The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Media elites lecture the Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down triggered a plethora of commentary by liberal media types who proceeded to lecture the Catholic Church about the need, you know, to get with the modern world and stop all that fussing about abortion, contraception and women priests. As they do with Supreme Court judges, the liberal punditocracy treats the pope as a political entity in which the goal is to encourage support for an agenda that corresponds with its own.

So we hear that the next pope has to get with the modern world. This, of course, doesn’t mean giving up opposition to the death penalty, rethinking concepts of social justice or stop being such sticklers about just wars. No, no keep all that. It is time to stop being reactionary about women and married priests, abortion and conception. Change all that and become models of progressive thought like liberal pundits!

This is bizarre. On what basis do secular journalists assert the authority to lecture a religion on its tenets? Imagine instructing rabbis to lighten up on the Ten Commandments or evangelicals to stop being so, you know, literal. And it is inconceivable media elites would urge imams to alter their views. Yet with Catholicism, secular elites’ presumptuousness knows no bounds.

The exercise demonstrates how unreligious or anti-religious the vast majority of mainstream media types are. For them a religion is like a political platform — drop this, beef up that, tone down that. There is little understanding that what they regard as discrete issues (such as gay marriage or abortion) the church views as simply an application of comprehensive doctrine. The media finger-waggers seem oblivious that monotheistic religion by its very nature binds its adherents to timeless values and faith-based doctrines that inhibit infatuation with social trends and fads and that, to some extent, abhor modernity. Religion is not there to give the stamp of approval to progressive notions but rather to hold its believers to a singular code of conduct and morality.

This is not to say that the nondoctrinal aspects of the Catholic Church, most especially its handling of child molestation cases, should not be a subject of public debate, criticism and public accountability. But neither should the media mob forget that it was this pope, albeit delinquently, who began to deal with the issue.

Perhaps it is the pope’s resistance to the temptations of the modern world that rankles liberals who are entirely seduced by it. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board put it, “At a time when other Christian denominations were scrambling to appear modern and relevant by ditching their vestments and high-church trappings, Benedict’s election seemed an affirmation that a church need not be hip to thrive.” And that is something the left cannot understand.

It is ironic that secularists care so much what the Catholic Church propounds. For an antiquated institution the Catholic Church sure matters a lot to them. That Europe, which American liberal elites hold up as a model of progressive, empathetic society, has become a secular hotbed of anti-Semitism and has lost confidence in its own society is not the “fault” of the church. It is a symptom of what happens when faith and civic virtues erode. And it is a reminder that secular modernity unbound by faith, morality, self-discipline and humility is not a pretty sight.