertarian capitalism or rugged individualism, quintessential American heresies that have been critiqued by Catholic social teaching.

These pseudo-religions tell a story of humanity, Gomez said, in which “We cannot know where we came from, but we are aware that we have interests in common with those who share our skin color or our position in society.”

He criticizes the adherents to these movements for thinking “We are also painfully aware that our group is suffering and alienated, through no fault of our own. The cause of our unhappiness is that we are victims of oppression by other groups in society. We are liberated and find redemption through our constant struggle against our oppressors, by waging a battle for political and cultural power in the name of creating a society of equity.”

Although he makes a brief mention of George Floyd and racial and economic inequality, he quickly moves on to his critique of these new movements without saying anything positive about Black Lives Matter. Black Catholic leaders, such as Fr. Bryan Massingale, a Fordham University theologian, expressed “dismay and disbelief” at the speech.

Bishop Gomez’s remarks lift rather than lower the bridge over the moat dividing U.S. Catholics and recent movements in the U.S. seeking to build ‘a more perfect union’ with true liberty and social justice for all.— Tobias Winright, St. Louis University

Likewise, Tobias Winright of St. Louis University thought Gomez’s remarks seemed at odds with the U.S. bishops’ 2018 pastoral letter,” Open Wide Our Hearts,” which encouraged openness and dialogue with others working against racism. That document said:

To work at ending racism, we need to engage the world and encounter others — to see, maybe for the first time, those who are on the peripheries of our own limited view. We must invite into dialogue those we ordinarily would not seek out. We must work to form relationships with those we might regularly try to avoid. This demands that we go beyond ourselves, opening our minds and hearts to value and respect the experiences of those who have been harmed by the evil of racism. Love also requires us to invite a change of heart in those who may be dismissive of other’s experiences.

Lisa Fullam, professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, sees a fundamental theological error at the core of the speech.

What we get from Gomez, however, is condemnation, not dialogue.

“Rather than picking fights with potential dialogue partners and allies for social justice,” said Winright, “the truly serious threat posed by violent white nationalism should be addressed with more emphasis.”

. . . this conspiracy view of history leaves no room for the mistakes or sins of the church, which frequently were the cause of antagonism toward the church.

“Bishop Gomez’s remarks,” Winright worries, “lift rather than lower the bridge over the moat dividing U.S. Catholics and recent movements in the U.S. seeking to build ‘a more perfect union’ with true liberty and social justice for all.”

Creighton University professor Daniel DiLeo, whose research showed that American bishops have not supported the pope’s teaching on climate change, sees this speech as a sign of the wide gap separating the American bishops from the social teaching of Francis and earlier popes.

“This statement is a direct repudiation of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which Pope Francis founded to encourage collaborative work for social justice between Catholic and secular organizations,” said DiLeo. “These sentiments are inconsistent with so many magisterial documents that celebrate ‘people of goodwill’ who work alongside Catholics for social justice.”

Lisa Fullam, professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University, sees a fundamental theological error at the core of the speech.

While the archbishop believes that these social movements “deny the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature,” Fullam said, Gomez seems to forget that “In Catholic tradition, the human person is a body-soul composite, an inextricable union of body and soul.”

. . . this speech [is] a sign of the wide gap separating the American bishops from the social teaching of Francis and earlier popes.

“But bodies are inevitably particular,” she noted. “We are gendered, raced, affected by our environments, etc., in ways that inflect our souls and our spirituality as well as our bodies. To describe social justice movements that serve us in our particular incarnate reality as somehow contrary to the Gospel is simply benighted.”

This statement is a direct repudiation of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which Pope Francis founded to encourage collaborative work for social justice between Catholic and secular organizations.–Creighton University professor Daniel DiLeo.

Gomez began his speech by blaming the secularization and de-Christianization of Europe and America on the elites “in charge in corporations, governments, universities, the media, and in the cultural and professional establishments.”

While there is no doubt that some of these leaders are antagonistic toward Christianity, this conspiracy view of history leaves no room for the mistakes or sins of the church, which frequently were the cause of antagonism toward the church.

Please click on: Gomez, Painting Catholics As Victims

Footnotes
  1. Within early Christianity, the teachings of Paul and John may have been a starting point for Gnostic ideas, with a growing emphasis on the opposition between flesh and spirit, the value of charisma, and the disqualification of the Jewish law. The mortal body belonged to the world of inferior, worldly powers (the archons), and only the spirit or soul could be saved. The term gnostikos may have acquired a deeper significance here.–Wikipedia: “Gnosticism”[]

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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