Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science, Director of Human Life Studies, and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is In Defense of Nature: the Catholic Unity of Environmental, Economic, and Moral Ecology. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com.
Something quite wonderful happened in the middle of this series on Pope Emeritus Benedict and secularism — Pope Francis.
The really wonderful news is that the pope is not a president. A change in popes does not signal, as it does with political elections, a change in administrations that brings a radical change in fundamental doctrines. A pope is bound by Tradition and Scripture, by the doctrines and decisions of the Church for 2,000 years as rooted in and defined by the Revelation of God. He is about handing on the truth, proclaiming the truth, not reinventing the truth.
As with Benedict, Pope Francis will be proclaiming the truth against ever more aggressive secularism. Like Europe — or more exactly, as an export of Europe — his native Argentina is largely defined by a secularism at odds with, and often directly antagonistic to, the Church.
Secular antagonism by the Argentine government against the Vatican goes back a long way, to the first half of the 19th century, and began to heat up in Argentina in the 1880s (in parallel to what was going on in France at the same time) as the government began the earnest secularization of education and the institution of purely civil marriage.
The 20th-century Argentine state has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Church, most recently an off-again with the election of President Néstor Kirchner in 2003 and then his wife Cristina in 2007. The Kirchner administration, as it is called, is keen on pushing secular sexual education (complete with free contraceptives and condoms), and it successfully legalized “gay marriage” in 2010.
Then, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina opposed all such secularizing measures. Now he must face the worldwide secular onslaught as Pope — just as Benedict so courageously did.
You can be sure that one of the first issues that Pope Francis will face is contention against the Church’s position on homosexuality and more particularly, “gay marriage.” Again, Argentina already legalized it; the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing the (allegedly) landmark case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the last week of March.
If we look worldwide — and that’s where Pope Francis must now raise his vision — we find a very predictable pattern. Wherever secular liberalism has gained political and cultural hold, same-sex “marriage” has been legally affirmed, beginning with the Netherlands in 2001, and then not long after, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and, most recently, Denmark. The same pattern fits our own state-by-state legalization: Wherever the secular-minded gain political control, “gay marriage” is imposed.
That is why Pope Benedict so presciently defined the real conflict facing the New Evangelization as the battle with aggressive secularism. It is a battle that will be waged between the Church and the increasingly secular state. Same-sex “marriage” is only one part of it, but a significant part.
As then-Cardinal Ratzinger warned before becoming Pope, “Very soon, it will no longer be possible to affirm that homosexuality (as the Catholic Church teaches) constitutes an objective disordering in the structure of human existence. …” The legal power of the state will come down hard on the Church as violating state-defined rights and committing state-created crimes of discrimination. It won’t be a matter of church and state, but the secular state vs. church.
When that happens, the Church will find itself defending what is natural against the secular notion that our nature is entirely malleable. The secular belief that we can define our sexuality and, hence, our notion of marriage any way we please is, for Pope Emeritus Benedict, a sign of the most blinding hubris, the pride of those who reject God and then elevate themselves in his place.
As Benedict said in Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, “When man prefers his own egoism, his pride and his convenience to the demands made on him by the truth, the only possible outcome is an upside-down existence. … That which is against nature becomes the norm; the man who lives against the truth also lives against nature.”
And that very world turned upside-down by secular hubris will be the world that Pope Francis must now so bravely face. Our prayers must be with him every day.