When the mask of tolerance slips

The contempt in which the Catholic Church and its convictions are held by the ruling classes of 21st century Europe is hardly a secret. For reasons of political expedience, however, European governments feel compelled to put the best face on such Catholic mega-events as papal visits. Yet every once in a while the mask of tolerance slips and the contempt can be seen for what it is.

The mask slipped at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in late April.

The Pope is scheduled to visit the United Kingdom in September; the centerpiece of his pilgrimage is the beatification of John Henry Newman—for Benedict XVI, a paradigmatic figure in the Church’s intellectual engagement with modernity. The FCO had organized a “Papal Visit Team” composed of civil servants to develop strategies for the papal pilgrimage, but things got a tad out of hand when a memo from a junior FCO official, describing a “brainstorming” session meant to elicit ideas about the “ideal visit” of Benedict XVI to Britain, leaked and was published in London’s Sunday Telegraph. The memo provided an instructive view into the cast of mind of a thoroughly secularized, politically-correct, Oxbridge-educated civil service elite.

The ideal Benedictine visit, the memo suggested, would see the Pope, while in Great Britain, reverse the Church’s “policy” on “women bishops” and the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood, drop Catholic opposition to the adoption of children by gay couples, bless a gay marriage, open an abortion clinic, launch a new line of “Benedict condoms,” and “do forward rolls with children to promote healthy living.”

I am not making this up. You can’t make this stuff up. But what does it mean?

Seven or eight years ago, when the about-to-be-enlarged European Union was embroiled in debate as to whether a new constitutional treaty’s preamble could acknowledge Christianity as one source of contemporary Europe’s commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, the Orthodox Jewish legal scholar Joseph H.H. Weiler coined the term “Christophobia” to describe the irrational contempt with which much of European high culture regards Christianity; Weiler also flagged eight sources of this derangement:

– guilt over a Holocaust falsely attributed to Christian anti-Jewish prejudice rather than to the racism of Nazi anti-Semitism;

– the “1968” mindset, which rejected all forms of traditional authority;

– a strange backlash to the Revolution of 1989, in which Christian conviction helped topple the hyper-secularism of European communism;

– the Christian Democratic hegemony exercised in many continental European countries in the decades immediately after World War II;

– the cultural habit of dividing everything into “left” and “right,” with “left” being good, “right” being bad, and Christianity firmly identified with the “right”;

– resentments against John Paul II, who didn’t fit the secularist stereotypes;

– the distorted teaching of history in European elementary and secondary schools, according to which the 18th century secular Enlightenment is the sole root of 21st century democracy;

– the confusions and angers of the “children of 1968,” whose own children were evincing interest in a Christianity their parents had rejected root-and-branch.

As I got around Britain in the 1980s and 1990s, these toxins seemed to have done less permanent damage to British culture than they had to continental European culture.  And, yes, one shouldn’t read too much into a memo by a callow young bureaucrat that caused his superiors considerable embarrassment (as well it might). But the sheer contempt for Catholic faith and practice evidenced in the memo—which, the junior official evidently assumed, wouldn’t have caused trouble if it had remained in-house—makes me think I might have gotten that earlier judgment wrong. Great Britain today may be a different form of post-Christian society than France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany or Spain. But that it is living a post-Christian phase of its history is not much in doubt.

Nor is there much doubt that the FCO official who drafted that memo would have been sacked overnight if the object of his contempt had been Islam. Thus does disdain for Christian roots help prepare the ground for appeasement and eventual surrender.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.


Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash