We are watching in real time as two of the most powerful and influential institutions in the history of Western civilization – the Roman Catholic Church and the United States government – descend into depravity and absurdity. That these eruptions of corruption are occurring at the same time seems unlikely to be mere coincidence.
No one over the age of 20 can be shocked to discover that there’s corruption in government. But the past two years have been shocking, to even the most cynical among us: the Clinton campaign’s manipulation of the Democratic primary process, the subsequent revelations that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign paid for the dossier of sordid (and utterly unproven) allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, use of that dossier to deceive federal judges, and the bias and unethical behavior within the FBI and the Department of Justice. And the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court has inspired certain members of the United States Senate – Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, most notably – to stoop to new lows of appalling behavior.
And then there is the church, which for decades has had within it a sick and warped culture of pedophilia and homosexual predation shrouded in secrecy.
What do both these phenomena have in common?
First, both groups contain large numbers of people drunk with power and besotted by the perks that come with it.
Second, both groups have acquired a distorted sense of their own importance and righteousness, and a palpable disdain for the “little people” whom they are supposed to serve. (In fact, the notion of servant leadership is enshrined in the foundational documents of our government and in Scripture. Christ demanded that His Apostles be humble servants first. And the United States government was instituted to be of the people, by the people and for the people.)
Third, with the aggregation of power and self-importance has come the most reprehensible form of idolatry. These people behave as if they were gods; the truth is whatever they say it is.
This is evident in their outrageous behavior, their blatant lies and their transparent denials – even their lack of denials – in the face of overwhelming proof. Witness within the church the inscrutable statements of Pope Francis, the brazenness of former Cardinal McCarrick, the condescension of Cardinal Cupich, the vindictiveness of Cardinal Wuerl.
And on the secular side of the ledger we have the unapologetic betrayal of democratic principles and Senate procedures, deliberate slurs, smears and slanders, and the deflection by investigation in which we see our elected leaders engage.
But the grossest and most vulgar aspect of the current crises underlying the grandstanding in public and jockeying for power in private – is sex.
That’s front and center with the Catholic Church.
But sex is also the primary factor behind the fevered pitch of political debate in the U.S. Fears of Trump’s “fascism” are so much background noise. The president appoints Supreme Court justices, and – as we’ve seen with Justice Neil Gorsuch and Judge Kavanaugh – the real battle is about Roe v. Wade and abortion, the be-all and end-all catchall in a society that has come to worship promiscuity as the penultimate human behavior.
The reality that leaders at these levels of responsibility and authority are held in thrall by our basest urges is pitiful and pathetic. But it is also a condemnation of our culture generally (which, sadly, both the church and our government reflect all too well). There was a time when American culture valued self-control and self-regulation. This manifested in social mores and behaviors that were (nearly) universally recognized as promoting the greater good: stable marriages, unbroken families, healthy children, stronger societies.
Now virtually everything we celebrate is filterless: entertainment, social media, our politicians, ourselves. We pride ourselves on giving in to every impulse, no matter how destructive. “Choice” is worshiped above all else, until the consequences (which wiser folk warn of) bring us low, whereupon we seek refuge in diagnosis: It’s an “illness.” There is precious little thought or discussion given to the choices that produced the “illness.”
I haven’t the foggiest idea how to reform the Catholic Church; I can only state that I have little faith in the powers that be to do the reforming. That said, the church belongs to neither the pope nor the cardinals or bishops. It is Christ’s. I suspect that He has plans of His own, and I wouldn’t bet against Him.
As far as the United States government is concerned, we the people do have some measure of control. We can vote the weak and unprincipled out of office. We can refuse to stand for slandering good and decent (and that means, of necessity, imperfect) people seeking public office, and we can sanction those who do so for personal or political gain. We can insist that monumental decisions about the direction of this country do not generally belong in the hands of nine robed individuals (much less five or one), and insist that these decisions belong in legislative bodies comprised of elected representatives – the closer to the local level, where we can exert more control, the better.
Of course, we cannot demand these standards of our leaders if we are not willing to hold ourselves to them. But if we cannot (or will not), we will continue to watch as once revered and respected institutions move beyond decadence to irrelevance.