When a Lie Becomes a Teaching Tool

A priest has apologized for “hurtful” remarks about Islam. But was he correct to reference Catholic “teaching” in his apology?

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It seems there remains a large segment of the Church that puts sentiment over reason, and fiction over facts.

From Catholic News Agency“A priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis [Fr. Nick VanDenBroeke] has apologized for a homily that described Islam as the biggest threat in the world to the United States and to Christianity.”

Whoa! My first thought was that this sounds like pretty risky substance for a homily and I could see why it may have ruffled some feathers in his Archdiocese. But then the tide changed for me when I got to the priest’s apology, which I presume was compelled by his bishop.

From Fr. VanDenBroeke’s statement: “My homily on immigration contained words that were hurtful to Muslims. I’m sorry for this. I realize now that my comments were not fully reflective of the Catholic Church’s teaching on Islam,

The Catholic Church’s teaching on Islam??  Since when does the Catholic Church issue teachings about another religion?  The Church does in fact give us some thoughts on other religions, but I wouldn’t call that a teaching on Islam.  You can read it from the Vatican II Document Nosta Aetate  which discusses our relationship with other religions.  Section 3 of the document is where Islam is specifically mentioned. And ONLY in section 3…which is merely a ten-lines long paragraph in which the word “Islam” appears only once, and Muslims (or “Moslems”) appears but twice.  Rather scant, for a teaching, isn’t it? Is that what we’re calling a teaching these days?  It’s a very deficient one, if it is.  In fact it is not a “teaching”, but merely the Church’s reflection, and an exhortation to charity and mutual understanding with those of other religions—Islam, in this case.

Here is Section 3 of Nosta Aetate on Islam, with my interjections in brackets.

From Nostra Aetate, Secion 3:

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men [So far so good, except in Islam God has not spoken to men, he has only spoken to Mohammed, and Mohammed handed down these teachings to men. Don’t underestimate the significance of that middle man!]; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself [The trouble here is that link is not real, it’s imagined.  Islam’s root is Muhammed, not Abraham. God entered into a covenant with Abraham, not with Muhammed.  Abraham is the father of nations. Muhammed was a warlord who conquered nations.] submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. [Again, all true, and all good stuff.]

So what this document tells us is that there are similarities between Catholicism and Islam. But it does not offer a teaching on Islam, as was alluded to in Fr. VanDenBroeke’s statement.  If you want a teaching about Islam, you have to go to Islam, not to the Catholic Church.

VanDenBroeke’s homily should not be viewed in, or judged by the light of a Vatican II document whose intent was merely to inform our relationships with non-Catholics. That wasn’t the subject of his homily.  If you want to understand, or even judge, Fr. VanDenBroeke’s homily, view it from the perspective of a grounding in History, and from the point of view of Islam’s own claims. If VanDenBroeke’s homily was about tensions between Islam and Christianity, history has a lot to teach us about that.  In fact, it even got a brief mention in Section 3 of Nostra Aetate, too!

“Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

“Not a few quarrels”??  There has been war between Islam and the West (at one time, Christianity was “the West”) since the days of Mohammed. And in just about every case where war has erupted, it’s Islam that causes it to erupt.  That’s not “…a few quarrels”, that’s 1500 years of active tension, and of history repeating itself again and again.

On a positive note, I agree completely with the sentiment of the document, despite having issues with some of its substance.  And as someone with several very close friends who are muslim, and are are good and wonderful people, I deeply appreciate the direction of Nosta Aetate which exhorts us to be good to each other and understand each other on a human, personal level, and to base our friendships and relationships, with muslims on the quality of their characters, not on the history between our religion and theirs; to view them as fellow children of God first and foremost, and to build relationships on what we have in common, rather than be divided by our differences.  But we can’t, as some interpreters of Nosta Aetate incorrectly assert, pretend that our religions are not different, or ignore what those differences mean—and historically have meant—in practice.  When Christianity gets so hot that it boils, it produces saints. When Islam gets so hot that it boils, it produces jihad.

st-francis
Once upon a time, Catholics weren’t shy about preaching to the muslims. This painting is in a Church in Cordoba, Spain, depicting St. Francis of Assisi before sultan Melek el Kamel

There are some things that are problematic about Islam. Many things.  In Islam jihad is a real thing. That isn’t an invention of some extremists in a remote desert somewhere.  Domination and subjugation of non-muslims, and non-Islamic cultures is a real directive in both the Quran and the Hadith.  Not all Muslims want to kill infidels but the vast majority of Muslims in the world believe that infidels should be conquered one way or another (war, legislation, breeding-out, institutional discrimination against non-muslims), and they believe Sharia law is superior to Western principals (Check out this research from Pew Research Center on views held by the world’s muslims, also Key Findings in the US and around the world) .  These are truths. They are truths that have been demonstrated over 1500 years of history, and continue to be demonstrated today, not just in the past.  They are truths that come from the teachings of Islam, contrary to the so-called “teachings on Islam” by the Church (there is no such thing!)

When you take these realities into account, you can understand why a priest, or any other reasonable person might claim that Islam is the biggest threat to Christianity, to the United States, and possibly to the Western world.  I’m not making that claim, because I haven’t given it enough thought to make a claim one way or the other.  But whether the claim is correct or not is another conversation. The fact is it’s a reasonable claim, from a reasoned analysis of the facts, of history, present times, and Islam’s own teaching. It should be noted also that Father VanDenBroeke was talking about Islam—an ideology. He didn’t seem to attack persons who are muslim.  Not every Muslim is a whole-hearted one. Many Muslims know very little of the dictates of the Quran, even though they believe in God and pray/worship regularly. Well I guess I found yet another similarity between Catholicism and Islam—lukewarm members!

Whether or not Father VanDenBroeke’s homily was borderline uncharitable, I think it’s insane that he was forced to issue an apology.  But what I think is worse is that he apologized for something honest by telling a lie: There is no Church teaching on Islam, and the Church’s exhortative language in Nostra Aetate does not equate Christianity and Islam and the document itself is not intended to inform geopolitical philosophy, but merely to direct behavior and promote mutual understanding between persons, which is all quite different from how it was leveraged in Fr. VanDenBroeke’s [presumably compelled] apology.

If we continue to be a Church that finds enmity with truth, as we see all too frequently observe in what we hear from so many bishops and priests; if we continue to reject facts because they’re inconvenient, to reject reason because it leads us to painful truths, to reject reality because our fantasies are less challenging, we will cease altogether to be the Catholic Church and will become, instead, a clubhouse of secular moralists who declare friendship with Christ but who actually court friendship with the world.

Pray for the Church!

Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!

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