William Kilpatrick is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His books include Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press), What Catholics Need to Know About Islam (Sophia Press), and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad.
Jesus wants you to be vaccinated. That was the message of a talk given by New York Governor Kathy Hochul at the Brooklyn Christian Cultural Center on September 26th. For example:
Jesus taught us to love one another and how do you show that love but to care about each other enough to say, please get the vaccine…
“Please get the vaccine”? That makes it sound voluntary. But on the day after her talk, Hochul’s mandate requiring all New York health care workers to be vaccinated went into effect. As a result, hundreds and possibly thousands of unvaccinated health professionals now face suspension and even job loss. Ironically, the “church lady’s” mandate makes no allowance for a religious exemption. Thus, no one is permitted to argue that “Jesus wants me to remain unvaccinated.” Apparently, only the Governor gets to decide what Jesus wants.
Governor Hochul is representative of a breed of progressive Catholic politicians who now exert considerable control over the American populace. Joe Biden, who was sold to the Catholic electorate as a “devout Catholic,” is the prime example. He is imposing vaccine or testing requirements on federal workers and large employers that could affect as many as 100 million Americans.
Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi, the “Nurse Ratchet” of the House, has ratcheted-up the punishment for non-compliant employers. She has added a vaccine compliance mechanism into the House “reconciliation” bill that could allow for fines as large as $700,000.
When it comes to the vaccine, liberal Catholics can get quite moralistic. Governor Hochul told her church audience that the vaccine is a gift from God, and that the unvaxxed “aren’t listening to God and what God wants.” “You know who they are,” she added.
Hmm, sounds rather coercive. The push to get everyone vaccinated unintentionally exposes a glaring inconsistency in the liberal Catholic politicians’ approach to different issues. On the one hand, they are pro-choice on the issue of abortion. On the other hand, they don’t want you to have a choice about taking the vaccine. Kathy Hochul, for example, wants to mandate the “jab,” but at the same time she is a staunch supporter of a woman’s right to choose abortion. Indeed, she recently sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to censor pro-life messages on Facebook. Yet she berates people who choose not to be vaccinated for not “listening to God.”
Since Hochul claims to keep in close contact with the Almighty, it’s a shame that someone in the audience didn’t ask her about God’s opinion on politicians who promote abortion. Is God okay with pro-choice politicians? And if He’s not, why isn’t Kathy Hochul listening to what God wants?
It’s all very confusing– particularly for Catholics. The Gospel preached by Hochul, Pelosi, and Biden doesn’t seem to be in alignment with Catholic teaching. But, then, most Catholics these days aren’t quite sure what the Church teaches. They know it has something to do with Jesus Christ, but mainly it seems to be about providing social services, tolerating all belief systems, feeling good about oneself, and condemning the evils of racism.
To make things even more confusing, progressive-minded Catholics, such as Biden, can claim to have at least the tacit backing of the Catholic-in-Chief in Rome. On all the main issues of the day–from climate change to open borders—Pope Francis lines up with progressive Democrats in Washington.
The one exception is the issue of abortion. Francis acknowledges that abortion is “homicide.” “The Church is so tough on this issue,” he said recently, “because…if she accepts this, it would be like accepting daily murder.”
Yet, other than verbally condemning abortion, the Church has not been particularly tough on the issue. Pro-choice politicians face no real consequences. In fact, Francis has made it quite clear that the bishops should not deny communion to Catholic lawmakers who promote pro-abortion legislation. Catholics as well as non-Catholics understandably interpret this lack of action to mean that abortion is not a high-priority issue for Pope Francis. And if it’s not high priority for him, why should it be high priority for them?
Francis has insisted that bishops must only use the “pastoral” approach when dealing with pro-choice politicians—otherwise they have taken a “political stance.” Coming from one of the most political popes in history it’s a strange argument. Like many other issues, abortion is both a political issue and a moral/spiritual issue. Should bishops refrain from taking a public stance on all such issues? When Joseph Rummel, the Archbishop of New Orleans, publicly excommunicated three local political figures in 1962 for their flagrant opposition to the desegregation of New Orleans Catholic Schools was he being political? Should he have merely spoken privately to the three? Or did he have a duty to demonstrate by his actions that racism is a grave sin with grave consequences?
Of course, a distinction should be made between pro-abortion politicians and women who have abortions. It’s entirely reasonable to use a pastoral approach when dealing with a woman who is contemplating an abortion or has had one. When Jesus spoke with ordinary sinners, he did not condemn them, he forgave them. On the other hand, when he encountered religious authorities who oppressed the people, he could be quite condemnatory. In particular, he condemned some of the scribes and pharisees for misleading people. They were “blind guides” who hindered people from entering heaven. They were like “unseen graves” into which men fell unawares. When dealing with wolves, the good shepherd could be decidedly unpastoral.
But Francis seems to think that the pastoral approach is appropriate for all situations. He assumes that, like charity, “pastorality” covers a multitude of sins. But in practice, pastorality often turns out to be more like tolerant passivity than like charity.
The LGBT lifestyle? It’s not pastoral to make judgments. Muslim persecution of Christians and other minorities? If you call attention to it, you will undermine the Church’s pastoral outreach to Muslims. Millions of unassimilated migrants on the borders of Europe and the U.S? The Church will make them to lie down in other people’s green pastures along with their AK-47s and child brides, and all will be well. As Joseph Strickland, the bishop of Tyler, Texas recently observed, a false sense of mercy can lead clergy to be overly “pastoral” and, thus, overly lenient about serious matters.
And there’s another problem. The world “pastoral” comes from the Latin pastor, which means “shepherd.” And there is a temptation for bishops—the shepherds—to look at the faithful simply as sheep to be herded around. Bishops often speak of the dignity of the individual, but to reduce people to the level of sheep relieves them of their individual responsibility and thus serves to diminish their dignity.
The danger is that, in over-emphasizing the pastoral, Church leaders will begin to think of their flock in the same way that communist and socialist states think of their subjects. In such societies, individuals are thought to be incapable of ordering their lives, so the state must do it for them. In this view, society must be ordered according to a master plan that only the elites are capable of drafting. The state will even provide itself as a substitute for religion. It will instruct the masses on the meaning of life, and furnish them with religious-like rituals, and semi-divine leaders.
In modern times, tyrannical states almost always dress themselves up in religious trappings. What’s new for our times is that religions are acting more and more like branches of the state. Instead of maintaining a separation of church and state, some religious leaders seem to prefer a union of the two.
Pope Francis is a prime example. He is a great fan of the UN, and one gets the impression from many of his statements that he believes that the world would be a better place if it moved in the direction of a one-world government modelled on the UN. For the time being, however, various progressive and socialist governments can serve as models. With few exceptions, his own policies mirror the policies of liberal secular states. Whether the issue is climate change, poverty, borders, or economics, his policies bear a remarkable similarity to those of the ruling socialist parties in Canada, America and Europe.
More disturbing, Francis seems to have a partiality toward communist China. Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who Francis appointed as Chancellor of both the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, declared in 2018 that “those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.”
“Social doctrine of the Church”? Would that include the persecution of Catholics in the “underground Church”—that is, the authentic Catholic Church in China? Does it include the intense pressure tactics, such as house arrest and starvation, used to force Catholic clergy into joining the communist-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association? Does it refer to the mass internment of Uighur Muslims in Orwellian “reeducation” camps?
It’s not as though the Vatican doesn’t know about these abuses. Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong accused Pope Francis of selling out the underground Church in a secret agreement that allowed the legitimate underground Church bishops to be replaced by government-chosen bishops. At the same time, Francis urged Chinese Christians to be “good citizens” and to avoid “proselytism.”
It’s widely believed that the Vatican’s cooperation with the Chinese government has to do with the payment of hush money. According to Chinese dissident Guo Wengu, the Chinese Communist Party allocates up to two billion dollars a year as an incentive for the Vatican to keep quiet about human rights abuse in China. Guo claims that, in addition to buying influence, China’s global expansionist policy also involves sexual seduction. One thinks immediately of Hunter Biden and Eric Swalwell, but it’s not unthinkable that some of Rome’s wayward clergy could easily be entrapped and blackmailed—another reason for the Vatican to overlook Chinese abuses.
The main question for us is this: is it possible for a rival Catholic Church to substitute itself for the real Catholic Church in America as is now happening in China? And if so, what would that faux Church look like?
It seems as though a parallel Catholic Church has already developed in America alongside the real one. A sizable number of Catholics no longer agree with Church doctrine on the real presence, hell, marriage, divorce, abortion, homosexual unions, and various other teachings. Yet most of them are quite sure that they are good Catholics because, increasingly, a good Christian is thought to be tolerant, non-judgmental, and anti-racist, and also pro-open borders, pro-environment, and pro-liberal social programs.
Progressive Catholic politicians such as Andrew Cuomo, Kathy Hochul, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden reinforce this view of what the thoroughly modern Catholic should think and do. And the fact that they suffer no consequences from Church leaders suggest that their brand of Catholicism may well be the wave of the future.
What would such a Church look like? On the surface, it might at first appear to be a permissive Church—the “Church of Anything Goes.” Yet, eventually, it will turn out to be a very controlling establishment, not unlike the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
Consider the advice of Pope Francis to Chinese Catholics: be “good citizens.” If you believe that God works mainly through the government, that makes sense. When confronted with a difficult decision, evangelical Christians often ask: “What would Jesus do?” Well, the progressive Catholic answer to that question is: “Jesus wants you to do what the government wants you to do.” In their eyes, being good has less to do with what the Bible says, and more to do with being a good citizen. Increasingly, however, “being a good citizen” has come to mean being obedient to the dictates of the state.
Take this statement by Pope Francis:
I believe that ethically everyone must take the vaccine. It is the ethical choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others. I do not understand why some say that this could be a dangerous vaccine. If the doctors are presenting this to you as a thing that will go well and doesn’t have any special dangers, why not take it? …people must take the vaccine.
Notice that Francis makes no reference to God but is quite willing to accept the advice of public health authorities—no questions asked. As evidenced by his recent initiatives—such as the document on “Human Fraternity”—Francis seems to be hoping for an eventual one-world religion which would be based more on secular “humanistic” principles than on divine ones.
Still, progressive Catholics have not yet entirely excluded Jesus from the picture. As Governor Hochul has suggested, Jesus wants us to get the vaccine. Undoubtedly, Hochul has a long list of things that Jesus wants us to do. The thing to remember ‘though is that in the minds of Hochul and other liberal Catholics, Jesus is not just our brother. He can also be usefully employed as our Big Brother.