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Good Church/Bad Church

Dance critic Holly Brubach once said Michael Jackson had only six moves but they were among the best six moves. It’s the same with the devil. He doesn’t have very many moves but he does have some good ones, some of the best, good enough to fool us with.

He convinces us he does not exist. He convinces us we do not need forgiveness, or that we are too awful to get it. He convinces us we can be like God. He convinces us we can do without the Apostles. That is one of his best moves, and he is working it earnestly right now with many in the press and among the Ever Questioning Church.

Nicholas Kristof complained in his regular New York Times column the other day about the excommunication of a hospital-based nun who approved the abortion of an eleven-week-old child in order to save the life of the child’s mother. Kristof opens by saying: “The excommunication of Sister Margaret McBride in Phoenix underscores all that to me feels morally obtuse about the church hierarchy.” He quotes an unnamed person who said “True Christians, like Sister Margaret, understand that real life is full of difficult moral decisions and pray that they make the right decision in the context of Christ’s teachings. Only a group of detached, pampered men in gilded robes on a balcony high above the rest of us could deny these dilemmas.”

Not many weeks ago Kristof wrote, “Maybe the Catholic Church should be turned upside down. Jesus wasn’t known for pontificating from palaces, covering up scandals, or issuing Paleolithic edicts on social issues.”

What Kristof proposes is two Churches. Good Church is made of the very good and saintly people – mostly nuns – carrying out their selfless humanitarian work on the ground, all the while being hectored and hampered by Bad Church, the pampered and soft elite who have little to do with the real teachings of Jesus.

In the healthcare debate we saw the same thing. Bad Church said they supported healthcare for all, but thundered the bill could not pass as long as there was any chance abortion would be funded under the new mandates. Good Church supported the Obama bill and said Bad Church was benighted, misguided, and did not really understand. Bad Church was willing to sacrifice poor people to the desires of the Republicans and the Religious Right. Good Church, nuns led by Sister Carol Keehan of the Catholic Health Care Association, held themselves out as the real Church and gave cover for pro-abortion Catholics in Congress to vote for the bill.

Some months ago Bad Church announced an investigation of Good Church. Bad Church was sending representatives into the convents of Good Church in a kind of inquisition and as a way to exercise power that Bad Church felt had slipped away from their soft and manicured hands. Good Church responded by saying Bad Church was not really welcome. Sister Sandra M. Schneiders wrote a widely circulated email, “We cannot, of course, keep [Bad Church] from investigating. Be we can receive them, politely and kindly, for what they are, uninvited guests who should be received in the parlor, not given the run of the house. When people ask questions they shouldn’t ask, the questions should be answered accordingly.”

It makes sense that dissenters would rally around the Nuns; indeed believe the Nuns lead the Church. Even oh-so-thoughtful-questioners and outright dissenters need a tradition to hold onto. It is in our human genes to need tradition. At the same time, they reject Bad Church, which to them is the bishops and the Vatican. But let us linger on what the bishops are. They are the direct and unbroken line to the Apostles. Break the line at your own peril.

Look at what happens when you are severed from the Apostles. You begin to get a lot wrong. Look at the Anglican Church these days. In this order, they accepted: contraception, abortion, and homosexual bishops. As a result they are splitting apart faster than an exploding atom. When you sever yourself from the Apostles only confusion comes, and then decay and eventual death.

On the other hand, what Kristof and others consider Bad Church is the one that protects us from error. It is the Barque of Peter that we must cling to no matter what. It is the guarantee Christ gave to us. It is His Body. The bishops are not the Church alone, but they are our shepherds. Tear us from them and we are lost. The Church is also faithful Catholics all over the world doing good for the love of Christ, and clinging tightly to the One True Church and all of Her teachings, even the ones Kristof and the dissenters find so onerous.

An aging and holy Dominican I know said his sister is just such a nun; she is of Kristof’s Good Church. The sister’s aging congregation recently moved in with another aging congregation: “This is common now. They no longer get vocations. They are old and getting older. They are coming together to die.”

These congregations will die out, and the one true Church will remain led, not always perfectly, by Her Apostles. The Church will remain and with it the teachings of Christ. The tricks of the devil will remain, too. And the gullible will always be with us, yea even unto the end of time.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.