Catholic bishops, thanks to their rich public theology traditions, typically speak to the wider public good more effectively than Protestants, who often struggle to relate stray Bible verses to contemporary complexities.
Few if any major Protestant leaders have addressed the mobs attacking public statues and the civilization they represent. But California’s Catholic bishops responded to the toppling of statues to Saint Junípero Serra, the 18th century Franciscan monk recently canonized by Pope Francis who founded missions in California. Vandals who attacked his statues, to the extent they know anything about him, portray him as a tool of Spanish colonialism.
Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco noted:
St. Serra made heroic sacrifices to protect the indigenous people of California from their Spanish conquerors, especially the soldiers. Even with his infirmed leg which caused him such pain, he walked all the way to Mexico City to obtain special faculties of governance from the Viceroy of Spain in order to discipline the military who were abusing the Indians. And then he walked back to California.
St. Junipero Serra also offered them the best thing he had: the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, which he and his fellow Franciscan friars did through education, health care, and training in the agrarian arts.
The California bishops said they “vigorously and wholeheartedly support a broad national coalition, especially in its peaceful dedication to eliminating racism against members of the African-American and Native American communities.” But they warned that statue removal “must discern carefully the entire contribution that the historical figure in question made to American life, especially in advancing the rights of marginalized peoples.”
They defended Serra as “not simply a man of his times” but “ahead of his times” as he “made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era.”
The bishops concluded:
“And if that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards.”
Sadly, the vandals not only lack discernment but are nihilistically hostile to civilization, whose architects snd heroes are now deconstructed according to constantly evolving contemporary standards. Christians should lead in confronting this current moment of destructive social egotism, but most are silent. At least California’s bishops have spoken.
Catholic bishops also distinguished themselves when responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Bostock ruling, which essentially claimed that male and female have no permanent legal meaning and adopted transgender ideology. Protestants mostly responded with important but self-protective concerns about religious liberty implications for churches while ignoring the wider and potentially destructive social impact.
I am deeply concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively redefined the legal meaning of ‘sex’ in our nation’s civil rights law. This is an injustice that will have implications in many areas of life.
By erasing the beautiful differences and complementary relationship between man and woman, we ignore the glory of God’s creation and harm the human family, the first building block of society. Our sex, whether we are male or female, is part of God’s plan for creation and for our lives. As Pope Francis has taught with such sensitivity, to live in the truth with God’s intended gifts in our lives requires that we receive our bodily and sexual identity with gratitude from our Creator. No one can find true happiness by pursuing a path that is contrary to God’s plan.
Every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and, without exception, must be treated with dignity, compassion, and respect. Protecting our neighbors from unjust discrimination does not require redefining human nature.
We pray that the Church, with the help of Mary, the Mother of God, will be able to continue her mission to bring Jesus Christ to every man and woman.
The Catholic rightly called the court’s revolutionary ruling an “injustice” to society. Protestants increasingly are unable to address society from any distinct Christian perspective. They instead focus on internal church teachings, or protecting the church, or address public issues superficially, thinly quoting Scripture while largely echoing secular political banalities.
Protestants in America once had a strong public social teaching based on their understanding of God’s love for all of society, not just the church. This Protestant social teaching was long central to constructing American democracy. But it has been largely set aside or forgotten. Mainline Protestantism in its death throes rejected it. Evangelicals have forgotten it.
But at least Catholic bishops are speaking, from whom Protestants can learn until they rediscover their own substantial traditions.