It's all right for the Church to avoid taking sides on divisive issues
This week’s edition of the Catholic Herald carries an interesting article by Michael Davis about the Church’s impending judgement on Medjugorje, which you can read here. Mr Davis is completely correct, in my view, in his analysis. Whatever the Church says is likely to alienate at least one group of people.
What then is to be done? To say that the appearances at Medjugorje are supernatural in origin will be problematic; to deny that will be problematic; and to say that some were and some were not seems very strange indeed and perhaps the worst of all worlds. But there is another course of action, and that is to say nothing at all. There is a strong Biblical precedent for this. Acts 5: 34-39 tells us of the intervention of the wise Gamaliel:
But a Pharisee in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up, ordered the men [the Apostles] to be put outside for a short time, and said to them, “Fellow Israelites, be careful what you are about to do to these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about four hundred men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavour or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” They were persuaded by him.
Historically, the Church has made very few interventions about appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The only cases I know of are Lourdes, La Salette and Fatima, which have been pronounced worthy of belief, but not de fide. Medjugorje can surely be left to the Gamaliel test and the judgement of Providence.
It is not just in this field that there seems to be no urgency to make a pronouncement one way or another. Only last Wednesday the Pope launched a two-year campaign about the plight of migrants, designed to change the growing anti-migrant feeling in certain Western countries.
We all know that we are to welcome the stranger, and look after the man fallen among thieves, for we have all been brought up on the parable of the Good Samaritan. But this campaign for us all to be Good Samaritans seems ill-advised at this time. By campaigning for migrants, the Church will find itself campaigning against the supporters of Alternativ für Deutschland in Germany, the supporters of Donald Trump in America, and the supporters of all those political parties that have taken a stand against unrestricted migration. The Church will, however, find itself firmly allied to Angela Merkel.
Of course, the Church must alert people to the moral dimension of the migrant crisis, but it seems short-sighted, to say the least, to leap into a political debate firmly on one side. This may well have a negative effect, and many may see this as the Church interfering in politics and wish that the Church might “butt out”.
It is perfectly true that the Church has long campaigned against euthanasia and abortion, and it should continue to do so – but these are not party political issues. Migration is. The Church’s interventions on this should take that into account, to avoid alienating people on the other side.
As it is, the Pope’s campaign will spark further division. I am sure, for example, some people will ask this question: why does the Pope put pressure on America, Australia, and the nations of Europe to take migrants, but not countries like Saudi Arabia or the countries of Latin America?
As with Medjugorje, so with migration: it seems best to make a statement of general principle, and leave the specifics to one side. There are too many hostages to fortune involved in making detailed pronouncements now.