Nicholas Kristoff in an editorial entitled "Who Can Mock This Church" does just that - he mocks the Catholic Church. While I am always happy to see the little ones who serve so faithfully in the Body of Christ called into the public eye by any commentator, woven throughout this backhanded compliment are derogatory caricatures of Catholicism. His true intent needs to be exposed. He continues the anti-Catholic agenda of the New York Times.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On May 1, 2010, Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times, Nicholas D. Kristof, penned another opinion piece on the Catholic Church. It was entitled "Who Can Mock This Church?" Ostensibly, he wanted to call attention to some of the wonderful faithful Catholics serving selflessly in the world. Writing from Sudan where he met some of the many such servants of the Lord, he purported to be responding to his own rhetorical question. In fact, his editorial mocks the Church.
Was it irony? Was it ignorance? I propose it was something more. It was a "backhanded compliment". It was also an example of subtle Anti-Catholicism, the kind that is sometimes even more dangerous than the run of the mill kind which the New York Times now regularly spews forth.
A "backhanded compliment" comes disguised as a compliment but is actually a way of expressing disdain or demonstrating condescension. We are all aware of the more obvious kind of such verbal darts: "That dress is lovely; it does wonders for your figure", "You're smarter than you look", "You drive very well, for a woman". . Kristoff began his editorial with these words: "Maybe the Catholic Church should be turned upside down. Jesus wasn't known for pontificating from palaces, covering up scandals, or issuing Paleolithic edicts on social issues. Does anyone think he would have protected clergymen who raped children?"
It's like asking your colleague at work in front of the entire staff, "When did you stop beating your wife?" Even though the poor fellow never laid a hand on her and loves her deeply - no matter how he answers he is destined to have his reputation and standing in the community impugned. In fact, the question is designed to do just that! So was this awful introduction, written for the whole world to read!
He continues: "Yet if the top of the church has strayed from its roots, (It hasn't) much of its base is still deeply inspiring. I came here to impoverished southern Sudan to write about Sudanese problems, not the Catholic Church's. Yet once again, I am awed that so many of the selfless people serving the world's neediest are lowly nuns and priests - notable not for the grandeur of their vestments but for the grandness of their compassion. As I've noted before, there seem to be two Catholic Churches, the old boys' club of the Vatican and the grass-roots network of humble priests, nuns and laity in places like Sudan."
He is using his words as weapons. He appears intent on turning the faithful of the Church against her. He also seeks to denigrate the Church in the eyes of the world. He contrasts the vestments of those who serve at the Liturgy (by the way Mr. Kristoff, every priest wears vestments including those who work directly with the poor) with compassion. Some of the most compassionate ordained members of the Church I know also have some of the most beautiful vestments. The two are actually connected.
These Bishops, Priests, and Deacons love the Lord Jesus Christ and honor him in many ways; by recognizing Him in the face of the poor and by dressing in a manner which befits worship of the only true and eternal King of Kings and Lord of Lords when they serve at the Altar. This dig at Church vestments is one of the oldest slurs used by anti-Catholics.
It's just another version of the biblical story of the disciples who rebuked the woman who poured expensive perfume on the Lord at the house of Simon the Leper because the money could have been sold and given to the poor. (Matt. 26:7) One of the leading voices of objection was a man named Judas. Even St. John Vianney, the poor Cure d' Ars, and the Little Poor Man of Assisi, St. Francis insisted on proper vestments to honor the Lord at the Altar.
Kristof's suggestion that the Church be "turned upside down" reveals his true intent. He views the Church through a power matrix as some sort of corporation with misguided CEO's at the top. He wants to restructure it. However, the Church is a communion of all who have been baptized into Christ and are joined in Him with one another - for the sake of the world. This caricature of top down/oppressive institutionalism is an old canard of anti-Catholicism.
It also strikes at the heart of what Catholics believe about the purpose of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. We believe the Lord came to establish the Church, founding it upon His Apostles. The Church is His Body. He structured it. He continues His redemptive work through the Church until He returns. The Church is not some-thing- an organization which we made up and can refashion as we see fit. Rather, it is "Some-One", the Same One who was raised from the Dead and is with us now in his Body until he returns.
The Church is the "new world" and is meant to become the home of the whole human race. The Church is the seed of the kingdom to come. The Church is sacramentally present in the world, mediating the continued grace of Her head for all who hunger to be set free from sin and death.
While I am always happy to see the little ones who serve so faithfully in the Body of Christ called into the public eye by any commentator, woven throughout this backhanded compliment are derogatory caricatures of Catholicism. Here some more examples: "Paleolithic edicts on social issues..." Read, Mr. Kristof does not agree with the Catholic Church's unwavering and uncompromising positions on life, marriage, family, freedom, human sexuality, ....and her insistence on the existence of objective truths to guide human behavior which can beknown by reason and are revealed in the Natural Law.
Yet, it is the position the Church holds on the dignity of all human life, including the child in the womb, which puts her at the forefront of caring for all the poor. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta reminded us that children in the womb are the "poorest of the poor". This is not "paleolithic" but prophetic. This author simply does not like the Catholic Church. He tries to hide his disdain for her structure and teachings by pointing out the heroes. However, they exist precisely because of what the Church teaches.
After telling us that those "at the top" have "strayed from their roots" he tells us "Sister Cathy would like to see more decentralization in the church, a greater role for women, and more emphasis on public service. She says she worries sometimes that if Jesus returned he would say, "Oh, they got it all wrong!"...She would make a great pope, too."It's because of brave souls like these that I honor the Catholic Church. I understand why many Americans disdain a church whose leaders are linked to cover-ups and antediluvian stances on women, gays and condoms - but the Catholic Church is far larger than the Vatican."
The Church "at the top" has NOT strayed from its roots. In fact, one of the Pope's titles is "servant of the servants of God". His witness, words and example are inspiring and humble. The "Vatican" Kristof derides refers to the "magisterium", the teaching office of the Church; the Pope and the Bishops in union with Him. For the faithful Catholic, they are a gift, an answer to the promise of the Lord that He would not leave us orphans!
The writer should come clean; he does not like the Pope. Efforts to attach the Pope personally to the egregious sin and evil committed by some clergy are not new and will not succeed. The Pope is the successor of Peter, and a gift from the Lord for those who can receive him. He is not some CEO in some power matrix as this kind of loaded language portrays.
Sister Cathy's alleged longing for "decentralization" may actually depict her poor grasp of "ecclesiology", the area of theology concerning the nature of the Church. The Church is not, in the first instance, organizational; it is organic. It is the Body of Christ. It is Christ who established its structure and Christ who continues His redemptive mission through her.
Sister Cathy will never be Pope because she has a unique and important role, as Mother Teresa so clearly demonstrated, as a member of the Body placed in a particular relationship of love. Her role is irreplaceable. Mary, the Mother of the Lord, was not Pope. Clearly, no-one among the sons and daughters of Adam has ever played a more significant role. Mr. Kristof should read St. Paul's wonderful instruction on the structure of the Body of Christ and the importance of every member in the twelfth chapter of his first Letter to the Christians in Corinth.
His use of one particular phrase at the end of this back handed compliment is particularly offensive. He writes that the Church has "antediluvian stances on women, gays and condoms." The disparaging term antediluvian means "before the flood". He is using the word to demean the stances of the Catholic Church on such vital truths like the dignity of women; the dignity of human sexuality as properly reserved for the total gift of conjugal love between a man and wife in the marital embrace (not the disordered use of a man- or a woman - for sexual release); and on the marital act always being open to life and to the complete gift of the spouses in the marital embrace, unimpeded by a condom.
However, these positions are anything but "old fashioned". They unfold a vision of the human person, human love and sexuality, marriage and the human family and a truly free and just society which paves the path to human flourishing, authentic human freedom and a future of authentic freedom.
So, while I am glad Mr. Kristof found some of the many truly sacrificial servants of the Catholic Church in the Sudan, his comments reveal a dreadful lack of understanding of what the Catholic Church proclaims, has always proclaimed and will always proclaim. Some of what he characterizes as "top down" structures and "antediluvian" positions are truly liberating gifts when embraced within the new way of life offered to all through the waters of baptism and entry into the communion of the Church. We live in an age characterized by what Pope Benedict XVI properly called a "Dictatorship of Relativism". Our Church proclaims the existence of objective truths which can be known and which should order our life together.
For some like Nicholas D. Kristof that will continue to be a problem. We should pray for him. However, he should stop his backhanded compliments of the Catholic Church and we should do all we can to expose them and their real intent.
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