Good Atheists, Bad Catholics

Two vaguely related news items. First, from the grey lady:

Atheists should be seen as good people if they do good, Pope Francis said on Wednesday in his latest urging that people of all religions – or no religion – work together. [...]

He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus.

“Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good,” he said.

I appreciate the gesture. Obviously the notion that atheists are “saved” is meaningless to me, and the emphasis on the sacrifice of the chief prophet seems misplaced, but the outreach is nice to see.

But just as I’m basking in the warm glow, I turn to the Chicago Tribune

Chicago Jesuits hid sex crimes

Internal church records released Tuesday show that Chicago Jesuits consciously concealed the crimes of convicted sex offender Donald McGuire for more than 40 years as the prominent Roman Catholic priest continued to sexually abuse dozens of children around the globe.

One letter written in 1970 by the Rev. John H. Reinke, then president of Loyola Academy in Wilmette, described McGuire’s presence at the school as “positively destructive and corrosive.” Instead of insisting he be removed from ministry or sent to treatment, Reinke suggested a transfer to Loyola University.

It’s really hard to sing “We Are the World” when this crap is still going on.

  • Tom B.

    Just to be clear, in Catholic-talk Redeemed does not mean Saved (In
    Protestant-talk btw I think it does). It’s the press that introduced that
    confusion into this story. It’s also something that’s meaningless to you so
    I’ll spare you the technicalities but that ALL humans (even the nasty athiests) are redeemed is an old and established teaching. His only point is to promote cooperation and dialogue between Catholics and un-believers, not to espouse either universalism or Justification by works.

    • Observer

      What does it mean to Catholics that non believers are Redeemed?

      • Tom B.

        I’m no theologian, but here my best effort. You may or may not have heard of TULIP Calvinism. Each letter of TULIP stands for one of the main points of Calvin’s teaching. The L stands for Limited Redemption; this is as opposed to the Catholic belief in Universal Redemption, which mainly highlights that this is nothing new the Pope is saying. The T stands for Total Depravity, as in humans are totally depraved: incapable of doing any good. Catholics believe that because of the Fall humans would have been totally depraved, EXCEPT they have been redeemed by Christ. Because of that, they (even Atheists) can do good, and
        more importantly are able to accept the grace offered by Christ and be saved. So without redemption no one could be saved; without universal redemption only the predestined few could be saved. Salvation is only by accepting God’s grace and even our ability to accept grace is only by God’s grace.
        Though here really the Pope is only saying that Atheists are not some kind of moral monsters.

        • kessy_athena

          That makes it sound like Christians believe that humans were incapable of doing anything good before Jesus got himself executed – that there was no such thing as kindness, consideration, altruism, etc. That seems exceptionally irrational, even for Christians. Or am I misunderstanding?

          As for the pope’s actions, as big as the Catholic Church’s problems are, we should still acknowledge positive steps, even when a lot more positive steps are desperately needed.

          • The Other Weirdo
            • evodevo

              Whoa! that opens up a whole ‘nother can of theological worms. Too bad most xtians are not that familiar with either theology OR the Bible.

          • Tom B.

            I see
            your issue; it very complicated. First the Redemption is casually, not
            temporally prior to Humans having a “redeemed nature”. So the
            Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament and countless others were not only
            good-doers but in fact Saved – by Christ. For God time isn’t such a big deal as
            it is for us. Sigh; there’s a lot more to it than that, the starting point
            which would get you either to the Catholic or for that matter the Calvinist
            position is: no good can emanate from any source other than God, who is The
            Perfect (ie the pure, infinite and ONLY good). That may sound simple but it’s a
            conundrum, once theologians get a hold of it. Anyway I wasn’t really trying to
            explain this for Atheists. I get you
            think the whole thing pointless and silly. I was more concerned Protestants
            might overhear, so to speak, and have more ammo for thinking Catholics are Pelagian
            Heretics, that is believe in Salvation by our own efforts rather than grace.

            • kessy_athena

              Actually, you answered my question quite nicely, thanks. I didn’t realize that christianity rejects strict causality. That certainly simplifies things.

              The problem I have with the idea is that it makes it sound like goodness is some sort of commodity that can be transferred like a material object. Almost as if Yahweh is bottling goodness and shipping it out by FedEx. To me, being good is entirely about actions and consequences. Being good is about doing good things, and I really don’t see where the gods would come into the equation.

            • JohnMWhite

              In this scenario, both goodness and badness (sin) are commodities that can be traded and transferred. Jesus dies for your sins, after all. He takes upon himself the burden of all sin from everyone and then gets himself killed, a stand-in sacrifice who transfers atonement to the rest of us. It essentially makes people completely superfluous and their actions worthless, which makes Francis’ latest position rather problematic. No amount of good a person does can undo their sin but their good and their sin are washed away in the tide of whatever Jesus did on their behalf to appease the father who is also himself.

  • busterggi

    Yeah, their actions are abominable but remember, they count on being forgiven so its okay in their minds.

  • Brett Stewart

    How do you get from “One letter written in 1970…” to “…is still going on”?


    The need for there to be a redeemer and the idea that people need ‘saving’ is predicated on the idea that a couple of nudists, in the distant past, took dietary advice from a talking snake.

  • Jenny Hunter

    Stalin, Mao etc etc etc very bad atheists in the last 100 years….estimate one quarter billion poor innocent souls tortured and murdered.

    • JohnMWhite

      Ugh. I like that you have so many etcs. yet are clearly too ignorant to even think of other evil atheists. You forgot Pol Pot, for one, but the fact these people did not believe in any particular god is incidental to their enormous crimes. They didn’t kill in the name of a non-god. That’s just absurd. Meanwhile, untold millions have been killed and continue to die in the name of various religions. It wasn’t too long ago people were still gunning each other down in the street in the UK over exactly how holy they considered the Virgin Mary. I seem to recall a few thousand people being killed with airplanes in the name of god not so long ago, too.