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Men without conviction, churches without people

If ministers of the Gospel cannot challenge the world’s distortions of the Gospel with the truth of the Gospel, but fall back instead on penny-ante pseudo-Marxist clichés, is it any wonder that their church pews are empty?

(Photo: Emmanuél Appiàh @exappiah/Unsplash.com)

Europe’s wholesale abandonment of its Christian faith is often explained as the inevitable by-product of modern social, economic, and political life. But there is far more to the story of Euro-secularization than that, as three ecclesiastics, a Presbyterian minister and two Italian priests, demonstrated this past Christmas.

The minister in question was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Derek Browning. In his Yuletide message to his disappearing flock, Dr. Browning confessed that in his “darker moments,” he sometimes wondered whether “…the world have been a better place without [Jesus]. If there was no Jesus, and therefore no Christianity, would there have been no Crusades? Would there have been no Spanish Inquisition?” (Dr. Browning didn’t contemplate the possibility that, without Jesus, there would have been no iconoclastic destruction of Scotland’s ancient and beautiful Catholic churches, or no mass burnings of “witches” by his forebears in the kirk; but that, perhaps, would have been cutting a bit too close to the bone.)

Then there was Father Fredo Olivero of the Church of San Rocco di Torino in the Archdiocese of Turin. At Christmas midnight Mass, Don Fredo substituted the syrupy Italian pop-religious tune, Dolce sentire, for the Creed, explaining, “Do you know why I do not say the Creed? Because I do not believe it….after many years I understood that it was something I did not understand and that I could not accept. So let’s sing something else that says the essential things of life…”

Which, evidently, do not include the confession of faith that Jesus is Lord and Savior.

Not to be outdone by those uppity Piedmontese in Turin, a priest of Genoa, Father Paolo Farinella, announced in the leftist Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, that he had canceled his parish Masses for January 1 (the Octave of Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God) and January 6 (the Epiphany). Why? Because, according to Don Paolo, Christmas is now “a fairy tale from the nativity scene with lullabies and bagpipes, the exclusive support of a capitalist and consumerist economy, transforming the whole of Christianity into civil religion.”

So there. No Mass.

These three episodes illustrate a larger point: “secularization” is not something that just happened to western Europe, like the Black Death. The radical secularization that has transformed Christianity’s heartland into the most religiously arid half-continent on the planet has at least as much to do with the craven surrender of ministers of the Gospel to theological and political fads, and their consequent loss of faith, as it does with the impact of urbanization, mass education, and the industrial revolution on Europeans’ understanding of themselves.

If the Gospel is not preached with conviction – the convictions that humanity is in need of salvation and that Jesus is the Savior who liberates us into the fullness of our humanity and gives us eternal life – then the Gospel will not be believed.

If ministers of the Gospel indulge in gratuitous virtue-signaling by promoting  the worst of black legends, as if the sum total of Christianity’s impact on world history is embodied by “the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition,” why would anyone come to their churches or listen to whatever’s being offered there by way of I’m-OK-You’re-OK therapeutic balm?

If ministers of the Gospel cannot challenge the world’s distortions of the Gospel with the truth of the Gospel, but fall back instead on penny-ante pseudo-Marxist clichés, is it any wonder that their church pews are empty?

Christianity is dying in western Europe. There are many reasons for that, including the complicity of many churchmen in the ideological awfulness that turned mid-20th century Europe into a slaughterhouse. But the Gospel has power, and those who believe that, and preach it in the conviction that it can transform and ennoble lives, can still get a hearing. Indeed, as post-modernity decomposes into ever more bizarre forms of irrationality, the cleansing, liberating truth of the Gospel and the vision of life well-lived found in the Beatitudes ought to be a compelling offer.

But the offer must be made. And it won’t be made by churchmen who wonder aloud whether the world wouldn’t have been better off without Jesus, or who substitute treacle for the Creed, or who throw public hissy-fits rather than celebrating the Eucharist.

About George Weigel 176 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Fragility of Order: Catholic Reflections on Turbulent Times (Ignatius Press, 2018). Mr. Weigel received a B.A. from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore and an M.A. from the University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto. He is the recipient of eighteen honorary doctorates in fields including divinity, philosophy, law, and social science.

13 Comments

  1. A good reading of A Riot Act for Priests. But look at what priests are faced with. “Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor for the Pontifical Academy for Sciences said China is the ‘best’ at implementing Catholic social doctrine”. Followed by “You cannot call yourself [a] ‘pro-life advocate’ unless you take a stand against ALL threats to life – the catastrophe of climate change, war and the arms trade, an economic system with vast amounts of exclusion and inequality” (An International Monetary Fund employee) who added “You must stand with Pope Francis” (LifeSite). If direction from the top echelon is more New Age Secular Humanism than Christ’s Gospels we are dealing with information quantum leap. A scolding article is fine. New outspoken leadership emerging from Chur Switz and Bishop Marian Eliganti and Astana Kazakhstan and Bishop Athanasius Schneider and hopefully others are perhaps our last hope.

  2. Let the bishop of Rome tend to his backyard and stop living in accordance with a new but already outdated maximalist model of the papacy.

  3. What is destroying God’s people is what has always destroyed them: idolatry.

    Anybody even slightly familiar with the Old Testament realizes that. But aren’t all priests taught the Scriptures in the seminary? Yes, but in most Catholic seminaries today they are taught in a manner Benedict XVI condemned in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini:

    The lack of a hermeneutic of faith with regard to Scripture entails more than a simple absence; in its place there inevitably enters another hermeneutic, a positivistic and secularized hermeneutic ultimately based on the conviction that the Divine does not intervene in human history. According to this hermeneutic, whenever a divine element seems present, it has to be explained in some other way, reducing everything to the human element. This leads to interpretations that deny the historicity of the divine elements. …

    Such a position can only prove harmful to the life of the Church, casting doubt over fundamental mysteries of Christianity and their historicity – as, for example, the institution of the Eucharist and the resurrection of Christ. A philosophical hermeneutic is thus imposed, one which denies the possibility that the Divine can enter and be present within history. …

    There are boundaries traditionally and dogmatically imposed by the Church on Scripture interpretation, one of which is that it cannot be interpreted contrary to the unanimous agreement of the Church Fathers (who believed in the historicity of the books of the Bible that were of a historical genre — miracles and all).

    If one is taught that those historical books are really legend or myth, but certainly not history, then one isn’t going to learn the lessons they contain, or believe that God has the power to lead His people to victory when they faithfully obey and serve Him. After all, who takes myths and legends seriously? So it is just a legend that the Israelites engaged in idolatry, and that doing so brought severe punishment down upon them, and that God would restore them when they repented of doing so. This heretical view of the Scriptures has been around for about 150 years. So today, both priests and bishops are unlikely to notice the number one enemy of God’s people today: blatant idolatry.

    We have rendered unto Caesar authority over innocent human life that belongs to God alone. The state simply has no authority whatsoever to “legalize” the murder of innocent humanity. To the extent that the Church signals its approval of Caesar’s usurpation of God’s authority by its complacency, which extends so far as to allowing those known by all to be flaming advocates of “legal” murder to receive the Eucharist, it is burning incense to Caesar.

    There will be no New Evangelization, no renewal of Christianity, until the Church addresses the greatest holocaust of innocent human life in the history of the world in a manner commensurate with its urgency. Until the Church does that, look for the slow death of genuine Christianity to continue.

    Who can believe those who claim that God so loved each and every human being that He sent His only Son to endure an agonizing, humiliating death on a cross in order to save them, while those making that claim burn incense to Caesar as he authorizes the murder of innocent humanity by the millions.

    God has the power to lead His people to victory if they obey Him. (“We must obey God rather than men” — Acts 5:29) Our priests and bishops were taught that that is merely a legend, not a fact of history testified to in both the Old and New Testaments.

  4. The “2013 Francis Kirk” is the church of disbelief.

    It’s leading “theologian” Cardinal Kasper denies, among many things, the Gospel accounts of Jesus having power over nature and death. In his “theology” book “Jesus the Christ” (1st edition 1974, pp 90-91) Kasper calls the miracle accounts “legends,” and lists some of the legends: the feeding of the 5000; the calming of the storm at sea; the Transfiguration; and the raising of the widow’s son, the daughter of Jairus, and Lazarus. Kasper’s book was re-issued in 2011, in time for destroying another generation of seminaries and college students.

    That’s the Church of Pope Francis. Deny the evangelists on Monday…and announce the “New Evangelization” on Tuesday.

    • Chris. According to the Pontiff Cardinal Kasper received enlightenment on all these refutations of Gospel miracles, among other of his revelations “on his knees”. Just as Pope Francis’ spiritual surprises we’re all now suffering. Should we wonder why God won’t permit any of this to be affirmed by Magisterial pronouncement?

      • Kasper and all people who deny miracles, really can’t accept a creator God Who has power over His creation. A true creator God worthy of the name would be expected to have dominion over His creation. The miracles are the proof of His dominion.
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        Kasper’s claim of coming to his views on his knees is irrelevant. He is claiming the supremacy of his private revelation. From what I recall private revelation is always inferior to the public revelation and teachings of the Church. The validity of private revelation is judged by how closely it corresponds to the public revelation and historic teachings of the Church.

  5. The poor Priests. It was reported recently that they are overworked. That implies to me that they are not properly managed. And, there are manmade laws that further stress them. Male only clergy, pastoral duties that could be handled by lower level folks like Brothers, Eucharistic Minsters and other lay people. But the whole problem seems to focus around the male Priest.

    In small communities in upstate NY Cardinal Dolan order several churches to close and directed the faithful to a nearby church still open. The parishioners of the closing church were up in arms because multiple generations had placed an indelible imprint on that family church.

    There are no easy answers except, perhaps to follow other faiths who have spread the wealth to their female pastors and Rabbis.

  6. With great respect I wanted to make clear from my understanding at least of the article quoted from “Life Site” by Fr Peter Morello, that Life Site, a pro life organization obviously, was clearly offended by those comments and was holding them up to ridicule.

    • Correct Bill the IMF rep was chastising a pro life org person that questioned why IMF refused assistance. My point was that Pope Francis’ agenda is clearly known in the secular world, that it leans far more toward secular humanist issues than traditional Catholic morality.

  7. As a European, I would suggest that it might be an idea for American Christians to pray for the church in Europe, and for CWR and other quality US publications to perhaps dig a little bit deeper when assessing Europe. Perhaps seek contributors from Europe for their views. Most of these type of articles seem to desire that the church die in Europe. It is frequently swiftly followed by very exaggerated claims about the numbers of Muslims in Europe also. What the psychological or even foreign policy motivations are behind this narrative in the American psyche are is still not entirely clear to me.
    Not all is lost in Europe. There are Muslims becoming Catholics (and in England, Anglicans) in quite impressive numbers. Last year more young men (about 70, I think) entered the seminary in Scotland than in any single year since the Protestant Reformation. The church is vibrant in Poland. Orthodoxy is slowly but steadily reviving in Russia and Romania. Germany and the Czech Republic remain stubbornly godless. Conversion to Catholicism is a small but significant feature too of life in very secular places like Britain and Scandinavia. A brother of mine, who is a priest, attended a discreet, early morning (5 am) ‘reception’ ceremony in Westminster Cathedral, about this time two years ago, in which about 130 Anglican ministers, along with their wives, children, and in some cases their parishioners too were received by Cdl. Nichols into the Church. It was the second such ceremony that year. For reasons that will take too long to explain, more converts will be coming our way over the next few years, especially in London. In Ireland entry into the secular priesthood has been abysmal of late, but the Irish (and British) Dominican provinces for the last five years or so have had so many new novices that many are being sent to Fribourg and Rome for their formation. Much of this is the fruit of the Youth 2000 movement. Needless to say many of the ‘new’ Europeans coming into the continent from Africa and the M East are Christians. Very many are Catholic and are helping to revive the church locally. Moreover the presence of Islam is leading many younger Europeans to question ‘who are we exactly.’ This is especially noticeable in France.
    The assertion that Europe was always very religious and now suddenly it is not reveals a woefully ignorant grasp of European and indeed church history.
    There are a few facts that need to be borne in mind too before rushing to judgement. Although we are all currently living in the ‘Age of America’, Europe is not America, there are many different nations with diverse histories. Europeans are by nature far less ‘expressive’ than Americans when it comes to religion and indeed in public expression/debate generally. We also have a much longer historical memory than you folks have, this is both a boon and a burden.

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