L’Osservatore Romano’s latest gambit: Preferring culture to truth?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 24, 2017

To avoid choking, one can only smile at the latest essay in L’Osservatore Romano which claims that Pope Francis’s plan for renewal is accepted by the “people” but resisted by “priests and bishops”. Typical of Vatican periodicals during this pontificate, the article is long on cultural rhetoric and short on moral and doctrinal distinctions. Once again we see the Holy Spirit portrayed as the spirit of renewal at the expense of ceasing to be the spirit of truth.

The reader can hardly be surprised that the most recent example, an article by the Florentine theologian Giulio Cirignano, fails to identify particular issues on which anyone has advanced either a right or a wrong position. Instead, his approach is all smoke and mirrors. Entitled “The Conversion Asked by Pope Francis: Habit is not Fidelity”, the article rests on two claims offered without the slightest evidence:

  1. “Most of the faithful have understood, despite everything, the favorable moment, the Kairos, which the Lord is giving to his community. For the most part, they’re celebrating.”
  2. “The clergy is holding the people back, who instead should be accompanied in this extraordinary moment…. The main obstacle…is constituted…by the attitude of a good part of the clergy, at levels high and low…an attitude, at times, of closure if not hostility.”

In other words, Cirignano asserts that such pastors seek to hold the people back “behind an old horizon, the horizon of habitual practices, of language out of fashion, of repetitive thinking without vitality.”

Why smile, then? Only because such statements will be affirmed only by partisans; they can never pass for clarity of thought. The author says absolutely nothing substantive. He praises and denounces entirely without evidence. We have listened to such drivel for years, always coming from those who desire status in a culture that has first abandoned the faith and then driven it away. Their sycophantic mantra amounts to nothing more than this: “Get with it! The future is now! The answer is blowing in the wind! It’s 2017! Oh, and by the way, resistance is futile.”

In praise of confusion?

Whenever people speak or write in this way it is because they wish to justify some position or course of action which is likely to meet greater resistance if it is clearly articulated. For Catholics, it is always at least potentially dangerous to say flatly: “The Church is wrong in teaching that behavior X is always immoral or that doctrine Y is always true.” Instead, Catholics who sell their souls to the dominant culture undermine Catholic beliefs by accusing those who wish to clarify them of “repetitive thinking without vitality.”

The rule is simple: Never directly contradict what the Church teaches. Instead, insist on openness while attacking the character of those who seek clarity.

As a prime example, consider the Cardinals who asked to speak with Pope Francis about several serious questions which seemed to be blurred in the text of Amoris Laetitia. The Pope refused even to grant them an audience. Instead, in various interviews he denounced persons who raise such issues as “rigid”, as incapable of understanding the good he is trying to do—as being so stupid, apparently, that they have missed the whole point. Unsurprisingly, those who seek preferment, including the most prominent contributors to Vatican publications today, take exactly the same line.

Note that such material is always published not as a rigorous argument but as a kind of celebration of the new order—a recognition, perhaps, of “the favorable moment…the Lord is giving to his community.” For this reason, the point of contention is never clearly identified with Church teaching. Instead, it is identified with the cramped and backward mentalities of those who, by defending the Faith, somehow prove that they do not want it to flourish. What, after all, is the first reason given for the sad failure of so many priests and bishops to appreciate the vision of Pope Francis? They have attained, wrote Cirignano, only a “modest cultural level”.

Truly, we should not be smiling after all. We should be laughing out loud.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 4 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Jul. 26, 2017 7:14 AM ET USA

    Oh, brilliant, BRILLIANT article! (Sorry to be so emotional and outspoken, but it's how I'm reacting to everything Dr. Mirus has written here.)

  • Posted by: iprayiam5731 - Jul. 25, 2017 11:16 AM ET USA

    As I continue, my master's research which relates to religious conversion, it is fascinating how clearly I find in all nearly Catholic converts I interview, how important and beautiful the tradition and consistency of the Church in art, doctrine, practice, etc. was to their conversion. Equally fascinating is how many within the Church's leadership refuse to accept that.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 24, 2017 4:46 PM ET USA

    This really is all smoke and mirrors nonsense. Cirignano writes "the God of religion is, for the most part, man's projection of his mind, his fears, his needs. It is a hypothetical god." Not a word about Revelation being the source of man's knowledge of God. Ironically, it is the author's concept of God that appears to be projection of his own mind, his fears and needs. Musings like that used to be found in fringe sectarian publications but not in the Pope's newspaper.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Jul. 24, 2017 4:03 PM ET USA

    I would agree that, for those who think logically, what these supporters of Pope Francis are trying to do is laughable. But to those who do not think logically, and who want pastoral practices that reject the truth, what Pope Francis' supporters are trying to do is serious and welcome. Sadly,the spreading of these pastoral practices under the cover of the current confusion will likely yield very bad fruits, and will make the Church less relevant in a world thirsting for the truth of Christ.