The Catholic left’s outcry against Archbishop Jose Gomez’s recent address to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life in Spain, deploring anti-Christian secularization, was predictable.
They imply that in labeling certain “new social justice movements” “pseudo religions,” the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is rejecting the entire concept of “social justice.”
But Gomez has always been a strong advocate for social justice—properly understood. What he is opposing now are groups promoting a “Marxist social vision” and “broad patterns of aggressive secularization.”
“As our Popes have pointed out,” he notes, “secularization means ‘de-Christianization.’” And this aggressive secularization is being driven by “an elite leadership class” that “has little interest in religion and no real attachments to the nations they live in or to local traditions and cultures.”
Witness this elite’s trampling on traditions and cultures of developing nations, deriding their religious beliefs while imposing western practices they find morally abhorrent: population control and abortion, anti-family policies, gender ideologies that Pope Francis terms “demonic.”
This elite class, Gomez says, “is in charge in corporations, governments, universities, the media, and in the cultural and professional establishments” —all power centers secular and religious progressives previously indicted as forces of oppression and exploitation.
Now that those elites have embraced the cultural left, however—and as “religion, especially Christianity,” is their primary target for repression—their power and wealth are welcomed, even as their exploitation of the world’s vulnerable continues apace. Think of western corporations relocating production facilities to poor nations, where they pay poverty-stricken workers a pittance; or to China, whose Communist government provides them with outright slave labor.
This elite, Gomez points out, envisions a “global civilization” built on “a consumer economy” —something else progressives previously found exploitive, of workers and the poor. But with “woke” corporations now pouring profits from that economy into numerous left-wing causes, why worry about exploited workers and slave laborers who make those profits possible?
Fordham theologian Father Bryan Blasingame claims Gomez “blanketly characterizes social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter as pseudo-religions based on profoundly atheistic ideologies that are hostile to Catholic belief.”
But Gomez does not “blanketly” characterize anything. He details precisely the kind of social justice movements he is criticizing. And as he never mentioned Black Lives Matter, it is Blasingame who, however unintentionally, suggests BLM fits that characterization.
“Most Black Catholics I know,” Blasingame says, “declare that Black Lives Matter precisely because of our allegiance to what the archbishop calls the Christian story.”
This conflates the slogan—with which no faithful Catholic can disagree—with the self-proclaimed Marxist, and therefore atheist, roots of the BLM Global Network. And it ignores BLM involvement in the violence that devastated cities last year—victimizing primarily communities of color—or the threats last week from BLM of Greater New York leader Hawk Newsome, who promised “riots,” “fire,” and “bloodshed” if incoming African American NYC Mayor Eric Adams does not do their bidding.
This is the “extremism,” the “harsh, uncompromising and unforgiving approach” Gomez deplores.
Citing the police killing of George Floyd as “a stark reminder that racial and economic inequality are still deeply embedded in our society,” Gomez recognizes that these movements are often a response “to real human needs and suffering.”
But this too—like atheism and violence—is an inherent characteristic of Marxism: exploiting real suffering and injustice to impose “cures” that are often worse than the disease.
“These strictly secular movements,” Gomez observes, “are causing new forms of social division, discrimination, intolerance, and injustice.”
“We all want to build a society that provides equality, freedom, and dignity for every person,” he says.
But the cultural left rejects that assertion, insisting that only those who are “woke,” steeped in identity politics, victimhood, and left-wing ideology—and appropriately contemptuous of the rights of those who are not—really care about promoting human dignity, equality, and freedom. The rest of us are to be canceled, defamed as racists and white supremacists, our freedom of belief and expression censored—violently, if necessary—from the public square.
These “profoundly atheistic” movements, the archbishop points out, promise a false, human-centered utopia while denigrating Christian beliefs “about human life and the human person, about marriage, the family and more.” Thus, he concludes, they must be engaged “not on social or political terms, but as dangerous substitutes for true religion.”
“That does not mean we remain passive in the face of social injustice,” he stressed. “Never! But we do need to insist that fraternity cannot be built through animosity or division. True religion does not seek to harm or humiliate, to ruin livelihoods or reputations.”
“The world does not need a new secular religion to replace Christianity,” he says. “It needs you and me to be better witnesses.”
That is critical for American Catholics. While our brothers and sisters in different parts of the world—the Middle East, China, North Korea—endure persecution, imprisonment, even martyrdom for their Catholic faith, we are often unwilling to risk far less—being ridiculed, socially ostracized, shunned professionally—for defending our faith.
Archbishop Gomez is telling us that must change—now!
“We need to proclaim Jesus Christ. Boldly,” he urges. “We should not be intimidated by these new religions of social justice and political identity.”
For “The Gospel remains the most powerful force for social change that the world has ever seen.”