Monday, April 26, 2010

Reforming The Vatican? No, A New Evangelization For The Secular West

Recent convert Tony Blair was one of the keynote speakers at the 2009 Communion and Liberation meeting in Rimini, Italy. His appearance went over very poorly with more conservative pro life/pro family groups.

Report: Pope to launch 'Pontifical Council for New Evangelization'
by John L Allen Jr on Apr. 25, 2010

According to a report from a well-connected Italian Vatican writer, Pope Benedict XVI will shortly announce the creation of a “Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization,” to be presided over by Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella. The office will be dedicated to rekindling the faith in the developed West, above all Europe and North America. (Hopefully Archbishop Fisichella will start his new evangelization in the Vatican itself.)

Assuming that report is correct, it’s striking for at least three reasons:

It’s the first significant new structure in the Vatican created under Benedict XVI, reflecting his personal interest in the re-evangelization of traditional Christian lands in the West, where centuries of secularization have taken a steep toll; (Uhhhh, and Vatican arrogance, creeping infallibility, excessive piety and pomp, and clericalism is blameless?)

The move would amount to a vindication for Fisichella, who has been under fire from some pro-life forces for an allegedly “soft” stance on abortion as President of the Pontifical Academy for Life; (Those same forces don't much like the Communion and Liberation movement either.)

It’s also another trace of the influence of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation upon Pope Benedict, since the suggestion for the creation of a “Council for the New Evangelization” first came from the movement’s late founder in the early 1980s.

The report was published in the Italian daily Il Giornale on Sunday, April 25, 2010, by veteran Vatican writer Andrea Tornielli. He wrote that a formal announcement of the new “dicastery,” meaning a department within the Vatican, will be made “in coming weeks.”'

The term “the New Evangelization” was popularized by Pope John Paul II, who used it to refer to efforts to reawaken the faith in traditionally Christian parts of the world, particularly Europe. The idea was that while the developed West was first “evangelized,” or converted to Christianity, many centuries ago, today it stands in need of a “new evangelization.” (Buzz words for re en'cult'uration.)

By way of background, Tornielli writes that the idea for a “Council for the New Evangelization” was first floated by Fr. Luigi Giussani, founder of the Communion and Liberation movement, in the early 1980s, but was not taken up by Pope John Paul II. More recently, Tornielli reports, Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, himself close to the Communion and Liberation movement, represented the idea to Benedict XVI.

Founded in Milan in 1954 by Giussani, Communion and Liberation was long seen as a more conservative alternative to the center-left ethos of the largest lay movement in Italy, Catholic Action. The movement's best-known leader in the United States is Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, who has jokingly defined Communion and Liberation as "Opus Dei for lazy Catholics." (That's just what I want, an alternative for lazy Opus Dei Catholics. Now we get to marginalize another second class tier of Catholics. Does this marginalization thing never end?)

Benedict’s fondness for Communion and Liberation is well known. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger delivered the homily at Giussani’s funeral Mass in 2005, and a group of consecrated women who are part of the Memores Domini group within Communion and Liberation run Benedict’s papal household. (Fascinating how things keep circling around. Google 'Mother Pasqualina' for some interesting insight on the Papacy of Pius XII.)

When Ratzinger was elected to the papacy five years ago, many cardinals at the time said they had turned to him because they regarded him as the figure best equipped to respond to the crisis of secularization in the West, especially in Europe. His choice of name, “Benedict,” was in part a reference to St. Benedict, the founder of European monasticism. (I wonder if they really meant Interpol.)

In the intervening five years, a series of controversies and scandals during Benedict’s pontificate – most recently, the global sexual abuse crisis swirling around the Catholic church – has often obscured that aim and arguably made it more difficult to realize, at least in the short term.

Nevertheless, the creation of a new council suggests that Benedict has not thrown in the towel.
If Tornielli is correct in suggesting that Fisichella will be the first president of the new council, it amounts to a significant papal vote of confidence in one of his more embattled aides. (At least Fisichella hasn't been accused of taking bribes.)

Fisichella is a well-known figure on the Italian scene, having served as Rector of the Lateran University and as chaplain to the Italian parliament. A philosopher by training, he and Ratzinger were primary advisors to John Paul II for his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio. In 2008, Benedict named Fisichella as President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican’s primary pro-life body of scholars and activists.

His role in Italian politics, his media savvy, and his background in philosophy rather than theology have all given Fisichella a profile as someone who knows how to talk to the secular world, making him a logical candidate to head a council dedicated to re-evangelizing the West.
Fisichella is also an ambivalent figure, however, for some of the church’s most staunchly pro-life forces, as a result of his role in a 2009 controversy from Brazil involving an abortion for a nine-year-old girl. The girl had become pregnant after reportedly being raped by her stepfather, and her mother arranged for an abortion. Archbishop Jose Cardoso Sobrinho of Olinda and Recife, upon learning of the case, announced that the mother, the doctor, and others involved in the abortion were excommunicated.

Sobrinho’s position aroused widespread protest in Brazil and around the world, but drew swift backing from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. Fisichella, however, then penned a front-page essay in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, that appeared to criticize Sobrinho.

“Before giving thought to excommunication, it was necessary and urgent to safeguard the innocent life of this girl, and return her to a level of humanity of which we, men of the church, should be expert heralds and teachers,” Fisichella wrote. (You'd be a whole lot better experts if you included a few women amongst your ranks----like God did in Genesis.)

What is needed now, he added, “is the sign of a testimony of closeness with the one suffering, an act of mercy that, even while firmly maintaining the principle, is able to look beyond the juridical sphere.” (Like you did with sexually abusive priests for instance.)

That article brought protests both from bishops in Brazil and from pro-life activists all over the world, resulting in a July 10 “clarification” from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith indicating that church teaching on abortion has not changed and will not change.

Within the Pontifical Academy for Life, a group of members led by Belgian Monsignor Michel Schooyans wrote a lengthy letter calling for Fisichella’s removal, arguing that he had falsely invoked the concept of “compassion” to justify actions contrary to Christian morality. Nonetheless, Fisichella has remained on the job. (There is no compassion in Catholic morality--except for the brotherhood of clergy.)

If he indeed becomes the head of the new pontifical council, that would put Fisichella in line to become a cardinal, and, at least in theory, potentially a candidate to be the next pope – suggesting that his stock has not been overly damaged by the Brazilian affair.

“Pontifical Councils” are a largely post-Second Vatican Council (1962-65) addition to Vatican structures, and are generally considered less powerful than the older “Congregations,” which exercise decision-making authority in the name of the pope in some specific area. Councils, on the other hand, are more akin to think tanks set up to promote a good cause: the family, Christian unity, justice and peace, and so on.

Because most pontifical councils are focused on the outside world rather than internal church politics, however, they can often have an important impact in shaping public perceptions of the Catholic church.


When I read this last night, coupled with yesterday's AP story in which Benedict stated the laity "must place absolute trust in their clergy, I was speechless. Again I asked myself: What planet is Benedict living on? Does he have any meaningful connection with current reality? Does he truly think the laity are both 'simple' and stupid? Does he not get that he and his fellow 'teachers' have thoroughly destroyed the trust level of most Catholics in the West and that includes a lot of conservative catholics? How in the world does he think pushing the agenda of yet another generally conservative Catholic group advocating obedience to the Papacy is going to help? Especially after the Legion fiasco.

I read TheraP's blog post yesterday about boots stuck in the mud, and laughed--on one level-- because when I went to parochial school we leased state of the art Greyhound buses and the public school kids hated us for our reclining seats and air conditioning. (Not that we made an issue of that or anything.) But on a more serious note, the question of "why am I doing this blogging thing hit home". It isn't a matter of resolving past issues with Catholicism. I've been beyond that for a couple of decades, but I couldn't come up with an expression for what I was feeling, until I read this conversation on Catholica Australia and saw this quote from the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said, 'The Father's kingdom is like a merchant who had a supply of merchandise and found a pearl. That merchant was prudent; he sold the merchandise and bought the single pearl for himself. So also with you, seek his treasure that is unfailing, that is enduring, where no moth comes to eat and no worm destroys.'

That more or less describes my path in Catholic Christianity. I had to let go of a lot of the Catholic merchandise before I could really buy the Great Pearl. The moths of inherent contradictions and the worms of corruption and deceit were actively destroying both the merchandise and my search for the Pearl. It was after I had worked through and sold off all the merchandise that I found the truth of the Pearl hiding under all of it.

Archbishop Fisicella would do well to meditate on this passage, reputedly said by Jesus, from a rejected Gospel. It's an important quote from a symbolic source. There is a ton of wisdom out there in the rejected Catholic landscape, but to integrate that wisdom calls for selling off of a lot of merchandise. This is the exact opposite of an attempt to repackage and resell the same merchandise to disenfranchised costumers. That approach didn't work for Detroit's auto industry and it won't work for the Vatican in an educated and skeptical West.


  1. We are going to be re-evangelized? Is that like being re-educated?
    And we should place our absolute trust in priests? Is that like being lobotomized?
    And the pope is going to gather thousands of priests in Rome in June as the Climax of the Year of the Priest and apologize to sex abuse victims? Maybe being surrounded by foxes while apologizing to the chickens is a bad image?

  2. It might be a bad image, but it's sort of the truth.

  3. It strikes me that it hasn't dawned on the men in the Vatican or its preferred cults that maybe they should start looking in the mirror if they want to see the origins of their problems. More people will continue to leave as they fail to get the real reasons for their decline.

  4. My reaction to this story was much the same as yours, Colleen.

    Benedict clearly has no insight whatsoever into why those of us in the "secularized West" aren't buying what he's selling.

    Ken Wilber calls it the "pre/post fallacy": to those at a "conventional" stage of development, anyone who is not conventional is assumed to be pre-conventional; with the right development, they can grow into the conventional faith. That some people have actually outgrown the conventional stage into more highly developed post-conventional stages is not something these people can even fathom.

  5. That's such a great point Prickliest. The ego is amost always more inclined to look down and backward than it is to look up or forward. The idea that the sheeple are moving beyond the sheperds just will not compute.

  6. I like the concept pre/post fallacy at the stage of conventional development.

    These Vatican folks want new or re-evangelization. I don't trust they would be coming as equals.

    It's so old now, but if they came in the spirit of Vatican II with the approach of the Church meeting the modern world to learn from the secular world, then there might be an opportunity for mutual exchange. In the Vatican mind, today's secular world is all bad.

    Yes, the post conventional people might just have something to teach all those conventional types. So who is in need of evangelization?

  7. "We are going to be re-evangelized? Is that like being re-educated?"

    As Tonto said to the Lone Ranger:"who is 'we', white man?"

    And we should place our absolute trust in priests? Is that like being lobotomized?

    ....perhaps I should play "Teenage Lobotomy' by The Ramones:)

    While this may appear on the surface to be very pathetic damage control (and it is), we must remember this: the Vatican Administrators are not stupid. They are masters at psychological control & conditioning. They have priests & laity within their camp who are experts at it.

    How else do you explain the vast tides of (brainwashed) humanity that show up for the Papal Audiences & road trips? They are a mix of curious & clueless tourists & glassy eyed LC/Opus Dei/Neo-Cat groupies.

    They want you to go back to sleep. To crawl back into your little box, which they have conditioned you to love.

    Therein lies the reason why most Catholics are incapable of thinking outside the box: they love the box.

    And it very hard to argue against much less oppose that which you blindly (are conditioned to) love.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  8. One point which the Vatican 'controllers' would like you to completely forget,is that God does not need the Vatican or any human entity to communicate to a soul. He does not nor never did; yet He chose to let it be the vessel for spreading His Gospel.

    Yet, the Gospel...the message & teaching of Jesus...has spread IN SPITE OF THE VATICAN....not because of them. As they tried to convert by force & fear.Not by the love which Jesus taught.

    The Apostle Philip met a man walking on the road whom he conversed with. He discovered, to his amazement, that this man had been given the grace directly by God to believe in Jesus. Even though this man had never met Jesus,nor any of the Apostles/Disciples. That is the direct working of the Holy Spirit in a soul.

    The one thing the Vatican does not want is for Toto to uncover the 'man behind the curtain'. That you might see that it is only a very fallible man. And not a demi-god.

    Anon Y. Mouse

  9. The first paragraph has me in stitches. Good heavens, a new evangelization that the Vatican will oversee. That's a good one!! LOL!

    Yes, you shall all be reprogrammed from VII people to VI sheeple, whether you like it or not, or as the fundies love to say, or 'you can just join the protestants.'

    Rome shall not stand on its current sand, or in its current sand box. For Christ's sake, I wish they would grow up already. They love playing this game of they are the boss and we are the worker bees. It's lame, unchristian and just stupid at this point in history for them to assume we will just follow the yellowbrook road wherever they demand we go, when we know they are not following Jesus. These shepherds have misled and lied to the flock, caused mayhem, bloodshed and grief. Follow at your own peril and doom.

    word verification is nonsess, as in Vatican nonsense

  10. Hot off the presses:

    He better get on this tomorrow! Because it seems he's already lost German youth and the elders are not far behind.

    Given how slowly the Vatican acts, it will be long time before this actually revs up....

    It's really getting very comical, in my view.

    Evangelism. Another term for PR. And they're already failing at PR! Or you could call it "new clothes" and they're failing at "dress-up" as well! What's left???

  11. Donations to church slump:

    I also read that's happening at the Cathedral in Milwaukee - along with attendance. And if it's at the Cathedral, well....

  12. Another Pearl of Great Price story:

    The Pearl of Great Price

    He asked me what I was looking for.

    "Frankly," I said, "I'm looking for the Pearl of Great Price."

    He slipped his hand into his pocket, drew it out, and GAVE IT TO ME. It was just like that! I was dumbfounded. Then I began to protest: "You don't want to give it to me? Don't you want to keep it for yourself? But..."

    When I kept this up, he said finally, "Look, is it better to have the Pearl of Great Price, or to give it away?" --

    Well, now I have it. I don't tell anyone. From some there would be disbelief and ridicule. "You, you have the Peart of Great Price? Hah!" Others would be jealous, or someone might steal it. Yes, I do have it. But there's that question--- "Is it better to have it, or to give it away?" How long will that question rob me of my joy?"

    [From Tales of a Magic Monastery by Theophane the Monk]

  13. Belly Button Lint might be woven into a sweater.

    But I digress.

    Lapsed Catholics in the USA are an enormous group. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

    "Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration. The Landscape Survey finds that among the foreign-born adult population, Catholics outnumber Protestants by nearly a two-to-one margin (46% Catholic vs. 24% Protestant); among native-born Americans, on the other hand, the statistics show that Protestants outnumber Catholics by an even larger margin (55% Protestant vs. 21% Catholic). Immigrants are also disproportionately represented among several world religions in the U.S., including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

    Although there are about half as many Catholics in the U.S. as Protestants, the number of Catholics nearly rivals the number of members of evangelical Protestant churches and far exceeds the number of members of both mainline Protestant churches and historically black Protestant churches. The U.S. also includes a significant number of members of the third major branch of global Christianity - Orthodoxy - whose adherents now account for 0.6% of the U.S. adult population. American Christianity also includes sizeable numbers of Mormons (1.7% of the adult population), Jehovah's Witnesses (0.7%) and other Christian groups (0.3%)."

    ... Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who say they were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic. This means that roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics.

    Who do they intend to convert? to evangelize? Why have they abandoned those who were once part of the flock?

    They really don't have a clue.


    Colleen here's another serendipitous word verification: exili

    Is that the plural of exile?

  14. It's the latinate version.

    I've maintained that when JPII opted for the big youth days in the West, it was his way of saying the adult crowd was lost and it's time to target the youth crowd. It was also a pretty strong indication that his concept of the new evangelization was not really intended for mature audiences.

    That's probably why the Legion, the Neo Cats, and Opus target colleges and high schools for their foot troops.

    It's all just so crazy. Benedict sometimes acts like he's teaching catholicism 101 and all the rest of us are 18 year old freshmen.

  15. "And we should place our absolute trust in priests?"

    ## So who was up to all the paedophilia - Martians ? Gay Martians ? The Living Dead ? The Monster From the Black Lagoon ?

    1. Nobody is worthy of absolute trust; everbody has limits, so they can, and do, fail.

    2. The folk in the Vatican have lost all claim to any confidence, by their casting around for someone to blame. They are just another bureaucracy, and that is not altered by the fact that most of them are clerics.

    3. If a sizable minority of the Swiss Guard were caught smuggling heroin - would the Pope think he should, or could, put absolute trust in the Swiss Guard ? If not - why not ?

  16. " Recent convert Tony Blair was one of the keynote speakers at the 2009 Communion and Liberation meeting in Rimini, Italy. His appearance went over very poorly with more conservative pro life/pro family groups."

    ## It "goes over" even more poorly in the UK - even his own (Labour) Party did not care for him much. He makes Obama look like a member of Operation Rescue, so why Catholics in the US like him when they despise Obama & Kerry, I can't imagine. He is no more "pro-life" now he is in the CC, than when he was not. He is commonly referred to as
    "Bliar" - in reference to his very free-and-easy relation to the virtue of truthfulness.

    Being a man of integrity, he ignored Parliament during the negotiations preceding British involvement in the invasion of Iraq, & talked to his pal George, but did not bother having a debate in Parliament: we are in this war, without having a proper debage about it. This is simply unforgivable, so a lot of people in this country have not forgiven. He is a war-criminal, and in a just world he would be behind bars, not feted & honoured as though he were a decent human being.

  17. Rat, I'm all on board with you on Blair. I found his key note speech to Communion and Liberation interesting precisely because he's another neo con, but neo cons are not Catholic enough for some of the really rabid pro life crowd, even though they seem to tolerate them--and vote for them.

    Bush's pro life record was a joke but they voted for him anyway.

  18. Actually, what Benedict said was that priests should strive to be people in whom the faithful can place absolute trust.

    "Benedict, in remarks to the public in St. Peter's Square Sunday, told priests they must "fight for the defense of the flock," defend their charges from "evil" and ensure that faithful can place "absolute trust" in their pastors."

  19. That translation is certainly different from the translation given in the AP article. I would really appreciate a link.