July 2, 2017
So, you will ask me — legitimately — how about the Crusades and the clashes between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, etc? Were these not instances of meddling in politics by the Catholic Church? As you can imagine, my answer will be No.
The Middle Ages represent the vacuum created the western world by the collapse of the old and totalitarian Roman Empire. Hostages to their political past, and lacking in political imagination, both sides of these conflicts claimed as their due the mantle of European supremacy. They called it ius divinum/divine right. They both claimed it — the Emperor non less than the Pope.
The collapse of the Holy Roman Empire and the rise of what we call the nation states of the modern world left the Church still claiming its ius divinum in the face of new claimants to the same right — the kings and parliaments of emerging countries. For background on this stull check out the internet’s treatment of such figures as Pope Pius VII and IX, Napoleon and Voltaire and Thomas Becket and Henry III.
Frankly, it took the absolute collapse of every semblance of European coherence in two world wars to make the Catholic Church realize that she was struggling for the cadaver of the Roman Empire, not its mantle. Awakening in a world where the prize was no more, the Church, under the leadership of St. John XXIII and some really brilliant (American) theologians came to the realization that politics and peace treaties are probably the best way to get humans to create wider and wider circles of mutual inclusion. But they are not all that humanity needs or all that it longs for. The Church now defines her role keeping alive and living out the vision of a single united creation that must be the ultimate goal of all human interactions at whatever political level.
This leads her, though, to the role of ever-vigilant critic of any ‘secular/godless’ party or coalition to bring about the divine plan for the world — the ultimate stage of human history.
Do all Catholics at every level of the Catholic Church always practice this vision with utter purity of heart and deed? Probably not. But if you keep this insight in mind, you will notice that when the Church does seem to be a hostile participant in partisan or international politics it is always because she refuses to see the victory of one party over another or of one political system over another as ‘right’. And the hostility is not generated by the Church that seeks the overthrow of anyone else, but by the ‘other’ who wants only endorsement and brooks no demurral.
The Catholic Church is the oldest and most effective NGO in the world. It is truly universal and, as a rule, conducts her affairs with admirable non-discrimination and inclusiveness. This fact does not entitle her to run everything. Nor does she claim that right. But as the only really universal body on the ground in every place, it does give her a unique perspective on which to judge the ‘world wideness’ of every other organization.
Really and truly and catholically yours,