Top US Catholic bishop calls social justice movements ‘pseudo-religion’

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Source: Religion News Service

By Jack Jenkins

(RNS) — Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, railed against “new social justice movements” during a speech Thursday (Nov. 4), decrying them as “pseudo-religions” that ultimately serve as “dangerous substitutes for true religion.”

Gomez, who heads the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, delivered the remarks in a video message sent to a meeting of the Congress of Catholics and Public Life in Madrid. The prelate argued the United States, like Europe, has been subject to “aggressive secularization,” insisting “there has been a deliberate effort in Europe and America to erase the Christian roots of society and to suppress any remaining Christian influences.”

He also lambasted “cancel culture,” contending that “often what is being canceled and corrected are perspectives rooted in Christian beliefs.”

But Gomez saved his most strident criticism for “new social movements and ideologies,” the influence of which, he said, accelerated after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.

RELATED: Why a Catholic journalist is urging the church to engage Black Lives Matter

Although Gomez noted that Floyd’s killing was “a stark reminder that racial and economic inequality are still deeply embedded in our society,” he suggested the movements that inspired related demonstrations last year have been “unleashed in our society” and serve as replacements for “traditional Christian beliefs.”

“With the breakdown of the Judeo-Christian worldview and the rise of secularism, political belief systems based on social justice or personal identity have come to fill the space that Christian belief and practice once occupied,” he said. “Whatever we call these movements — ‘social justice,’ ‘wokeness,’ ‘identity politics,’ ‘intersectionality,’ ‘successor ideology’ — they claim to offer what religion provides.”

Gomez’s remarks echoed an argument increasingly common in conservative faith circles. In June, a Southern Baptist minister characterized critical race theory as “paganism,” calling it a “new religion that is on the wrong side of history.”

Gomez did not mention Black Lives Matter by name but claimed that while “many of those who subscribe to these new movements and belief systems are motivated by noble intentions,” the movements themselves — namely, “critical theories and ideologies” — are “profoundly atheistic” concepts that “deny the soul, the spiritual, transcendent dimension of human nature.”

He insisted the movements resemble “some of the heresies that we find in church history,” as well as liberation theology — a poverty-focused field of theology with historic roots among Latin American Catholics, but which has brought complicated and often fraught responses from Catholic hierarchy.

“I believe that it is important for the church to understand and engage these new movements — not on social or political terms, but as dangerous substitutes for true religion,” he said.

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1 reply

  1. Fr. Bryan Massingale, a leading Catholic theologian in the U.S., says he read Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez’s Nov. 4 speech to a Catholic group in Spain with “dismay and disbelief.”

    Gomez, who is also the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, claimed that some modern social justice movements were Marxist-inspired, anti-Christian “pseudo-religions.”

    “He has a serious misunderstanding, and perhaps even a willed ignorance, about the goals and motivations of contemporary social justice movements,” said Massingale, a Fordham University theologian and author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.

    Massingale and other Black Catholics told NCR that they were appalled at how Gomez framed today’s social justice activism, including the anti-racist movement in the United States, as an angry expression of a corrosive secularism being pushed by an “elite leadership class.”

    “For example, he blanketly characterizes social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter as pseudo-religions based on profoundly atheistic ideologies that are hostile to Catholic belief,” Massingale said.

    20210402T1445-CATHOLIC-LEADERS-VIOLENCE-TRANSGENDER-1245279 resize.jpgFr. Bryan Massingale (CNS/Fordham University/Bruce Gilbert)
    Fr. Bryan Massingale (CNS/Fordham University/Bruce Gilbert)
    “On the contrary, most Black Catholics I know advocate Black Lives Matter precisely because of our belief in the universal human dignity of all people as images of God,” Massingale added. “We declare that Black Lives Matter precisely because of our allegiance to what the archbishop calls the Christian story.”

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