Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Robert Christian: "Can Pope Francis Help End the Culture Wars?"

Robert Christian is the editor of the Millennial blog, which is a rising voice among young-adult Catholics, and a fellow with Democrats for Life of America, where he edits and contributes to DFLA's  "Everyday Life" blog.  Today he writes at the Washington Post's "On Belief" page, on whether the re-sets in tone and priorities suggested by the Pope's recent statements could "help end the culture wars." He writes that the "commitment to all life," the unborn and those vulnerable in other ways,

is partly responsible for [Francis's] call to rebalance church teaching, to move it away from a legalistic focus on a handful of moral teachings, including abortion, at the cost of proclaiming the Gospel and welcoming new faces into the church. . . .

Pope Francis warns, “We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.” This new balance does not entail an abandonment of church teaching on abortion, but a full embrace of the moral and social teachings of the Church, and a recognition that Catholicism is about more than a political agenda or even its understanding of justice in the contemporary world.

I think Robert does an excellent job of reflecting on the priorities the Pope is reemphasizing.  It's undeniable, to me, that some of those embroiled in the culture wars have wrongly prioritized other matters over the core of the Gospel.  (Of course Christians of many theological and political stripes have done that over the centuries.)  Consider Cardinal Burke's recent interview with The Wanderer, where he states that the homosexual-rights movement is "a lie about the most fundamental aspect of our human nature, our human sexuality, which after life itself defines us."  [ADDED: HT on the Burke interview: Michael Sean Winters]  I can appreciate the importance of complementarity, but ... sexuality is right after life in defining us?  When the interviewer asked "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?," the Pope answered, "I am a sinner."  It seems Cardinal Burke might answer, "I am a male."  I understand that Galatians 3:28--in Christ "there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female"--obviously does not eliminate the relevance of sexual nature in all respects.  But I don't think Cardinal Burke's response quite reflects the prophetic content of that verse.

Before we are men and women, conservatives or liberals, we are all sinners--redeemed, we hope and pray, by grace.  Living mindful of that fact can help us treat each other with respect and charity even when we disagree, or when the other person has erred.  In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln could conclude with the call to "bind up the nation's wounds' and care for the widow and orphan"--"with malice toward none [and] charity for all"--in significant part because he had just acknowledged that both sides "read the same Bible and pray to the same God"--suggesting that the North had its role in slavery as well.

So yes, I agree, an emphasis like the Pope's on the core of the Gospel--"I am a [redeemed] sinner, serving others out of gratitude"--can help temper the culture wars.

With that said, it's crucial to remember that many people want the Church not just to reprioritize its beliefs on sexuality, but to give them up, under state pressure if that's necessary.  Catholic and other traditionalist organizations could spend massive amounts of time and money helping the poor--they do, of course--and some on the other side of the culture wars will still keep pressing to marginalize those organizations by means of regulation, the denial of tax exemption or other general government benefits, and so on.  So while, as I see it, traditionalist Christians have gotten their priorities very wrong in many instances, changing those priorities won't make the culture war go away entirely.  The other side won't abandon it.


Berg, Thomas | Permalink


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Although it is true that we are all sinners, redeemed by God's Gift of Grace and Mercy, our Salvation depends upon our accepting this Gift through Faith and Good works. Love is an action word.

Posted by: Nancy | Sep 27, 2013 12:12:07 PM

"I can appreciate the importance of complementarity, but ... sexuality is right after life in defining us? When the interviewer asked "Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?," the Pope answered, 'I am a sinner.' It seems Cardinal Burke might answer, 'I am a male.'"

I think it would be fair to say that Cardinal Burke might answer "I am a male sinner." And I think Cardinal Burke is quite accurate in saying that sexuality is right after life in defining us. Think about embryonic and genetic development. As we know from biology, from conception human life begins. For a long period after conception, genetic development of both females (XX chromosomes) and males (X and Y chromosomes) only utilizes the X chromosome in embryonic development. So in a sense we are all embryonically female until the code for the Y chromosome kicks in later - 10 to 12 weeks - in embryonic development. So yes, biologically, it is accurate to say that sexuality comes right after life in defining all of us.

As for Original Sin (I defer to any theologians) I agree that it does in a sense define us, but not in the positive ways of life and sexuality. Man might inherit Original Sin and later engage in other sins, but we are not by nature defined by sin. Adam and Eve, and the Blessed Virgin and Jesus Christ are not by nature defined by sin.

Posted by: ck | Sep 27, 2013 12:25:01 PM

With respect to the "culture wars," I think it is fair to remember that when Pope Francis is expressing that he is not a right-winger, it is in the Latin American context to which he speaks. In Latin America, it is, or was at a time, fair to say that right-wingers such as Pinochet were aligned with strict orthodoxy-orthopraxis all while oppressing and torturing the poor. It is not fair to impute what Pope Francis means by right-winger as compared to what is meant by right-winger in the States. Remember, "right-wingers" like the Wanderer were very much against wars of choice, torture, and other evils advocated by American "moderates." Right-wingers in the US are often pushed to the margins, with Latin Mass parishes often in the inner-cities, closer to the poor (this is a good thing). And we right-wingers in America have very little to no influence in American parishes that are largely dominated by liberals and people indifferent to so-called "culture war" issues, especially in rich suburban areas like where I live in CT.

Posted by: ck | Sep 27, 2013 12:31:26 PM

I think Tom has made a category mistake by attempting to contrast Cardinal Burke's comments on our human nature with Pope Francis's comments about our condition as forgiven sinners. Burke is talking about nature in the context of the question and Francis is talking about Grace. Neither Burke nor Francis would disagree with one another's comments. Furthermore, in the Burke interview, he says the the virtue of charity requires us to be loving and kind to all persons while still being truthful, which is exactly what Francis says in his interview. If you want to see the result of faulty catechesis then just go to the comments section of the Winters' article which Tom cites.

Posted by: Phil Swain | Sep 27, 2013 2:01:13 PM

Prof. Berg, I think you're misreading Cdl. Burke's comment. He says "our human sexuality, which after life itself defines us." His statement is not, I believe, "humans are defined first by life and then, second most importantly, by their sexuality." Rather, he seems to be saying that "a human being is defined by his sex even after [this] life." That is, even after the Resurrection, each person will be either male or female.

That is a far more natural interpretation of His Eminence's statement. It reads uncharacteristically awkwardly as a statement of the idea you posit in the post.

Posted by: Titus | Sep 27, 2013 2:23:20 PM

Tom, it isn't up to the 'many people(who) may want the Church not just to reprioritize its beliefs on sexuality, but to give them up' - as an attorney ...and I guess you are Catholic...you ought to understand natural laws of nature which nature's God put in place. There isn't much the Church can do except point you guys in the right direction to get help in dealing with your disorder. Other than what has already been said by the Church - ss'ers should get respect as human beings but certainly change is not in order on Her part.

Posted by: Reta Tallman | Sep 27, 2013 2:46:40 PM

Robert is half right. But when the Pope calls for balance and context, he isn't calling for balancing abortion against issues associated with the left. That is the old seamless garment idea, which is abused by some people to suggest that there is no heirarchy of truths. The Pope explicitly declared there is a heirarchy of truths. When he said moral teachings must be balanced, he didn't leave us to wonder what he wants them balanced *with*, nor that he is saying we need to balance them with health insurance and poverty programs. The Pope very clearly said he wants them balanced with the message of salvation itself, the forgiveness of sins. He didn't say anything about balancing them with other social teachings. So I think Robert is incorrect to argue in this context that "other grave injustices and threats to human life also exist, from hunger and starvation to unjust violence to inadequate healthcare. Pope Francis has consciously tried to elevate other matters of grave concern to rebalance church teaching." Nothing in the interview--the "context" of Pope Francis' comments--indicates that "other injustices" are what Pope Francis called us to balance against moral teachings. He called us to prioritize salvation itself. And nothing in the Pope's interview suggests that when one does consider moral teachings after salvation, abortion is then to be balanced and considered parallel to "inadequate healthcare." Dismembering a baby is not equivalent to someome lacking health insurance. Pope Francis wasn't even talking about that kind of balance. An "end to the culture wars" will not come from an argument that Pope Francis was not even talking about.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Sep 27, 2013 4:52:16 PM

Tom - well said. My experience at a law-and-religion conference these past few days really brought home to me the reality that "the other side" is not interested in dialogue, but only winning, and spiking the ball.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Sep 28, 2013 12:02:02 AM

The Seamless Garmet begins with the truth about the sanctity of the human person, and the sanctity of marriage and the family, from Genesis, The Beginning. The truth about the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of marriage and the family, is not reflected in "small minded rules". The pope explicity said there is a hierarchy of truths, while dismissing the hierarchy of the sanctity of life, and the sanctity of Marriage and the family, simultaneously. Thre pope's interview is what it is, an example of doublespeak. Although pope Francis did issue a strong statement about abortion after his interview, there has been no attempt to address other serious issues that pope Francis portrayed as being a reflection of small minded rules.


Our sexuality is important because we are sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers...

If we desire Salvation for those we Love, we will not be afraid to tell them the truth. Sin separates us from communion with God; through The Sacrament of Penance and The Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist, we can become restored through God's Grace and Mercy.

Posted by: Nancy | Sep 29, 2013 12:45:55 PM

Phil, you make excellent points in your comment until you come to this:"That is, even after the Resurrection, each person will be either male or female."

Of course you would remember it if you read it again, the Bible says that after resurrection there wll be 'no marrying or giving in marriage, there will be no male or female we will all be as angels'...the opposite of what you posted.

Posted by: Reta Tallman | Sep 29, 2013 2:41:11 PM

Thanks, everyone, for the good comments!

Titus and Reta: Jesus's statement in Matthew 22:30 does not say there will be no gender in heaven, only that there will be no marriage. At the same time, since Jesus says there that those in heaven will be like angels, I think the precise nature of sexuality in heaven is not entirely clear. Titus, would Cardinal Burke really be inserting a statement on that uncertain issue as the linchpin for his statement that sexuality is "the most fundamental aspect of our human nature"? I think the exact opposite from you: it is "far more natural" to read the phrase "which after life itself defines us" to be saying "sexuality is second in importance to life in defining us" than saying "sexuality continues after the Resurrection."

Phil: I don't understand the distinction you seem to be making between "our [gendered] nature" and "our [sinful] condition." If you're suggesting that recognition of our sinfulness is somehow less fundamental, I disagree. While I'm sure that Francis and Cardinal Burke would agree that both sinfulness and sexuality are important aspects of human nature, I think the more basic one, as we stand before God, is "I am a sinner, in need of grace like every other human being." That's the core of the universal Gospel--reflected in Galatians 3:28--to which the Pope is calling us.

Posted by: Tom Berg | Sep 30, 2013 12:55:57 AM

Prof. Berg,

My point was primarily that "which after life itself defines us" is simply not the natural way one would communicate the idea that your post ascribes to the comment. First, "after" is primarily a temporal expression and only in a rather loose sense a comparative term. Second, "life itself" is a rather awkward phrase to use as a description of part of human nature. This is like saying "the most important thing about humans is that they are." That's a meaningless statement, and His Eminence is not prone, in my experience, to vapidity. "Life itself" is a statement of the existence of the human person, while sex is a characteristic of that existence: attempting to use the two in a parallel construction is inherently absurd.

As for the idea that we somehow don't know whether a person retains his sex after death, or following the resurrection, this protestation is meritless. "Male and female He created them." Matrimony acts upon the souls of the spouses, see Casti connubii 7, something only possible because a person's sex is part of his nature and not merely a physical accident, see CCC 2332. What was made is not unmade at the particular judgment or at the resurrection. Simply because we do not know the full mechanics of the resurrection or the manner in which the bodies and souls of the dead will exist and be manifest in eternity does not mean we are left with doubt about the basic fact that the characteristic of sex itself will endure.

Posted by: Titus | Oct 2, 2013 10:39:44 AM

Perhaps this will help:


Posted by: Nancy | Oct 3, 2013 6:06:37 PM