There’s an old saying that goes something like, “Everyone has two businesses, his own and show business.” I think something similar could be said about the Catholic Church. Everyone who cares about Christianity — perhaps everyone who cares about western religion at all — feels he has a stake in it. A Catholic would say this is because his is the one true church, but it’s probably just because for so many centuries the history of the Catholic Church and the history of the west were fully intertwined.
In any case, when someone wants to talk about Christianity as oppressive or backward, they immediately begin a learned discussion about how the pope killed and devoured Galileo. If a screenwriter needs a character to battle the devil, he brings in a Catholic priest. (If you just want to make the devil laugh, you call an Episcopalian.) And when a new pope is chosen, everyone seems to take an interest and everyone seems to have an opinion. This remains true even if the person with an opinion doesn’t know a single thing about the Catholic Church or religion or history or anything — by which I mean, he’s an American journalist.
I was in L.A. when the announcement was made — which is to say I was stuck in my car listening to the whole thing on the radio. And the coverage by our friends in the media was genuinely hilarious — really laugh-out-loud, wipe-your-eyes funny. The going theory seemed to be that there had been some sort of tension in the conclave between choosing a new pope who would adhere to the 2,000-year-old teachings of Catholicism or choosing one who would lighten up and finally begin to accept the deeper truth of the journalist’s trendy opinions. To the media, it was clearly a disappointing surprise when church doctrine won out.
6. Modernization. Majorities of Catholics in the United States have said in surveys that they want the pope to lead the church in a more liberal direction. A New York Times/CBS News poll of Catholics last week found that six in 10 support gay marriage, and seven in 10 want the church to allow birth control. Three-quarters supported abortion in at least some circumstances. In Argentina, then-Cardinal Bergoglio clashed with the president over a 2010 law allowing gay marriage. “It is a move by the father of lies to confuse and deceive the children of God,” he said.
Here’s my “To Do List,” for NBC.com:
1. Get a Clue. Guess whose job it isn’t to bring the church in line with public opinion? If you answered, “The Pope,” you are correct. Knuckleheads.
Much more on the next page.