catholic bishops public good

Catholic Bishops Defend Public Good

on June 26, 2020

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.

In contrast, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) President Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles responded:

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.

  1. Comment by Steven Vornov on June 27, 2020 at 10:05 am

    I resigned my orders and united with the Catholic Church in 2017. Thank you for affirming my decision to leave the UMC. The majority of American UMC clergy do not care at all for Protestant traditions and will never recover the Wesleyan faith.

  2. Comment by Timothy on June 28, 2020 at 1:42 am

    The Catholic News Agency, and other news outlets, have video showing Catholic priests protecting statues in St. Louis this weekend. The priests used peaceful civil discourse to calm the violent mob. I’m sure there were body guards or security nearby just in case. Any protestant leader who wishes to oppose the raging heathen should have ample security and police cooperation before engaging in peaceful civil discourse.

  3. Comment by Donald on June 28, 2020 at 6:00 am

    Thank you for keeping us informed about the universal church’s response to this violence. Our Roman Catholic colleagues have a much better grasp of both the gospel and reality here than whoever it is that pass as ‘leaders’ in the Legacy Mainline Protestant Denominations.

  4. Comment by Ralph Lepley on June 29, 2020 at 12:41 pm

    I would like to call all Christians to joint confession, repentance & to become together instruments of God’s healing grace in our country. Fifty years ago I was serving in IV Corp in South Vietnam when I was sprayed on 13 different days with AO-Dioxin in an open top Jeep. In 1975, I learned that ALL my potential future generations had DIED in those Agent Orange sprayings. My father’s father died in Germany in WWII and my father died in Korea. My family has given ALL our generations for our country. May we as Christians do the same for OUR God and Our Country. Speak truth. ln love, to Power everyday.

  5. Comment by John Smith on June 29, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    I would say most Protestant churches cannot address the larger society or frame a cogent argument about christianity for a couple reasons.
    1) In turning from Christianity to liberalism (19th century) and social justice they are the reason for much of what is going on.
    2) They do not know what they claim to profess. A proof text here, an amusing story there and how to have a better life is the sum of modern conservative/orthodox/traditional Protestant teaching. The seminary debunks, the pulpit denies and the pews are untaught, untouched and now empty because Christianity is not preached, the sheep are not fed and the flock is scattered to fend for itself.

  6. Comment by B Smith on July 1, 2020 at 9:02 am

    No one has yet been able to support the fact that there is “systemic racism”. When you look at ALL things statistics it does not point to “systemic racism”. Is no one in the church looking at this?

  7. Comment by td on July 6, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    If this wasn’t directed at a branch of Christianity considered white in the US, these actions would be considered hate crimes.

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