In the last year, I have come to realize, to some extent, my place in the world, spiritually speaking.  One of the many topics I’ve examined either on this blog, in discussion with friends or family, or in deep contemplation, is the balance struck between social justice aspects of the Catholic Church.  It had not dawned on me early in my return to Catholicism, strangely enough, that the bulk of the Church’s work dealt with issues pertaining to social justice.  Within the scope of social justice, many types of people are affected from the poor, the downtrodden, the jobless, the Godless, the oppressed.  Justice defined is fairness or reasonableness, especially in the way people are treated or decisions are made.  That is a simple notion, although the concept of justice is complex and confusing.  The Church has a long history of making the simple difficult.  Have you ever looked through the Catechism of the Catholic Church?  This is not a simple read, truly.  Yet, many of the topics covered within do end up being very simple when stripped down into the very basic ideals that the Church is supposed to espouse.  This is to say that the Church, in its Catechism, is to make a most solid attempt at mining what Jesus either did or would do in a given situation.  This is a rather daunting, and if I may say, rather impossible task because what is recorded about Jesus came from men and men, inherently, have personal agendas.  Yet, this is not to say that what the Gospels of Mark, Luke, Matthew, and John have to say about Jesus is untrue.  It is merely arduous to be able to eke information out of these Gospels concerning situations not yet presented in the Bible, especially when it comes to going as far as using the word heretic.

Bishop Robert Vasa, of Oregon, has come close to crossing the line in calling a certain sect of Catholics heretics.  Although he does not fully dive into the pool, he stands on a bouncing diving board.  In the February 17th issue of the Catholic Sentinel, Bishop Vasa targeted the sizeable percentage of Catholics that call themselves pro-choice.  But, in targeting pro-choice Catholics, he stepped a little further into some very black/gray areas by accusing on the square (not fully accusatory, but surely insinuating) this very significant proportion of Catholics as heretics.  Not only this, Bishop Vasa seems to want to promote a Jesus that is intolerant, anti-progression, and, perhaps, even downright mean.  The beginning paragraph of his article includes the following:

We live in an age which places a very strong emphasis on tolerance, mutuality, and acceptance. I have heard repeatedly over the years that “Jesus never judged, condemned or excluded anyone.” I wonder if Peter would agree as the words of Jesus, “Get behind me you Satan,” rang in his ears. I wonder if the Scribes and the Pharisees would agree as they rankled at being called whitened sepulchers or broods of vipers. I wonder if those who heard Jesus say, “Whoever leads one of these little ones astray, it would be better if he had a millstone tied around his neck and be cast into the sea,” nodded approval and said, “He is so tolerant and accepting.” This verse is included, virtually verbatim, in each of the three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. I certainly have no qualms about the image of Jesus as kind and gentle, or with Jesus’ own description of Himself as “meek and humble of heart.” I see and appreciate the great appeal of one of the most recent devotions fostered so powerfully by our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, that of Divine Mercy. Each of these attractive and reassuring aspects of Jesus needs to be remembered. These are aspects of Jesus that we cannot afford to forget and to which we can and must cling. At the same time we do well not to forget that the Lord is also a “God of power and might.” Jesus stood up to the guards who came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He stood courageously before Pilate. He bore His cross with noble, unflinching determination. He is not a God of weakness. He is strong and He defends His people. This accounts for the strong language used when the “little ones” of His flock are put at risk.

It seems to me that Bishop Vasa has stepped into territory oft traveled by the neo-conservative Christians that comb every corner of America to transform our great nation into a bastion of intolerance and hate.  In fact, I’d question his knowledge of what Jesus had to say and the context in which he said them.  Is it possible that a Bishop of his rank could be this wrong?  Is it possible for a Bishop to be so misguided as to act as if Jesus was a warrior?  Yes, of course it is.  This is the problem with the Catholic Church today: warriors bearing the cross of The Crusades.  Yet, this time, for Catholics, The Crusade is against reason, against relativism, against thought, against justice and equality.  More:

In our “compromising age” we are loath to name something too strongly. If we do, we are accused of harshness, judgmentalism, perhaps arrogance, certainly intolerance and possibly pharisaism. While it is always necessary to speak the truth with love, the Church also believes and teaches that it is also necessary to speak the truth with strength. It is necessary to defend truth and not be too quick to rationalize, justify or excuse misleading teachings or teachers. There is a point at which passive “tolerance” allows misleading teachings to be spread and propagated, thus confusing or even misleading the faithful about the truths of the Church. There is a very strong word, which still exists in our Church, which most of us are too “gentle” to use. The word is “heresy.”


There is some question, for instance, about whether those who openly profess to be “pro-choice” are, in fact, holding to a heretical position. The teaching of the Church in the area of life is clear and unequivocal. Human life must be respected and protected from conception to natural death. Those who maintain that any and all decisions about the disposition of pre-born human beings are exclusively the right of the mother or the parents, at least implicitly, reject the clear and consistent teaching of the Church. The truth is that God charges each of us with the duty to protect and defend innocent human life. This is clearly stated in the Fifth Commandment: Thou shalt not kill. In our society, this attempt to protect innocent human life is done through legal legislative processes and is accomplished, or fails to be accomplished, by those whom we elect. It would not be proper to imply that anyone who votes for an anti-life politician is denying some truth of divine and Catholic faith. Yet, if that candidate receives the vote precisely because he maintains that he has no duty to protect or defend innocent human life in the womb, then a vote cast for him is a type of declaration that the teaching of the Church, indeed the validity of the Fifth Commandment itself, is rejected.

So, here we have it.  Yes, I do accuse Catholics such as Bishop Vasa as be judgmental and arrogant in his assumptions of Christ, but it is because, as with God, we cannot know now the fabric of Jesus himself.  All we can live by is what he spoke of, and my interpretation of Jesus Christ is that his notion of God was not the vengeful, war-like God of the Torah.  In fact, God through Jesus was all accepting and loving.  How can Bishop Vasa truly believe that Jesus’ anger (yes, let’s not forget that Jesus was human) meant that his outlook on life could be canned, as I would call it, as a neo-conservative?  This is what he seems to be saying and this is surely wrong and seriously misguided.

Yes, I truly know that a cornerstone of the Catholic faith is its concern over life.  Life is defined in two ways that make sense: 1) the quality that makes living animals and plants different from dead organisms and inorganic matter, and 2) a living being, especially a person, often used when referring to the number of people killed in an accident or a war.  I’ve expanded on the many issues that comprise life concerns in the Catholic (see entry for 11/28/05) faith and one that I refuse to allow to sink into the mud is the heresy (I’ll call it what it is) of Catholics that voted for George Bush and, by doing so, support the war on Iraq.  I, as well as many others, know that the Church is simply not concerned only with the unborn, but the living as well.  Jesus did speak of war in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” As for Pope John Paul II, the head of the Catholic Church until April 2005, this is what he had to say: “Humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remain standing the negotiating table that could and should have prevented it.” How can any thoughtful Catholic turn around and vote for George Bush and continue to support his policies, because he claims to be “pro-life” (which he is not), when so much blood has been spilled due to American foreign policy in the Middle East?  Can these supporters be called heretics for merely showing support for someone who has acted in anathema to Christ?  Well, in considering Bishop Vasa’s position, yes.  Surely.

In a current age, when the so-called leader of the free world is readying for an attack on Iran, probably with nuclear weapons, the idea of mass murder (NOT acceptable Catholic social teaching) could easily come to fruition in the name of God and of Jesus, but in the guise of national security.  What Bishop Vasa had to say in his article was rife with intolerance and was screaming with a tongue not blessed with Jesus’ words.  His irresponsibility in calling pro-choice Catholics heretical is grossly iniquitous.  He could have taken the extra step by including all those that support President Bush’s war-mongering ways, which, at the very root, are very un-Christian and are antithetical to anything that Jesus Christ said to all of us.