Louie Verrecchio
If the pope were a liberal Jew
By Louie Verrecchio
August 13, 2015

If the pope were a liberal Jew, what would his pontificate look like?

I'm being facetious, of course, as everyone knows that the pope, by definition, is Catholic.

That said, humor me, if you will, and consider the sorts of things that might come from the pontificate of a man who, practically speaking, thinks and feels and acts with the mind of a liberal Jew.

Before we begin this exercise, we need to know a little bit about what constitutes liberal Judaism, the two main branches of which identify as "Reform" and "Conservative," despite the absence of a formal creed to which their members must accede.

To that end, for the sake of expedience, I'll focus on sources that describe the characteristics of Reform Judaism, with the understanding being that, broadly speaking, Conservative Judaism differs rather little from Reform Judaism in its core convictions, notwithstanding its more "traditional" window dressing.

In order to get our hands around the tenets of Reform Judaism, such as they are, it is useful to consider, first and foremost, the myriad of traditional Jewish beliefs that the movement rejects.

Writing in the magazine Reform Judaism, Rabbi Elliot Stevens referred to several such beliefs, saying:
    ...the famous Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 that defined Classical Reform Judaism for several generations ... rejected such traditional Jewish notions as peoplehood, chosenness, the personal Messiah, resurrection, and a return to the Land of Israel ... as well as any references to the priesthood and the sacrificial cult.
Commenting upon the history of the Reform movement, Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman explained:
    Reform Jews prized an intellectual outlook on Judaism and valued religious tenets that could be upheld even in a rational, secular milieu. They did not, therefore, embrace traditional messianism – rooted in complicated Scriptural allusions and folklore, filled with images of apocalyptic battles, a superhuman deliverer, and even a physical resurrection of the dead.

    Perhaps the most powerful reason to jettison traditional messianic belief, the Reformers argued, was that it was simply not needed anymore. Human beings – guided not by a Messiah but by their own intellect – had already begun the work of redemption ... Reform Judaism abolished the concept of a divinely-sent Messiah and promised instead that humanity would accomplish its own redemption.

With so much focus on man as his own redeemer, it may come as little surprise that reformjudaism.org contends:
    Social justice and advocacy are among the central tenets of Reform Judaism.
Among the causes that fall into this category (as addressed on the same site) are those concerning economic justice for the poor, gun control, and liberal immigration reform.

None, arguably, has taken on quasi-religious status among Reform Jews to an extent equal to that of radical environmentalism – a movement-within-the-movement that twists the Psalmists words, addressed to God, "Thou shalt send forth thy spirit, and they shall be created: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth," into a manifesto for purely human endeavors that tend toward earth worship.

With regard to its aversion to the traditional understanding of peoplehood, and its unwillingness to embrace a doctrine that would dare to single out Judaism as the uniquely exalted religion of the one true God who revealed Himself to His chosen people, it only makes sense that Reform Judaism also holds:
    In our diverse and multicultural society, effective interreligious relationships are vital so that diverse faith groups may live together in harmony and work cooperatively.
Reform Judaism, just as predictably, also rejects traditional belief in the divine origins of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Rabbi Amy Scheinerman articulates the consequences of this rejection thus:
    For Orthodox Jews, the Hebrew Scriptures is a divinely-authored text and therefore every commandment contained therein must be obeyed ... Reform Jews, however, understand the texts to have been written by human beings – our ancestors.
The absence of belief in divinely instituted, obligatory precepts naturally leads to a situation wherein personal choice in matters of belief and behavior is allowed to reign supreme.
    For liberal Jews, the reality is that Jewish law (including the observance of Shabbat), is not necessarily seen as binding authority. Instead, the tradition is evaluated from the standpoint of whether and how it benefits them personally. – Roberta Rosenthal Kwall, Author of The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in Jewish Tradition
In short, according to reformjudaism.org:
    The great contribution of Reform Judaism is that it has enabled the Jewish people to introduce innovation while preserving tradition, to embrace diversity while asserting commonality, to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt, and to bring faith to sacred texts without sacrificing critical scholarship.
At this, let's recap some of what we've discovered of liberal (specifically Reform) Judaism, while considering how its tenets might shape the pontificate of a man who, practically speaking, thinks and feels and acts accordingly:

- A rejection of peoplehood and chosenness, as well as a rejection of a singularly exalted view of their own religion.

The pope that shares such a mindset would likely be quick to condemn Triumphalism and those "traditional" Catholics who still behave as if the Holy Roman Catholic Church is the one true faith established by God and endowed with the right to pass judgment on the personal and social obligations of men.

He might even go so far as to say that it is not necessary to convince those in error, more specifically religious error, to accept the Catholic faith ("no, no, no"), but merely to accompany them in their current condition, whatever it may be.

- A rejection of the bodily resurrection, along with a denial of God's promise of a personal Messiah as "simply not needed," in favor of the view that man, of his own volition, begins the work of redemption in the here-and-now via acts of social justice, thus ushering in a "messianic age" of peace.

A pontificate cut from such cloth would likely engage in a largely earthbound mission; necessarily focusing on those needs that arise from man's material poverty, even to the near exclusion of those that concern his spiritual poverty.

He may even speak of a desire for a "poor Church for the poor," as if such superficial solidarity with the materially impoverished could somehow enrich the world.

This pope would also likely downplay both the Divinity and the Kingship of Christ, suggesting that the traditional understanding of the Lord's resurrection somehow lacks in majesty. He may even suggest that Our Blessed Lord "stripped Himself of His divine glory" in order to serve humankind, thus providing the secular do-gooders' best example of what it means to give of oneself to others.

In other words, this Roman Pontiff would likely give every appearance of sharing the liberal Jewish view of Jesus of Nazareth – namely, that of a noteworthy agent for social change who wasn't afraid to "make a mess" as He went about challenging the powers-that-be with His universal message of brotherly love.

Having thus effectively demoted the Lord of all creation to the status of "all-around-good-guy-worthy-of-emulation," this pope might even go so far as to say that man himself is "King of the Universe," declaring that it is he who should be the "center of society and the focus of reflection."

- The anthropocentric reading of the Psalmist's prayer "thou shalt renew the face of the earth" that makes of environmentalism a religion all its own; leading to the near deification of the planet.

A pope that is infected with such a mindset as this would most certainly be susceptible to the ploys of those who promote agenda-driven pseudoscience (e.g., as it concerns climate change, biodiversity and ecological sustainability).

He may even contribute to the deification of the planet by suggesting that ecologically irresponsible men are guilty of committing "sins against creation," further corrupting the Psalmist's cry directed to God, "Against you alone have I sinned."

To the sheer horror of the faithful and embarrassment of the Church, he might even do so in the context of a papal encyclical!

- Abandonment of the traditional understanding of the unique role of the priesthood and the importance of the sacrificial cult.

A pope who dared to tread on this unholy ground might downplay the singular dignity of those in Holy Orders, suggesting that the ministerial priesthood is but "one means employed by Jesus for the service of his people," as if all of the baptized, heretics included, are of equal dignity – all of which would effectively relegate the Holy Sacrifice of the altar to a mere supporting role in a drama presumably written, directed and carried out by man for his own sake.

- A belief in the necessity of effective interreligious relationships, the goal of which is to embrace diversity while stressing commonality; encouraging people of all faiths to simply live harmoniously and to work cooperatively in service to a manifestly temporal view of the common good.

The pope that embraces such a notion would necessarily reject the Divine commission to convert the nations to Christ; perhaps to the point where he might even condemn the work of laboring for converts – the stock and trade of missionaries, martyrs and Saints – as "solemn nonsense."

This pope would most certainly be heavily invested in ecumenism, and would openly preach the necessity of dwelling on those things that Catholics, Jews, heathens and heretics hold in common (as if boldly thumbing one's nose at Christ the King and His Most Blessed Mother is but a trifle) as we go about, arm in arm, serving our fellow men, again, in their temporal need.

Along the way, he may even coin meaningless phrases like "unity in diversity," daring to give attribution to the Holy Ghost.

- A rejection of the Scriptures as a source for divinely-given commandments that must be obeyed.

A pontificate infected with such faithlessness would likely tend to promote false dichotomies between doctrine and pastoral practice. This pope might even one day boldly declare that "the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed" is the enemy of "pastoral ministry in a missionary style."

- A steadfast belief that it is possible to introduce innovations in practice and discipline while simultaneously preserving the integrity of tradition, even in matters that are absolutely central to the traditional understanding of the faith.

The Roman Pontiff that holds such a contradictory position, God forbid, would likely pay little more than lip service to traditional doctrines while undermining the same in both word and deed.

In time, a pontificate so infested with modernism might even go so far as to invite the bishops of the world to join him in debating ways to update the Church's treatment of matters that are truly non-negotiable; such as those practices that reflect upon the immutable truth concerning sexual morality, marriage and family as addressed by our Blessed Lord in Sacred Scripture.

So... does this hypothetical pontificate sound vaguely familiar?

Of course it does; it describes to a tee the mindset and the pontificate of Pope Francis – a man who has demonstrated time and again that he most certainly does not sentire cum ecclesia, but rather thinks and feels and acts with the mind of a liberal Jew – which is presumably why the Jewish Daily Forward named him among the "Fifty Most Influential Jews" less than a year into his papacy.

With all of this in mind, does it not make perfect sense that one of his very closest of friends (Rabbi Abraham Skorka) is a leading figure in the so-called "Conservative" branch of liberal Judaism?

Indeed, these men, and their movements, have much in common, not the least of which is the unshakable conviction that religion must adapt to the exigencies of the times; with the Lord who is ever the same yesterday, today and tomorrow summarily recast as the "God of Surprises" who magically endorses the validity of their every last whim.

You see, along with all liberal Jews, be they Reform or Conservative, Jorge Bergoglio's words and deeds have long been informed by a worldview that revolves squarely around man – not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, much less Jesus Christ, but man – his autonomy, his temporal condition, his conscience and his choices.

It is a stunning reality to look squarely in the face, to be sure, but acknowledge it we must.

That said, let us not zero-in on the Argentine Jesuit so intently as to ignore the role of that which not only produced him, but also gave rise to a church wherein such a man might one day enjoy singular prominence; namely, the Second Vatican Council.

The influence of liberal Jewish thought permeates the conciliar decrees, evident not only in the disastrous declaration, Nostra Aetate, but also in Unitatis Redintegratio, Dignitatis Humanae, and everywhere else the text celebrates the glories of human dignity in such way as to suggest that the Catholic Church, "no more than any other, has the cult of man" (cf Pope Paul VI – Closing Address to the Second Vatican Council, 7 Dec. 1965).

The humanist coup d'etat that is Vatican II has produced clearly discernible parallels between the crisis-ridden Church of today and the plight of its so-called "elder brothers in faith," as John Paul the Great Ecumenist delighted in calling them.

Indeed, history repeats itself:

For just as the Jews – the once Chosen People – rejected their Anointed One, only to one day find the preponderance of their progeny so far removed from tradition as to worship mankind as his own redeemer, so too has the Church in our day, thanks to Vatican II, with its practical denial of the Sovereignty of Christ, drifted so far afield that her children, the New People of God, now boast of a pope who plainly declares that man is "King of the Universe."

No, Jorge Bergoglio is not the architect of the anthropocentric takeover of the Holy Catholic Church; he is simply the most faithful of its sons to date to have darkened the Petrine Office.

With every passing day, Pope Francis, who I pegged nearly two years ago as "the long awaited generalissimo of the humanist revolution that was unleashed in earnest in 1958" (upon the death of Pius XII and the elevation of John XXIII), is revealing himself all the more clearly to be exactly that, and his pontificate as precisely what one might expect should a man with the mind of a liberal Jew somehow ascended to the Chair of St. Peter.

Oy gevalt!

© Louie Verrecchio


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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