Are Church Leaders Unwittingly Promoting a Secularist Agenda?

Recent developments make me wonder if Church leaders and Catholic institutions in the U.S. are not, “on the unawares,” helping to further crucial parts of the secularist-leftist political and cultural narrative.

Several months ago, on a visit to the U.S.-Mexico border one high-ranking prelate criticized “the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population” on the immigration question. This summer another prelate spoke about the need to “dismantle systemic racism” in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Reacting to the “coming out” of a prominent athlete, another high-ranking prelate spoke approvingly and insisted that the Bible instructs us not to judge people. Going back over a decade, we recall the U.S. bishops’ adoption of the Dallas Charter. It marked the beginning of the present child protection efforts of the Church in the U.S. in the wake of the priest sex abuse scandals.

What is the common thread running through these occurrences? They illustrate an implicit, if unwitting, acceptance of a secularist-leftist understanding of important public issues. The prelate who used the phrase “zenophobic ranting” effectively characterized the millions of Americans who are concerned with the massive violations of U.S. immigration laws on the southern border as mere bigots. A polemical leftist political commentator could not have put it better. His comment also signaled dismissiveness of the many legitimate problems growing out of our immigration situation, including national security concerns.

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One wonders if the second prelate was speaking of racial conditions in 1934 instead of 2014. He sounded like the leftist “civil rights” spokesmen who see “racism” around every corner—with the ostensible aim of keeping themselves and their organizations relevant. While he evinces no such opportunistic agenda, one must ask what he means by “systemic racism,” how he came to this conclusion, and whether he has given the U.S. race situation a serious, careful analysis. Is he seriously suggesting that prejudice is simply the cause of a host of social problems within certain demographic groups that are massively afflicted by the likes of family breakdown, illegitimacy, absent fathers, and youth gang activity?

One wonders if the other leading prelate realizes that in encouraging people to “come out” and promoting the rest of its agenda what the homosexualist movement is seeking—by bullying, if necessary—is an imprimatur from every corner of society for the grave sin of sodomy. By his showing approval in this case, he effectively accepted secularist-leftist “identity politics” and its completely unfounded perspective that same-sex attraction is an innate—and, in fact, defining—characteristic for those afflicted by it.

The Dallas Charter of 2002 set down the “child protective” regimen followed by almost all U.S. dioceses. By insisting upon the likes of criminal background checks and even fingerprinting—which is usually associated with arrest procedures—for anyone doing even limited work with youth in Church activities, the U.S. bishops accepted the narrative of present-day “child-savers” that everyone is a potential child abuser. This notion was rabidly promoted in the 1970s and 1980s—the “epidemic” of child abuse was just a given—and served as the rationale for the Mondale Act and the child protective system (CPS) it fashioned. That created, in effect, a universal state monitoring of families, a routine trampling on the most basic parental rights, and a system that is so busy investigating false complaints and trying to stop innocent parenting practices that child welfare “experts” dislike that true abusers often slip through the cracks. Children are harmed by the very system trying to “protect” them.

Similarly, diocesan child protective programs—usually designed by the same child welfare professionals—treat as potential child molesters and possible criminals from the get-go good-hearted parish volunteers seeking only to do such things as impart the Faith as CCD teachers. The irony is that the laity, who are mostly the target of such programs, were not the ones involved in the scandals, which were caused by poor screening of seminary candidates, insufficient oversight within seminaries and dioceses, and an opening to new “theologies” in the post-Conciliar period that challenged Church teaching on sexual morality. The one prelate’s non-judgmental stance toward the homosexualist movement is curious in light of the fact the sex abuse scandal mostly involved homosexual priests molesting minor males.

Just as the CPS narrative that all parents are potential child abusers is false, so is the narrative that everyone working with children is a potential molester. Child abuse is much more prevalent in broken, “untraditional,” and single-parent families and cohabitation situations than intact families. Similarly, male homosexuals commit child molestation to a disproportionate extent, and a significant percentage of child sex abuse victims are boys and the perpetrators overwhelmingly male.

It’s not just bishops, dioceses, or the Church bureaucracy that are promoting, or are being pressured to promote, the leftist-secularist narrative, but Catholic institutions. So, we have the Catholic Campaign for Human Development that for decades funded organizations with an agenda hostile to Catholic teaching. While the organization was cleaned up a few years ago, money—contributed by Catholics in the pews—is still finding its way to groups of that ilk, but more basically that embrace a leftist view of the exclusively structural causes of poverty (usually focusing on a dislike of “capitalism”), ignoring personal responsibility or such moral problems as family breakdown.

Some months ago, the president of a respected Catholic college seemed to publicly rebuke a teaching subordinate when dissenting parents objecting to her upholding of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality at a Catholic high school. It made it appear that a Catholic institution would not allow a challenge to the leftist-secularist homosexual narrative.

Now, Catholic institutions of higher learning, including serious ones, are effectively being pressured by the Obama Education Department to embrace and expound to their students and employees a leftist-secularist narrative (coming from the feminists) about a supposed rape crisis on campuses. They have to address this “epidemic” as a condition of participating in federal student loan and grant programs. While sexual morality is hardly a strong point at most U.S. schools, the existence of a “rape culture” has been sharply criticized in numerous publications and by commentators like George F. Will and groups like the Independent Women’s Forum. They have said that the data simply doesn’t buttress the claim and, like child abuse, rape becomes rampant only when the term is given an increasingly expansive and imprecise definition. An explosion of false allegations and unjustified punishments has followed from this. This vividly illustrates the need of serious Catholic colleges and universities—the nominal ones could probably care less—to wean themselves off federal aid programs, replete as they now are with conditions fashioned by ideologues oblivious to truth.

Why is this all happening? One reason is a striking lack of political sophistication on the part of some Catholic leaders. They have not grasped how the left will use their actions and statements to further an agenda hostile to Church teaching—and then claim that the Church now agrees with them. Second, they seem to have an inadequate understanding of crucial public issues. They need to investigate and study them more and consider their many dimensions before making public statements. Third, they seem concerned that hitting the adversary too hard is uncharitable. They seem to confuse true Christian charity with false compassion. They don’t understand the crying need to go on the offensive against the secular left. I recall a small prayer book I once had that stated that Christianity to be sure involved charity, patience, and help for those in need, but also resistance to those who were evil. Fourth, in the desire to be “pastoral”—that is, able to reach people, even some Catholics, who they fear might tune them out—they don’t want to emphasize or be clear enough about Church teachings that are unpopular in the secular culture. Catholic writer Deal W. Hudson called this “blurring the boundaries.” Fifth, there may simply be a lack of courage, and of the toughness needed to mount a sustained attack on the secular culture. Further, Catholic agencies getting government grants may simply be afraid of offending government decision-makers.

All this means that if Church leaders can’t or won’t take the helm in the struggle against the leftist-secularist juggernaut, the laity who understand the problem have to step up to the plate. One small example will be the conference that the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life will present next April 10-11 on “Challenging the Secular Culture: A Call to Christians.” Catholics should realize that the secular left is aiming at nothing less than total cultural transformation. Not only must they avoid unwittingly promoting its narrative, they must insistently counter it.


  • Stephen M. Krason

    Stephen M. Krason is Professor of Political Science and Legal Studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists.

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