In the "Letters to the Editor" section of this months Atlantic comes this little gem in response to The Year of the Two Popes in the Jan/Feb edition:
"If the Holy See could come down to earth, get over its obsessions with contraception, abortion rights, in vitro fertilization, divorce, homosexuality, and male dominance - obsessions most First World Catholics do not share - and concentrate on the social-justice and ethical teachings of the Nazarene carpenter, it could make enormous contributions toward helping to solve the myriad real problems facing humankind today."
The problems with this kind of thinking are legion. First, casually dismissing some of the most important ethical and moral debates of our time - issues that directly affect the lives (deaths) of some 1 million plus unborn children each year, hundreds of thousands of marriages and the emotional-mental-spiritual health of the members of this generation who actually survived to see their parents split - is not at all in line with Jesus' thinking. That the circumstances of the Church in a secular nation are different from the world in which the first Christians found themselves, and thus requiring different responses, is almost painfully obvious. This sentiment would seem to imply that Christians are required to remain silent precisely because we live in a democracy wherein those collective voices can actually have an impact; apparently it is only under tyrannical regimes that politically powerless Christians may give breath to their views on such matters.
Second, while helping to solve the myriad "real" problems that humankind faces today (though I must admit that I find it hard to believe that anyone would label the above-named "obsessions" as unreal) would indeed be very nice, that is not the Church's mission. The Church is not a humanitarian organization and it is neither a charity nor a philanthropic society; it is the Church sent to proclaim that aforementioned Nazarene carpenter and Him more than just a teacher with strong ethics and a penchant for social-justice. Whatever these "real" problems actually are, I have no doubt that at their root we will find the only problem that matters: sin. And if my recollection serves, I think that carpenter had a few things to say about that.
And finally, there is the vapid premise that these "obsessions" mean little to First World Catholics. Protestors with rainbow sashes are not obstructing the administration of the Eucharist in the Third World, and frankly, in the slums of African no one is very concerned with abortion rights (which is not to say that abortions do not happen, only that the political construction of "abortion rights" isn't really the issue Third World Catholics are obsessing over). I would also be very interested to meet those TWC's who are overly concerned with in vitro fertilization, because while FWC's may show similar disinterest in the moral dimension of IVF it is quite clear that they are the only Catholics who can actually afford such procedures.