Billionaires Threaten a Hostile Takeover of the Catholic Church

Readings for 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time: JER 17:5-8; PS 1: 1-5; I COR 15: 12, 16-20; LK 6: 17, 20-21;

There’s a plot going on to neutralize Pope Francis. Even worse, it’s about neutralizing Jesus and his “preferential option for the poor” that has dominated our liturgical readings for the past several weeks.

This week’s readings are no exception. In fact, in today’s Gospel selection, that option for the poor receives its starkest expression so far. There, Luke the evangelist has Jesus say clearly that the poor are the object of God’s special favor, while the rich are not. In Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks frankly: “You poor are blessed.” He tells the rich just as clearly, “you are cursed.” And he does so for no other apparent reason than that the objects of Jesus’ blessing and cursing are poor and rich respectively.

Before I get to that, let me say a word about the plot I just mentioned.

What I’m talking about was reported in January’s Sojourner’s Magazine – the progressive Christian Evangelical monthly published by Jim Wallis. It all appeared there in a piece authored by Tom Roberts, the executive editor of the National Catholic Reporter. The article was entitled “How Right-Wing Billionaires Are Attempting a Hostile Takeover of the Catholic Church.”

There, Roberts described an aggressive project to establish what I would call an ecclesiastical “shadow administration” bent on usurping the authority of the church’s U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The undertaking is “financed by the Koch brothers, by Domino Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan, and a slew of other billionaires linked to the Knights of Columbus and conservative Catholic Cardinals – all of whom enjoy favor with Breitbart’s Steve Bannon and the Trump administration.

Seeking to replicate the rise of the Evangelical right in the 1980s, the group advocates a Catholic version of the prosperity gospel described by Roberts as “a hybrid of traditional pieties wrapped in American-style excess and positioned most conspicuously in service of free-market capitalism.” It is “. . . ‘in your face Catholicism’ . . . often expressed amid multi-course meals followed by wine and cigar receptions, private cocktail parties for the especially privileged, traditional Catholic devotionals, Mass said in Latin for those so inclined, ‘patriotic rosary’ sessions that include readings from George Washington and Robert E. Lee, and the occasional break for a round of golf.”

Doctrinally, the goal is to bury more deeply than ever what many have called “the best kept secret of the Catholic Church,” viz. its progressive social teachings. Since Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum, those teachings have repeatedly criticized the abuses of both capitalism and socialism while advocating workers’ rights, labor unions, fair wages, social security, and (especially with Pope Francis) care for the earth in the face of human-caused climate chaos.

The billionaire cabal in question finds especially offensive not just Francis’ emphasis on social justice themes, but the 1983 pastoral by the USCCB questioning the morality of modern warfare and of nuclear weapons. They resent above all the bishops’ 1986 letter entitled “Economic Justice for All” which disagreed specifically with the economic policies of the group’s great hero, Ronald Reagan.

In place of such teachings, the billionaires in question think that the Catholic social narrative should focus exclusively on sexual issues: abortion, contraception, gay rights, and the rights of divorced and remarried people within the Catholic Church. They want the church to be more celebratory of individualism, entrepreneurship, and of free market fixes for society’s problems. Their goal is to shrink government in general and diminish its services to the poor and marginalized in particular.

Doesn’t that sound completely like the Republican agenda?

And with the Catholic Church currently weakened and reeling from its sex-abuse scandals, the billionaire conspirators are convinced that the time is completely ripe for their hostile takeover.

But could anything be further from the teachings of Jesus which a few weeks ago, our Gospel reading summarized as “good news to the poor?”

There, Jesus announced his program with the following words: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

This was a proclamation of a new order (what Jesus called “the Kingdom of God”) directed towards improving the lot of the poor, the imprisoned, the ill and oppressed. It was the proclamation of the Jewish “Jubilee Year,” where debts would be forgiven, slaves freed, and wealth redistributed.

Now in today’s Gospel reading, the Master expresses the same sentiment, only this time in even a more in-your-face manner. Here, it’s worth quoting the words Luke attributes to Jesus.

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for the kingdom of God is yours.
Blessed are you who are now hungry,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who are now weeping,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
and when they exclude and insult you,
and denounce your name as evil
on account of the Son of Man . . .
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are filled now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will grieve and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for their ancestors treated the false
prophets in this way.”

Shocking words – all of them, don’t you agree? They are part of the great reversal in the new order proclaimed by Jesus. There, the values of the world will be turned on their heads. The poor will be in charge. They will have food to eat. Laughter will replace their tears.

But the rich will experience great misery (woe).  That’s because they have been led astray by false prophets like those cardinals participating in the billionaire hostile takeover of the Catholic Church. Those fake prophets console the super-rich with honeyed words about their specialness

But according to Luke’s Jesus, the rich may be enjoying those multi-course meals, private cocktail parties, cigar receptions and rounds of golf now. But when the Kingdom’s new order comes, they will find themselves hungry. They may be laughing now, but then they will weep and cry. Their false prophets may praise them now but come the new order, the wealthy will be cursed as the most wretched of men.

Obviously, Jesus’ teaching contradicts our culture’s worship of the rich. We think of the rich as heroic entrepreneurs. Jesus sees them as worthless wretches. We see the poor as losers. Jesus sees them as objects of God’s special favor.

In other words, Jesus turns our thinking upside down. As Marianne Williamson puts it: Jesus’ truth (God’s truth) is 180 degrees opposed to what our culture values and teaches.

That realization should be Christians’ fundamental guide in reading the news and thinking about world events. It should be the confident guide of our activist efforts.

Everything is the opposite of what our culture claims!

Published by

Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

10 thoughts on “Billionaires Threaten a Hostile Takeover of the Catholic Church”

  1. A good life for all of us is being denied by the selfishness of a few of us. This extreme criminal selfishness is reaching a crescendo at this point in history, and threatens to destroy much of the life on Earth. This is our fundamental problem, which must be solved for any of our burgeoning difficulties to be realistically dealt with. Failure to realize and focus on this issue will guarantee our collective failure as a species.

    A few bullies are enslaving all of us. Unless we break their monetary and military and information grip on us, we are all doomed. There is no other problem for humankind as crucial as this. If we fail to realize this and deal with it decisively. it is all over for the human species. At this point in history our situation is truly desperate!

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    1. In the prophetic lines from R.E.M.:
      “Same As It Ever Was”
      My wife was your student in the late 1980’s and I was a 50 year old student at Berea in the early ’90’s (but not your student). Through her I have been reading your missives for several years, and with little disagreement.
      But these are not recent developments in Church history nor in American History. They may well be a sort of culmination, but nothing new. The Christ who champions the poor barely exists in the mind of Christians. The Christ in whose name evangelical leaders anointed Trump is the Christ of today’s Church, both Catholic and Protestant.
      The Diocese of Covington is ascendant and wil be for the foreseeable future. Sad, but true.
      As a Christian Atheist, I long for the Christ of the poem from which my email address derives.

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      1. Thank you, Larry. Berea College helped us all reclaim the lost tradition of Jesus’ preferential option for the poor. I remain disturbed by the reaction to the Covington incident and especially to the incisive comments of bishop John Stowe. It’s very difficult to understand how would-be followers of Christ can support Mr. Trump.

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  2. “A few bullies are enslaving all of us.”

    It’s more than a few bullies. Consider the problem with the Catholic Schools:

    Parochial Schools and Immigrants
    When my grandparents immigrated from Ireland in the early 1900s, the Church here in New Hampshire already had in place a parochial school system designed primarily for immigrants. However, these schools are now too expensive for today’s immigrants. The following is a brief history of how we accommodated immigrants in my diocese and how we should accommodate the new immigrants today:
    The Parochial Schools of the diocese of Portland, Maine, which included the states of Maine and New Hampshire, began here in Manchester, N. H. during the 1850s. The site was St. Anne Church. The founders were Fr. William McDonald, pastor; Thomas Corcoran, teacher; and The Sisters of Mercy, whose superior was Mother Frances Warde. The students were primarily Irish immigrants. Today, St. Anne Parish unified with St. Augustin Parish, serves the descendants of the Irish from St. Anne and the French Canadian from St. Augustin plus new immigrants including Hispanics, Vietnamese and Africans, mostly from Sudan. However, the Parochial Schools, now called Regional Catholic Schools, can no longer give first place to immigrants: they are too expensive. Can anything be done for today’s immigrants? Here is my suggestion:
    A “preferential option for the poor” should be maintained in our Catholic Schools. If we find that we cannot afford to keep our schools open to the poor, the schools should be closed and the resources used for something else which can be kept open to the poor. We cannot allow our Church to become a church primarily for the middle-class and rich while throwing a bone to the poor. The priority should be given to the poor even if we have to let the middle-class and rich fend for themselves. Practically speaking, the Catholic Schools must close in those countries where the state provides for general education,- and the resources used for “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine” and other programs which can be kept open to the poor. Remember, the Church managed without Catholic Schools for centuries. We can get along without them today. The essential factor is to cultivate enough Faith to act in the Gospel Tradition, namely, THE POOR GET PRIORITY. The rich and middle-class are welcome too. But the poor come first.
    William Horan
    williamfhoran@gmail.com

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    1. Thanks for the history lesson, William. Notice how our “conservative” politicians now favor parochial schools as they attempt to eliminate public education. It’s all part of that charter school strategy that neglects the poor and immigrants.

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  3. Jesus was crucified because he stood up for the poor and criticized the rich for oppressing them. Jesus never said he was going to be crucified as a vicarious sacrifice for me so in order to prevent his Angry Father from sending me to hell. That notion didn’t enter Christianity until a thousand years after his death. They say our task as Christians is to bring about the dream of God here on this earth. The gospels are political. “Thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.” And there is no guarantee that our work towards peace and justice will lead anywhere but to the cross. Jesus said take up your cross and follow me. He didn’t say believe in me any you will be one of the select few who will spend eternity in heaven while others burn in hell.

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  4. “Obviously, Jesus’ teaching contradicts our culture’s worship of the rich. We think of the rich as heroic entrepreneurs. Jesus sees them as worthless wretches. We see the poor as losers. Jesus sees them as objects of God’s special favor.”

    “A preferential option for the poor” should be maintained in our Catholic Schools. If we find that we cannot afford to keep our schools open to the poor, the Church should be ready to use its resources for something else which can be kept open to the poor. We cannot allow our Church to become a church primarily for the middle-class and rich while throwing a bone to the poor. The priority should be given to the poor even if we have to let the middle-class and rich fend for themselves.
    Practically speaking, the Catholic Schools must give up general education in those countries where the State is providing it. The resources of the Church could then be focused on “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine” and other programs which can be kept open to the poor. These resources could then be used to help society become more human in solidarity with the poor. Remember, the Church managed without Catholic Schools for centuries. It can get along without them today. The essential factor from the Christian point of view is to cultivate enough Faith to act in the Gospel Tradition, namely, THE POOR GET PRIORITY. The rich and middle-class are welcome too. But the poor come first.

    Like

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