Jesus Didn’t Say Render Unto Caesar That Which is God’s

Jesus Didn’t Say Render Unto Caesar That Which is God’s April 29, 2024

Since the Church began aiming more at worldly things than at spiritual, things have gone from bad to worse. 

Catherine of Siena

 Our bishops are well educated, highly intelligent, verbally slick, immensely talented men. As such, they will always be subject to the temptations that beset people who are more intelligent and talented than those around them. One of those temptations is to use those talents to gain power over other people and use that power — while lying to themselves that this is for the people’s “own good” — to force people to fall into line with the thinking and desires of the bishops themselves. 

Bishops have a special — and potentially spiritually fatal — temptation of using the power of the Church itself which they wield by virtue of their office to gain financial and legislative favors from government. When someone is intelligent and verbally slick, they can and do use their talents to persuade and bamboozle themselves into thinking that they are taking bribes in exchange for mis-using their talents to advance the political fortunes of evil people because it is a way for them to have the power and money to do more good. 

Think of all the good I will do with this money! They tell themselves and their followers. Consider the ways I can advance the Church with this political access I have. 

We all overlook our own sins and focus on other people’s failings. It’s human nature. But when someone wears a mitered hat and carries a shepherd’s crook and goes around claiming with a straight face that he stands in the line of succession from the Apostles and that his words carry the authority of the God Who made everything there is, I would guess that it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that every little thing you do is sanctified by Him. 

When that someone is also glib, intelligent, highly educated and almost never hears the straight-from-the-shoulder truth from anyone who is around him; when that someone is flattered, deferred to, and, yes, obeyed by the people who work for him as if he was a little tin god, human nature is going to click in there somewhere. The bishops are not other Christs. They are not any of the pretty things we pew-sitting Catholics regularly drape onto them. 

They’re ordinary men who are good at playing Church politics and have made a successful career in the Church which has led them to a position of governing power and authority within that Church. The graces of the sacraments flow through them to the priests and into us. That is real and it is holy. But it is not due to anything special about them, their judgement, or even their personal holiness. It is a gift to us, the people of God, from God. 

The God Who spoke existence into existence uses ordinary things to do His will. He began our story with spit and dirt, and that is what all of us are. The life force that animates us is an unearned gift from God, as are the graces of the sacraments. Priests and bishops are conduits of grace that flow through the sacraments. But they are not in themselves holy. They are ordinary people, and as such they are subject to the same sinfulness and weakness that besets us all. It is a mistake, it is a form of idolatry to worship priests and bishops. 

We’ve all been drug through the execrable behavior of bishop after bishop who supported, enabled and even in a few instances participated in the rape and sexual abuse of the Church’s children. Another bishop has just recently embroiled himself in the scandal of persecuting a rape victim while defending the rapist, both of whom were in his employ.

We witness the bishops claim they are pro life while backing misogynistic laws that force women into abortions every single day. All of us have watched as our bishops fell on their knees in front of the criminal/rapist/grifter/liar/traitor Trump. The Church failed with Hitler. The Church is failing with the Neo Nazis in America today. 

Bishops are human beings. They are intelligent, talented and well educated, but those things can be a stumbling block for them in their personal quest for holiness. The reason we have all been dunked into the clergy sex abuse scandal like falling into a vat of sewage isn’t because the bishops failed as leaders. It’s because they failed as followers. 

I remember talking to another legislator, a devout Catholic, about the sex abuse scandal almost two decades ago. He was gobsmacked by what the bishops had done and were doing. They’re not Jesus’ men. I told him. He looked a bit shocked, so I repeated it. They’re not Christians. If they were really followers of Jesus, the Holy Spirit would never have let them do this. The Holy Spirit would have been on them, morning, noon and night. They couldn’t have stood it. They would have had to change. 

He wasn’t entirely convinced by what I said, but I could tell it gave him something to think about. Catholics are so accustomed to believing that their bishops are de facto holy, that it’s a new thought for many of them to consider that a bishop might be a fallen sinner who is so deep into his sin that the Holy Spirit has let him go. 

But that’s what happens sometimes, and we see the evidence in the bishops themselves, not always in what they say, but in what they do and who, ultimately, they follow. 

One of the great temptations bishops always face is the temptation to use their prophetic and moral voice to gain personal power for themselves by using their role as teacher of the faith to teach falsity that advances the agendas of the rich and powerful of this world. This is the same temptation Christ faced when Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of this world if He would fall down and worship Satan. Jesus answered Satan as you and I can answer Satan, by quoting Scripture. He wrapped Himself in God and said no.

But, sadly, quite a number of our American bishops have been offered a much lesser version of this same temptation by Satan in human form, and they have said yes. A vocal and hardened group of our American bishops are obviously acting in the service of extremist right wing billionaires and the politicians those billionaires have put in power rather than following Christ. 

These bishops are not hiding what they are doing. They continue to wear their pointy hats, but they attack the Pope and preach and teach according to right wing talking points in a direct and specific way. They are all about ballot box salvation and righteousness through politics. 

You would think Jesus had said “render unto Caesar that which is God’s,” because that is certainly what these bishops are doing. 

To repeat what I said to my friend years ago, these political bishops are not followers of Jesus Christ. They are not Christians. If they were, the Holy Spirit would be all over them about this. Instead of the smug indifference and self-righteousness they display, they would be in anguish from waking up at night bathed in guilt, from the voice of God in their heads telling them that they are doing wrong. 

I pray for these smug fallen bishops, for their souls, and for the souls of the people they are leading astray. I can’t think of anything worse than for God to let you go, to give you over to your sins. I also pray for another Catherine of Siena. In this age of corruption, she has become a saint for our times. 

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