My USA Today Op-Ed: Christ Was Not a Divine Ecologist

A couple of days ago, I got an email from a member of the USA Today editorial board:

Would you be interested in writing what we call an “opposing view” for USA Today on the Pope’s address to Congress and the general direction he has taken since his election? We are going to write an editorial praising him for taking on such issues as climate change and poverty. We are looking for a different perspective that would be more critical of of what he has done and what he says on Thursday. It would be 350 words and due Thursday afternoon.

As I’ve previously stated, it makes me nervous to be the go-to guy for “opposition.” As a cradle Catholic who has devoted most of the past 20 years to deepening my understanding and defense of the faith, being at odds with my pope is a source of constant tension and discomfort. I’ve been called a lot of names in the past week or two. I’ve been accused of hate. I’ve had people fantasize in open forums about killing me. I’ve been maligned with accusations of antisemitism and sedevacantism. I’ve seen people warn others to stay away from this website and our work, as if we’re somehow a danger to the faith.

All of this by people who call themselves “Catholic.”

Still, I remain convinced that now is the time to have this discussion about the papacy, its priorities, its allies and enemies, and this crisis in the Church which has existed for many years but has recently intensified by orders of magnitude. It’d be my preference that we have a conversation about these things like adults. There’s nothing I can do about these people, other than to pray for them. I’m not in it for the money, because there’s precious little of it. I’m not in it for the “fame,” because it’s mostly notoriety and contempt. I’m not in it because it makes my life easier in any conceivable way.

I do this because I love Jesus Christ and His Mystical Bride, the Church, more than anything in this world. And I refuse to stand by and watch the things I love most be abused or neglected, even by those charged with their care.

And so, I agreed to write the op-ed, which was published today. (You can see the other side of the argument, from the USA Today editorial board, right here. )

Early in his papacy, Pope Francis admonished that the Catholic Church is not a “humanitarian agency, the church is not an NGO (non-governmental organization). The church is sent to bring Christ and his Gospel to all.”

As Thursday’s congressional address emphasized, however, Francis’ priorities are climate change, economic justice, marginalization and the poor, while little emphasis is placed on the deep moral and spiritual crisis that threatens our eternal salvation or our subsequent need for authentic conversion.

This diversion from the church’s traditional focus has won critical acclaim from the secular world and raised expectations that at last there’s a pope who will forceCatholicism to “get with the times.”

At the core of our faith, however, is the belief that its doctrines — founded upon divinely revealed truths — are unchangeable.

Yet under the auspices of “pastoral concern” or “mercy,” we hear a commonly expressed anticipation that Francis will reverse this or that long-held teaching. This is pure wishful thinking, but it is indulged by many high-ranking church prelates, and at times, it seems, by Francis himself.

Stewardship over creation is one of the first responsibilities God gave to Adam and Eve. Care for the poor and the destitute was an important tenet of Jesus’ public ministry. But Christ was not a divine ecologist or social worker. Jesus Christ fed the poor, but his principal concern was their spiritual nourishment.

Appropriate Christian concern for temporal matters is virtuous, but when isolated from the salvific message of the Gospels, the church risks becoming the very NGO Francis has condemned.

When true sanctity is replaced with ersatz religious materialism, we easily forget our reason for existence: to know, love and serve God in this life, and to be happy with him in the next.

Truly, “our common home” is not earth, but heaven. More than ever, our world needs the pope to fix his eyes firmly there — not here — and to lead us to our eternal destination.

There is, however, something missing from the published version. In the original, I wrote:

Stewardship over creation is one of the first responsibilities God gave to Adam and Eve. Care for the poor and the destitute was an important tenet of Jesus’ public ministry. But Christ was not a divine ecologist or social worker. He fed the poor, but His principal concern was their spiritual nourishment: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” He said. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever…” (Jn. 6:49;51)

The bolded line — a pivotal scripture passage in making my case — was edited out.

When I received the copy back from the editor last night, it came in an email as I was out running errands. I didn’t have the chance to respond right away. When I did, I asked why that line was taken out. “I know it’s a secular audience,” I wrote, “but I was attempting to show rather than tell that Jesus was focused on what I said He was focused on. Since we’re talking about the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world, I didn’t think it would entirely out of place to put one reference to what Christ said in the piece.”

My contact responded, “i don’t know why the desk chose to trim what it did. We’re certainly not averse to running passages from the Bible.”

So I asked again to have the line reinstated, since I didn’t exceed my word limit. I never heard back. Shortly thereafter, I saw that it had already gone to print.

It’s possible that there just wasn’t room. I wasn’t told whether the word limit included my single-sentence bio. Looking at the print version, I concede it may have been an issue of space:


But it was just one line, and insofar as it was Our Lord Himself making the point I was trying to illustrate, a pretty important one. I wish it could have stayed in. Maybe something else I said could have been taken out instead. That passage was the only thing removed. I’m not accusing anyone of malice – I just think it’s very unfortunate.

When all is said and done, I’m still content with what I wrote. I prayed a lot before doing it, and asked the same from others. My detractors would no doubt scoff at this, but it’s really important to me to ask for God’s guidance when dealing with such delicate topics. My prayer is always, “Let me do Your will in this work and not my own.” In this case in particular, 350 words isn’t much space to make a nuanced point about a complex and controversial issue, so I hope I did it justice. USA Today is the third-largest newspaper by circulation in the country. It’s not every day I’ll have a chance like this.

My only regret is that with the name and message of Jesus getting very little play in this week’s public discourse about the Catholic Faith, He wound up, in part, disappearing here, too. His absence has grown conspicuous where His presence should be central. It’s our job to put Him back.

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