Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Here's a cool idea: Let's let NY Times opinion polls determine Catholic doctrine!

In the 1993 movie The Fugitive, Tommy Lee Jones plays a federal marshal in pursuit of  Dr. Richard Kimble (played by Harrison Ford), an escaped prisoner who was convicted of killing his wife. In a thrilling scene, Tommy Lee Jones has Harrison Ford cornered in a giant water pipe that opens like a precipice over a river flowing hundreds of feet below.

In desperation, Harrison's character calls out to Jones' character: "I didn't kill my wife!"

And Jones shouts back, "I don't care!"  After all, it's a federal marshal's job to track down fugitive criminals, not determine whether they are guilty.

I think Jones' line from The Fugitive captures the attitude of the cardinals gathered in Rome regarding a recent New York Times opinion poll. Not surprisingly, the poll found that the Catholic Church is "out of touch" with American Catholics.  "We don't care!" is probably what the cardinals would say if you asked them. Or--to quote another line from the cinema: "Frankly, my dear, [we] don't give a damn."

Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive:
"I don't care!"
Polls are useful, of course; and the Times's findings may be accurate.  As the New York Times poll showed, most Catholics don't share the Vatican's views on birth control.  And although a strong majority of Catholics oppose abortion, many probably support abortion in some circumstances that don't accord with Church doctrine.

But the Catholic Church is not a democracy, and it doesn't shape its theology based on poll findings. So if the Times thinks its polls will influence the way cardinals vote in the upcoming election of a new pope, it is sadly mistaken.

Catholics have seen what happens to religious groups that shift their views to harmonize with the fashions of the day. The Episcopalians have shaped their doctrine in accordance with the editorial views of the New York Times, and look what happened to them.

In spite of its politically correct stance on social issues, the Episcopal Church is imploding, and today its membership  is just a tiny fraction of the Catholic population. In fact, some Episcopalians--both lay people and priests--are returning to the Catholic Church, where they are welcome.

If the Catholic Church were an organization that determined its doctrines based on public opinion polls, it would not have canonized St. Thomas Moore, St. John Fisher, St. Margaret Clithrow, and thousands of other good Catholics who died rather than renounce their faith.

Here is my prediction. The cardinals will choose a pope who is as firm on Catholic doctrine as Benedict and John Paul.  If anything, the New York Times opinion poll and the hectoring New York Times op ed essays that have appeared recently will only make the cardinals "man up" and elect a pope even more conservative than Benedict and John Paul.

The Catholic Church needs a pope who will stand firm against the postmodern culture of our day--the "culture of death," as the Blessed John Paul so accurately described it.  If the cardinals elect a pope who is acceptable to the New York Times, I will be greatly surprised.


Laurie Goodstein & Megan Thee-Brennan. U.S. Catholics in Poll See a Church Out of Touch. New York Times, March 6, 2013, p. 1.

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