Published December 30, 2015
George Weigel's Weekly Column The Catholic Difference
Given the politically-correct hysteria that typically surrounds any discussion of racism these days, I hesitate to use the term. But it’s hard to find another that fits certain reactions to Synod-2015 from the port side of the Barque of Peter.
Exhibit A: Shortly after the Synod concluded, the Web site of the German bishops’ conference posted an article by one Björn Odendahl, proposing that the great success of the New Evangelism in Africa is “because the people are socially dependent and often have nothing else but their faith.” Moreover, Herr Odendahl wrote, this “romantic, poor Church” is growing “because the educational situation there is on average at a rather low level and the people accept simple answers to difficult questions.” As for all those African vocations, well, “the growing number of priests is a result not only of missionary power but also a result of the fact that the priesthood is one of the few possibilities for social security on the dark continent.”
Exhibit B: In the aftermath of the Synod, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, archbishop-emeritus of Mechelen-Brussels, looked down his nose, cleared his throat, harrumphed—and then told the Church in Africa that it ought to stop criticizing the infidelity and rampant individualism of post-Christian Europe, because “it is possible that the crisis we have had here will spread there, too, with all this entails. Africans may also experience a situation similar to ours. Then they might call us up to see how we dealt with it.”
Exhibit C: Five weeks after the Synod, Paul Vallely, author of an admiring biography, Pope Francis: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism, took his subject to the woodshed in a New York Times op-ed column entitled “The Pope’s Failure in Africa.” What was that failure? Pope Francis didn’t challenge what Vallely regards as African homophobia. And that, pace Mr. Vallely, was a missed opportunity, because Africa must “embrace” a “message of love, mercy, and inclusion” if it is “to become an accepted member of the universal Church.”
To Herr Odendahl: It may be unfashionable in German Catholic circles to read the New Testament as any sort of reliable record of early Christianity, but do give it a try. Then, you might find out that the Lord Jesus himself chose apostles of a “rather low” educational level, and that many people, perhaps simple by your standards but not by the Lord’s, flocked to him, and later to his apostles, because they found in the community of the friends of Jesus new forms of “social security.” (P.S. The term “dark continent” has certain malodorous connotations. Do try to avoid it in the future.)
To Cardinal Danneels: If we begin from the fact that Sunday Mass attendance in your country is something on the order of 4 percent (as I’m told by one of your brother-bishops), it does seem somewhat cheeky, and perhaps downright preposterous, to suggest that Africans take lessons in churchmanship from their putative Belgian betters. African Catholics are not interested in learning what to do with empty churches, convents, and seminaries. As for blaming the ambient cultural environment for Euro-Catholicism’s collapse, that’s bad form, especially among those for whom learning to make an examination of conscience was an integral part of their sacramental formation. Please consider another possibility: that Belgium, and other Catholic wastelands in 21st-century Europe, did not hear the Gospel and reject it because of cultural pressures; might it be that these faith-free zones haven’t heard the Gospel preached for quite a while?
To Mr. Vallely: You and those of your ideological tribe do not determine who is “an accepted member of the universal Church.” Moreover, if such acceptance requires retrofitting the Gospel, ignoring the Magisterium, and diving into the quicksand pits of moral subjectivism, I don’t think you’ll find too many folks interested: in Africa, or elsewhere, for that matter. And for you to describe Cardinal Robert Sarah as an exponent of “bigotry” because he doesn’t accept theNew York Times’s view of the moral life and cautions against the dictatorship of relativism borders on calumny.
Thus a proposed new year’s resolution: no more of these Stepin Fetchit knockoffs from progressive Catholics, or indeed any Catholics, in 2016.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.