Archbishop Gomez’s Message Against Woke ‘Pseudo-Religions’ Resonates with Bishops

‘I believe the best way for the Church to understand the new social justice movements,’ said the USCCB president, ‘is to understand them as pseudo-religions, and even replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs.’

Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles visits the North American College in Rome, Sept. 16, 2019. (Photo: Daniel Ibáñez)

In his speech last week at the fall assembly of bishops, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), repeated themes from a virtual address he gave earlier this month about the “need to proclaim Jesus Christ boldly” in the face of “social justice movements” in American society that have become “pseudo-religions.” 

Several other U.S. bishops spoke with the Register about Archbishop Gomez’s comments on the rise of aggressive secular ideologies, and how the Church can respond to them with the message of Christ.

During his Nov. 4 address to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life in Madrid, Archbishop Gomez said that “the best way for the Church to understand the new social justice movements is to understand them as pseudo-religions, and even replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs.” He said “today’s critical theories and ideologies” deny “the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature; or they think that it is irrelevant to human happiness. They reduce what it means to be human to essentially physical qualities — the color of our skin, our sex, our notions of gender, our ethnic background, or our position in society.”

“In denying God,” he said, “these new movements have lost the truth about the human person. This explains their extremism, and their harsh, uncompromising, and unforgiving approach to politics.” He said the Church “should not be intimidated by these new religions of social justice and political identity” as “the Gospel remains the most powerful force for social change that the world has ever seen. And the Church has been ‘antiracist’ from the beginning. All are included in her message of salvation.”

Touching on themes from this talk when he addressed his fellow bishops Nov. 16 at the start of the USCCB’s fall assembly, Archbishop Gomez said that “the Church’s position in society has changed. We cannot count on numbers or our influence in society. None of that ever really mattered anyway. We are here to save souls. And Jesus promised us that if we seek his Kingdom first, everything we need will be given to us.”

He warned of a turning point in history, saying that “for most of our history, the story that gave meaning to our lives was rooted in a biblical worldview and the values of our Judeo-Christian heritage. It was the story of the human person created in God’s image and invested with an earthly vocation to build a society where people could live in freedom, with equality and dignity.” 

“What we see all around us now, are signs that this narrative may be breaking down,” he said. “This is one of the consequences of living in a secular society. We all need God to help us to make sense of our lives, so when we try to live without God, we can become confused.” He said that what people need is “to hear the true story — the beautiful story of Christ’s love for us, his dying and rising from the dead for us, and the hope he brings to our lives.”

 

The Need for Hope

Speaking with the Register Nov.17, Bishop Thomas Daly of Spokane said that Archbishop Gomez’s message in both talks resonated because “it was clear” and “he addressed these many things that have become as he said, pseudo religions” referencing how “cancel culture in one sense has their own form of excommunication, with no redemption, no mercy.” He praised how Archbishop Gomez brought in how there was hope in a “renewal with Christ.” 

“Hope is reality grounded in faith,” Bishop Daly said. “The reality is it's a divided time and I think it's because people have lost a sense of God, but for those who are trying to follow God, follow God's will, calling out these issues. The reality is Christ’s words: ‘I am with you to the end of the age’ that gives us hope. We are not in this alone.” 

“Archbishop Gomez, when calling out these issues, was saying, ‘we have Christ. Let us share Christ, let us live Christ,’” he said. “It was tremendously clear, very much needed and hopefully it becomes a way for us in the United States and maybe for us to guide the world to not give up because a lot of people are giving up, I think a lot of people don't know where to turn. They're looking to the Church, as they should, but the Church has to be bold in its proclaiming as Archbishop Gomez did.” 

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield called Archbishop Gomez’s message “essential,” noting it received a standing ovation at the conference in a “very strong show of support” for his emphasis on “the importance of simply preaching Jesus Christ” in the face of “false ideologies becoming religions for many people.”

Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the outgoing chair of the USCCB’s committee on pro-life issues, told the Register that Archbishop Gomez was “articulating what the present moment is and what the opposition is” with his virtual speech. In his address to the bishops, “he was really focused on we don't have to invent a new story. We have this story. We have what people are longing for. We just need to announce that gospel, and be witnesses of it.”

He said that with “the pandemic, the chaos in our culture has got many people realizing the secular ideology is not working out so well. ... Once you push God out, it creates chaos in our society, and it creates what we’re seeing as a greater alienation within our culture.” 

 

Responding to the ‘Church of Secularism’

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco said that Archbishop Gomez’s message was “brilliant” and was in line with the words of writer Mary Eberstadt and Robert George, the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, who have warned of a “church of secularism.” Archbishop Cordileone said this church of secularism “has the markings of a religion. They have infallible dogmas and they don’t allow any dissent from those dogmas. They punish people who dissent, they have their saints and their martyrs. They have their rituals, they have their sacraments and really, for them, abortion is their blessed sacrament. That's why they reel in violent reaction to any even limitation or regulation of it.” 

One possible example of this could be the stance of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who, when asked about late-term abortion in 2013 said, “as a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this. I don’t think it should have anything to do with politics.”

“I was sorry to see some of the poorly thought-out criticisms of him,” Archbishop Cordileone said of some of the reaction to Archbishop Gomez’s speech. “I thought they took remarks of his out of context for another purpose. He was very balanced. He was very compassionate, recognizing the realities that we’re dealing with and also a simplistic reading of history. History is always much more complex than people want to make us believe. There's always lots of lights and shadows. I’m very pleased that he gave that address and I think it’s going to be something for a lot of us to reflect on for a while.”

Archbishop Gomez’s Nov. 4 speech was met with criticism from some groups, including with a petition from Faith in Public Life and Faithful America, which said that “Catholic bishops and other religious leaders should be out in the streets with these movement organizers, not demeaning them with language that only emboldens opponents of racial equity.” It said the speech was “particularly painful and offensive to Black Catholic advocates in the United States who have organized for racial justice in the face of indifference and even hostility from many white Christians,” and asked Archbishop Gomez to “please apologize for your statements and stand in solidarity with social movements, as Pope Francis has done.”

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