It is presently far too difficult to take the Catholic Church all that seriously. The Panopticon-esque character of modern life, made possible by technological acceleration, has rendered even the most minor of the Church’s claims of modern supernatural intervention inherently suspicious. The Instagram generation seems to have developed an inconvenient shortage of miracles. This was brought into sharp focus during the canonisation of Mother Teresa, where it was obvious to even the most pious observers that the Church was digging for the requisite miracles where none existed. The most telling feature of this curiosity was how little people cared. A Saint, it was reasoned, only needed to inspire us in natural terms. Why would a Saint need supernatural guidance anyway? And so, with little fanfare, the Church became willing to act like an openly godless institution.
But it wasn’t the end yet.
Much of credit for successfully navigating the Church through its bizarre new station in culture falls on Jorge Mario Bergoglio—better known as Pope Francis. Francis has crafted a new image for the church, one of secular justice and moral authority. Although some have criticised him for undermining the importance of tradition in the Church—without which their claims of cultural relevancy would be rendered laughably impotent. The general consensus has to the contrary settled on the position that he’s reinvigorating the increasingly irrelevant Church for another generation.
There is certainly some truth to this narrative. The recent move by Francis to shift the Church’s traditional uneasiness about capital punishment into an open rejection of the practice has been welcomed in almost all quarters as a move that the Church needed to take. For the Church to remain credible in its more divisive social teachings, such as opposition to abortion, it needed to remove all appearances of hypocrisy. And remaining ambivalent about the death penalty while simultaneously preaching pro-life doctrine certainly smacked of hypocrisy.
For my money, I welcome the change in tone. I’ve always found the death penalty utterly grotesque. It is a primitive and barbaric ritual; it is violation of the relationship between the state and its citizens; it is human sacrifice camouflaged for the decency of modern humanity.
But in all the most important ways, the writing is already on the wall for the Catholic Church. With its credibility in the realm of the supernatural now in free fall, the Church is correct in trying to emphasise its role of a source of secular morals. However, there’s only so much ethical lecturing people will take from what we’ve found to be a den of paedophile priests. Made all the more sickening by the ironically sodomitic character of their rapes. “Perhaps the rapes would never have happened if their victims had to risk an abortion,” people are inevitably forced to muse.
And this isn’t the first time the Catholic Church has found itself on the wrong side of history. It has done little to rebuke accusations of sympathy for right-wing totalitarian governments—largely because in a few cases they have been not far off the mark. Not to mention, in the modern era of the repulsively termed “woke” millennial, they are unlikely to find forgiveness for their various crusades, inquisitions, and witch hunts throughout history.
Perhaps it is time for those of us who don’t subscribe to their teachings to start treating Catholics more like what they really are: a bunch of right-wing weirdos with a strange reverence for old guys in funny hats.