|Save the children|
Consider this claim:
The Catholic Church is now just another liberal NGO.("NGO" stands for non-governmental organization, like Oxfam or Doctors without Borders or Save the Children.)
Do I believe the claim? No. I wouldn't be a Catholic if I did. To paraphrase an Evangelical friend of mine alluding to the hypothetical discovery of the body of Jesus, if I felt that the Church was just a liberal NGO, I'd quit and go sell hot tubs in LA.
Or, rather (and not to sound too much like a Modernist), I don't believe that it's literally true. But it does contain an element of truth.
Let me propose that the Catholic Church being just another liberal NGO is now the main experience of most people, at least in Western countries, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. And many people, including many Catholics are fine with that.
It's not exactly an original observation of course. But I was prompted to again consider it after the "p*ssy hat priest" incident of a few days ago. Fr. William Lugger, a priest in Lansing, Michigan, donned a "p*ssy hat" - the favored protest accessory of the recent Women's Marches last Saturday - during his homily at the altar, and posted a picture of it on his Facebook page.
I think it's fair to say that virtually all of his Facebook friends, many of whom are parishioners in his Church, saw nothing wrong and everything right with what "Fr. Bill" did. Most comments were in the nature of "You go, Fr. Bill." When one critic asked him what he thought he was doing, Fr. Bill responded: "Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ." He got a lot of "likes" for that.
As vile as the whole thing is and was, I think the real tragedy is that Lugger is merely an extreme example of what is now the norm in many parishes. While it's true that some parishes have liberal FrancisChurch priests imposing their agenda on more orthodox laypeople, in the majority of parishes, the audience digs it, as it were.
The "religious experience" of many Catholics is this: one goes to church once a week, where one's buddy, Fr. X (usually one syllable), gives a homily alluding to the social justice issue of the day, backed up by passages from the Bible. Framing the homily are various chants and songs and a ritual meal sharing to mark the fact that everyone is on the same page.
Indeed, the point of churchgoing is to mark the shared experience and give everyone a motivational lift for the next six days, just as would happen every Monday at the NGO's all-staff meeting.
There are other rituals and gatherings that occasionally come up. Some are officially called "sacraments," some are fried bologna lunches (see Fr. Lugger's Facebook page), or whatever. These also, are essentially bonding sessions for members and staff.
And of course, amidst it all is the collection of money, ostensibly for the "programs" that the Church is constantly advertising. As with many NGO's, 90% of the proceeds go to administrative expenses. But that's okay, it's the intention that's the most important thing. Everyone in the organization cares. Everyone's on the same page.
I've just described the experience of many Catholics at "the bottom." But let's look now at "the top" of the organization.
The CEO is called "the Pope." As with many NGO CEO's, much of his goal is to motivate the staffers and represent the organization positively to outsiders. In performing these duties, stories from the Bible are often used and Jesus is mentioned often. Usually, the context is to support a particular program or set of programs or buck up the staff. Sometimes the stories are used to highlight the fact that the organization has enemies, both within and without, and supporters should be watchful of them. The programs are too important to allow politically-motivated opponents to destroy them.
Why would someone work for or be a member of such an NGO? There are many reasons. It makes one feel good. It's a way to be useful and help others. Despite the general trend towards secularization, working for the Church still has a certain prestige, The pay is sometimes not so great, but coupled with the perks, the package can often be pretty good, especially at the upper administrative levels. Then there are other things. It's an open-secret that many join so they can have romantic relationships with the "natives." This is of course officially prohibited, but it has proved difficult to stamp out.
This transformation of the perception of the Catholic Church from a transcendent institution into just another liberal NGO has been going on for some time, but it has obviously accelerated under Pope Francis. Let me suggest that if you're trying to explain the crisis of the modern church to an outsider - say, a non-Catholic or non-Christian - it's the best way to explain it. They simply won't understand what you're talking about if you bring up "modernism" or "the magisterium" or whatever.
It's not that the modern Catholic Church has taken God out, per se. God (and his more PR-friendly son, Jesus) is still invoked often. He of course is the real CEO, and He wants to spur you on in your efforts to help migrants and battle climate change and keep the local food bank going. You get a big thanks from Him every Sunday. You're part of an elite team - unlike the others who don't care. He'll even pick you up when you fall down, etc. etc. and all that.
The above may seem like a criticism of liberal politics or liberal activism. Actually it's not. Obviously, the Church shouldn't be about liberal politics. But it shouldn't be about conservative politics or conservative activism either - though it goes without saying that sometimes the Church can and should at least to some extent become involved in what some may classify as "political issues."
To put it directly, God didn't walk the Earth 2,000 years ago, and then suffer, die and rise again to rid the world of ____ (insert your favorite liberal - or conservative - social or political problem).
I'm not basing that claim on scripture. I'm basing it on logic. If God did have that purpose, then He spectacularly failed. And as a Catholic, I obviously believe that God cannot fail.
Jesus didn't die for women's rights. Since (at least according to women's rights activists), women still don't have full rights, then if He had done so, Christianity would be just about the most pathetic botch of a religion ever.
Rather He died to save women from sin.
And no, I don't mean He died to create a world (right now, in this life) where all women were the perfection of virtue (not that there's anything wrong and everything right about striving for or encouraging that). He died to save those who aren't the perfection of virtue from the consequences.
Fr. Bill, the p*ssy hat priest, may once have known that. But it's clear he's forgotten it by now. And there are thousands of priests who are just like him, even though they may have never covered their heads with a disgusting cap.
For them, the modern Church is nothing but an NGO. The tragedy is that, at least in a certain sense, they're partially correct.
But don't misunderstand. As far as I'm aware, for all his sacrilege, Fr. Bill still has the power, acting in the person of Christ, to among other things, Consecrate the Host and forgive sins. The Consecration still occurs, whether anyone still realizes it or not. But, at least as far as forgiveness of sins is concerned, I would doubt he exercises that power for more than a few minutes a week, if that. He's too busy "preaching the Gospel" (as he sees it) and hanging out with the natives at fried bologna lunches.