Is the Pope Catholic? Is Ireland Catholic?
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. An idiom, a rhetorical question, and an adage have been used to demonstrate the power of language. It is the power of language which I wish to speak to throughout this piece.
Like Britain, Ireland is not immune to the effects of all things Americana. However, unlike Britain, Ireland’s raison d’être lay with its adherence to the successor of St Peter. For those Irish faithful, it still matters when the Holy Father meets with world leaders and speaks on matters of the faithful. This is more so with a president who claims allegiance with the Irish identity, meets the Holy Father.
Accordingly, we are left with the question as to what to make of the so-called Irish president and the leader of Ireland’s Catholics recent meeting?
A good benchmark would be to compare the appearances of the captured meet with a relevant comparator, say with the former president Donald Trump.
One need not be eagle eyed to note that the demeanor of the Holy Father with the Donald was much different than his demeanor with the current POTUS. In the former, the Holy Father cuts a figure of an individual getting their photo captured at a birthday party they would rather not be with, and in the latter the figure cut is one that would signal the meeting of two like-minded individuals. However, despite this appearance of uniformity, the picture reveals another truth; the truth that appearances can be deceiving.
The reason? A rudimentary understanding of Catholic teaching and even the weakest critic of Christianity in terms of knowledge, knows that following the church’s teaching on abortion is diametrically opposed to the current president’s view on abortion. Prior to becoming POTUS, Biden remarked that the law that allows for abortion in America, namely Roe v. Wade ‘must remain the law of the land’. Such a view is without question the opposite of The Canon of the Catholic Church which tells us, ‘A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication’, Can. 1398.
This clear divide between the law of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic POTUS’ actions has led some bishops’ notably Bishop Schneider to remark that ‘pro-abortion politicians should never be permitted to receive holy communion’. The perspective of Bishop Schneider comes against the backdrop of the recent 168 to 55 decision to draft a teaching document on politicians who support abortion.
This document could be used as justification by some Bishops to deny communion to those politicians who actively engage and promote actions against Catholic teaching. This document will return for debate when the bishops return for conference this November.
The question will be, what will be the surrounding thought when this conference returns? Well, if the media reports of the POTUS meeting with the Holy Father is to be believed, POTUS was told he is a ‘good Catholic’ and to ‘keep receiving communion’. If truth can be attained in 2021, we can take these reports with a pinch of salt given these are from so-called ‘traditional media’.
Nevertheless, alarm bells are raised when a group of individuals who usually have the views of Christianity that would make Nietzsche’s criticism of Christianity seem tame, suddenly start celebrating the union of a pope and a politician who aligns with the views of the time. It is also interesting that the Vatican has declined to comment on claims as to whether the Holy Father told Biden to keep receiving communion. Compare the willingness to comment on the need to ‘build bridges’ during the administration of Donald Trump, with the reluctance to state the need for politicians professing Catholicism to follow Catholic teaching.
The episode will add to the ongoing saga of a Pope who appears objectively to be more aligned with a more liberal strain of Christianity as opposed to a conservative strain of Christianity.
Ultimately, the debate will continue leading to the sad conclusion that the flock will be led astray and divided as to what is the correct teaching, and as to what is the correct understanding of the guidance given. The answer appears to be in the understanding of the language used for this area of concern. What does it mean to be Catholic? How to follow Catholic teaching? How to understand Catholic instruction from teachers who don’t seem to understand the instruction themselves. Well for the Irish, the answer to the confusion may be gained in the meeting of two Irish Catholics, as they remark ‘Dia dhuit’. God be with us all.