So what was the pope doing there?
Francis had made headlines for an off-the-cuff homily in which he gave a shout-out to atheists:
“The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone,” the pope told worshipers at morning Mass on Wednesday. “‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”
Francis continued, “We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”
Some interpreted the pope’s remarks as opening the gates of heaven to all, including atheists. Others pushed back, suggesting that the pope was simply reaffirming Catholic teaching that all people have the potential to be saved, but must make the choice to accept it.
I’m not really concerned with that debate (though why some in the Church would try to squash the goodwill that Francis had garnered from some usually hostile quarters boggles the mind). What I find more compelling is this line:
“But do good: we will meet one another there.”
It was with this in mind that I read a report (PDF) issued Tuesday that chronicles the attempt of some groups to discredit the Catholic bishops’ anti-poverty initiative, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD). CCHD distributes about $9 million in grants to anti-poverty nonprofits each year. It’s widely regarded as one of the most effective Catholic anti-poverty programs in the United States.
Be Not Afraid? Guilt by Association, Catholic McCarthyism and Growing Threats to the U.S. Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Mission, authored by John Gehring of Faith & Public Life (FPL), explores how some conservative Catholic groups, led by the American Life League, pressure CCHD and the bishops to cut funding to effective anti-poverty groups because of their affiliations with other groups that may oppose Church teaching, directly or indirectly, primarily in regards to same-sex marriage and abortion.
Among the incidents the report chronicles:
“Compañeros, a small non-profit in rural southwestern Colorado that helps immigrants with basic social services and legal aid, lost church funds that amounted to half of its budget because of its association with a statewide immigrant rights coalition that included a single gay and lesbian advocacy group. Compañeros did not and does not work on gay rights issues.”
The purge continues. Just this week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that CCHD staff contacted an immigrants rights group in Illinois to inform them that their funding was at risk because they were part of a coalition that had supported same-sex marriage, despite not engaging in advocacy for same-sex marriage themselves.
What’s going on?
It seems that some in the Church would reduce the faith to two proscriptions: thou shalt be against marriage equality, and thou shalt denounce Roe. But there’s so much more to our faith.
The Prophet Micah writes that we should love justice, do kindness, and walk humbly with God. In the Gospels, Jesus implores his followers to love their neighbors and God. These are prescriptive commands, exhorting us to act in ways that build the common good.
This is the ethos that animates the anti-poverty programs that CCHD funds. Do some of these programs deviate from Church teaching on marriage and some life issues? Sure. Does this mean their good work should be overlooked when funding requests arrive? Surely not.
In the FPL report, Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said:
“At a time when poverty is growing and people are hurting we should not withdraw from our commitment to helping the poor. Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty.”
Back to the pope. Francis encouraged the world to do good. He said that Christians and others “will meet one another there.” Michael Sean Winters locates “there”:
“There, we will often find very messy lives. There, we will come into contact with people who have made very bad decisions. There, we will not find a pristine universe for preaching the Gospel. And there, too, we will encounter the suffering flesh of Jesus Christ.”
Pope Francis spent his life among the poor and marginalized in Argentina. Surely in his remarks we can surmise that he realizes that helping the neediest is paramount, taking precedence over doctrinal purity with those who labor alongside us. Perhaps we, as the Church here in the United States, should consider his words more thoughtfully as we seek out ways to serve the neediest.