Published February 1, 2023
Back in the day, kiddie Catholics learned that the Church had four “marks”: The Church is one, holy, catholic (as in “universal”), and apostolic. These marks derived from the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which we recite at Mass on Sundays and liturgical solemnities. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Church “does not possess” these “inseparably linked” characteristics “of herself”; rather, “it is Christ who, through the Holy Spirit, makes his Church one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and it is he who calls her to realize each of these qualities” (CCC 811).
You will note that “inclusive” is not one of the marks of the Church given by Christ, although “universal” is. Distinctions, as ever, are important.
Universality must characterize the Church’s evangelical mission, for the Lord commanded us to go and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). And a certain kind of inclusivity denotes a crucial ecclesial reality: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Moreover, the Church is called by the Lord to serve everyone, not just the Church’s own; as historical sociologist Rodney Stark has pointed out, paleo-Christian care for the sick who were not of the household of faith attracted converts in classical antiquity, when the sick were typically abandoned, even by their own families.
Those expressions of ecclesial inclusivity (or catholicity, or universality) are not, however, what contemporary woke culture means by being “inclusive.” As typically used today, “inclusion” is code for accepting everyone’s definition of self as if that self-definition obviously cohered with reality, were inherently unchallengeable, and thus commanded affirmation.
It is worth noting in this context that the Lord Jesus practiced some serious exclusion on occasion. Thus his exclusion from beatitude of one kind of sinner: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness” (Mark 3:29). And his condemnation of the pitiless: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). And the fate of the one who tempts the innocent: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea” (Luke 17:2). And his determination to cast “fire upon the earth” (Luke 12:49) and burn out all that was contrary to the Kingdom of God.
The question of “inclusion” and the Church’s self-understanding was recently raised by an article published in America by Cardinal Robert McElroy, because the sensibility on display in the cardinal’s article is not that of the Bible, the Fathers of the Church, the Second Vatican Council, or the Catechism. It is the sensibility of woke culture’s obsession with “inclusion.”
The article suggests, if elliptically, that, because of concerns about inclusion, the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood and the moral integrity of gay sex are open questions. But that is not the settled teaching of the Catholic Church. How can a highly intelligent man who has taken solemn oaths in which he accepted that teaching and promised to uphold it think otherwise?
Like contemporary woke culture, the cardinal’s article seems to regard gender theory as a secular form of revealed truth. In fact, theories of culturally constructed “gender” and “gender fluidity” flatly contradict divine revelation: “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
The article makes extravagant (and unsourced) claims about widespread “animus” against “the LGBT communities,” deeming such “visceral” attitudes “demonic.” But Cardinal McElroy has nothing to say about the severe (and readily documentable) cultural, professional, and legal pressures brought to bear on those who refuse to go woke about the proper ordering of human love.
Woke inclusion-mania’s anthem is Frank Sinatra’s childish concept of freedom: “I did it my way.” Burning incense at the altar of such infantilism is not going to bring men and women to the Christ who linked freedom to truth: “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). The Catholic Church is a communion of men and women, all of whom struggle with human weakness when confronting the vicissitudes of the human condition. But that communion of disciples has also been given the truths that truly liberate by the Lord himself—truths that are not subject to affirmation or denial by discussion groups. As the biblical author reminded his readers (and us), “Do not be led astray by all kinds of strange teaching” (Heb. 13:9), which imperils evangelization.
Woke “inclusion” is not authentic catholicity.
George Weigel’s column is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.