If I were in the mood for a joke, I could say that I love posting links to SSPX articles as they let me appear – semel in anno – a moderate expressing himself in very gentle tones.
The reason, though, why I publish this blog post with the link to the SSPX intervention about the impending Assisi III gathering is that, setting aside for a moment the rather harsh tones – at the cost of disappointing you I will say that expression like “immense scandal” seem over the top to me – I was unable to find any fundamental flaw in the arguments of Father Régis de Cacqueray, District Superior of France and therefore not your obscure Sunday ranting enthusiast.
If we set aside for a moment the incendiary tones used – which I do not want to condemn, being myself not new to the experience; and perhaps, perhaps feeling in me as I write a lack of that fire that must be burning into the heart of this brave Catholic – I am unable to disagree with the concept that
the scandal of Assisi 2011 will be substantially the same but less spectacular than Assisi 1986.
In fact, by examining the invitation made by the Holy Father and the constant, omnipresent appeal to peace – the leitmotiv of the 1986 as well as of the 2011 gathering – one cannot in my eyes escape the conclusion that, as things look today – nay: as they have been announced and planned – the similarities with 1986 will be far more pronounced than the differences. The very fact that this gathering happens to remember the old one is enough of a tell-tale.
This, without considering what the media will do of it all. To say it again with the words of the author:
Before the image of a Pope uniting the representatives of all the false religions, the reaction of the majority of men will be to relativise truth and religion still more. What individual, little acquainted with the Catholic religion, will not be tempted to be reassured about the fate of non-Catholics when he sees the Pope inviting them to pray for freedom of conscience? What non-Christian will see in the Catholic religion the one true religion to the exclusion of all others when he learns that the head of the Catholic Church has convoked a pantheon of religions? How will he interpret the Pope’s exhortation not to yield to relativism if not by thinking that it is a matter, not of holding to the truth, but of being sincere?
“Ah, but this time it will be different”, I hear you say. In some measure, yes. But I had to stop and read the following words thrice:
Of course, unlike the first meeting at Assisi, it appears that the prayer will be in silence, albeit very present. However, to what god will they pray in silence, these representatives of all the false religions? They will they pray to their false gods, since the Pope invites them explicitly to live more deeply “their religious faith”? To whom will the Muslims turn then, if not to the God of Mohammed? To whom will the animists speak, if not to their idols? How then is it conceivable that a Pope call upon the representatives of false religions, to take part as such, in a day of personal prayer?
Or think about the biggest difference of Assisi III with Assisi I, the attitude towards common prayer:
Formerly Assisi was defended by making a subtle distinction between “being together to pray” and “praying together.” Will they now be saying that there will be no common prayer, but rather a day of prayer in common? Instead of denying the concomitance of the silent prayers, shall we say that everybody prays separately according to his own religion? As if these specious distinctions were not manufactured for the needs of the cause. As if these subtleties were immediately grasped by the majority of men, who will retain only one thing: a gathering of all the religions for everyone to pray to the divinity, abstracting from any Revelation.
Harsh words, these (and I have spared you the truly inflammatory ones); but frankly, I can’t see how I could deny the substance of Father Régis’ argument.
The rest of the article is of the same high level of argumentative force, though of at least the same level of incendiary choice of words, too. When he talks about “peace”, for example, the author once again hits the nail on the head (with a sledgehammer, that is… ).
I suggest that you arm yourself with a prayer (why not try this) and a camomile and read the article in its entirety. Please forget the call of blasphemy and the apocalyptic tones, and see it from the perspective of the one who doesn’t think that the Pope has unwittingly sold himself to the freemasonry, but is trying to see what is authentically Catholic in this exercise; what kind of signals will be sent; what kind of signals will be received.
We will have to wait and see what happens, but let me say that I do not think that the one or other orthodox aside – certainly to be expected from the Holy Father, and certainly picked up by the few well-instructed Catholics and some fine blog – will really do anything to counter the impression of huge multifaith fest that the media will predictably give of this event.
So predictably, in fact, that to claim afterwards that the event has been distorted by the media would seem rather disingenuous to me.
The Press office of the vatican has released a multilingual communiqué about the planned meeting in Assisi, in the meantime known as “Assisi III”. If you scroll here you’ll see the English text.
As expected, Pope Benedict will do things in a radically different manner than his soon-to-be-beatified predecessor. Among the positive aspects I would mention:
1) The express intention of avoiding the mess of the other times (particularly 1986). The statement says (emphasis mine):
Believers too are constantly journeying towards God: hence the possibility, indeed the necessity, of speaking and entering into dialogue with everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, without sacrificing one’s own identity or indulging in forms of syncretism.
No Buddhas on altars, and no mistake.
2) The express mention that there will be no common prayer. People of different faith will just – to say it poetically – shut up and everyone of them will pray individually as he can. The fact that everyone prays according to his own religion doesn’t make the act “ecumenical” (in the wrong sense) in the least. This is, it seems to me, not different from what happens in a stadium before the shooting of a penalty. I will eagerly await what conservative Catholic sites write about this, but I personally don’t see any need to be alarmed by the exercise in itself.
3) The event is very much low-key: a selected group of people starting a train journey from Rome to Assisi. Also, no multi-day kermesse but a rather sober programme beginning and ending on the same day. This is no mega-gathering, rather a day out.
As largely expected, scenes like these ones are not going to be repeated; rather, Pope Benedict chooses to emphasise beforehand that he is going to make it differently. Still, I think that this is not a good thing as he is, in a way, trying to repair Assisi like Gorbaciov tried to repair communism, but the first is every bit beyond repair as the second.
Some aspects of the gathering are, in my eyes, still questionable; not “JP II-questionable”, though; rather, questionable from a purely Catholic point of view:
1) I’d have thought that the Pope’s role is to convert those who are not Catholic, not to dialogue with them. I know that dialogue is so much “en vogue” nowadays, but everytime I read about “dialogue” I have the strange impression that here the message is broadcast that Catholicism and heresy – or Catholicism and Atheism – are positions which meet on a foot of equal dignity.
They don’t. Truth meets Lie, and Faith meets Unbelief. It may be that this will be the bearer of good fruits; still, the supremacy of the Truth should be stressed by none more than by the Pope himself. This here doesn’t help.
2) Assisi I is called “historic meeting”. Historic in shame, blasphemy and heresy, yes. But to extol such a goddamn mess as an example of virtue seems to me – even allowing for the explicit clarification that this time, things are going to be made in a radically different way – way out of the mark. Again, Pope Benedict tries to repair a toy already irreparably damaged in the eyes of orthodox Catholics and no amount of totschweigen und schoenreden of the unspeakable shame of 1986 will change an iota in this.
3) this time, atheists are also invited. They are invited on the ground that they “regard themselves as seekers of truth” and feel that they “share responsibility” for this planet. This sounds rather strange to me. I’d have thought that the gathering would have a religious aspect in that it shows people of different faiths but united by their belief in the supernatural. If you extend this to atheists, well why not to homo and lesbian organisations, or neonazis, or wiccans, or the like? They all “see themselves” as “seekers of truth”, let alone think that they “share responsibility”….
Next thing you know, Satanists will asked to be invited. Hey, let’s dialogue!
4) (Achtung! Pure Mundabor-esque point!) I don’t know about you, but I still have a slight impression of easy populism whenever I hear about a “peace” event. Peace is easily said and more universally liked than football, or chocolate. It doesn’t make any news that a religious leader promotes peace. Rather, it seems to me that peace is getting too big a place at the Christian table. In my eyes, it would be high time – for a change – to start re-instructing the faithful about the doctrine of war instead of feeding them the easy fare of cunning politicians and senseless dreamers. We can’t close our eyes in front of simple realities of the human condition just because it is more convenient or popular to do so. The Truth must, I think, be said whole, not only the convenient bits. Marches for “peace” are not very scarce; nor is the message controversial; nor is there any need to stress it.
All in all, one can – I think – safely say that the worst fears have been dissipated. But one can also – I’d say, with equal security – say that this initiative still reeks a bit of that easy populism that played such a massive role during the pontificate of the late JP II.
I still wished this had never been started.
I have already written a blog post about Bishop Fellay’s intervention in favour of Summorum Pontificum.
In the same interview, he deals with Assisi III and this is probably worth of separate consideration.
Bishop Fellay points out to the following problems:
1) That Pope Benedict heavily criticises relativism in religious matters (and rightly so, of course) but indirectly promotes the same relativism by starting the Assisi 2011 initiative.
2) That Pope Benedict is now celebrating an initiative which he himself clearly boycotted in 1986.
3) That in his idea that it be impossible for Catholic and non-Catholics to pray together, but that it be possible for them to gather together as members of different religious affiliations he is “splitting hairs”.
I find his criticism perfectly right on all points and whilst we will have to wait to see how Pope Benedict organises and shapes this meeting (that is: how he limits the damage that he has already done, the bomb of “interreligious gathering” being one which always causes a powerful explosion however orthodox your intentions), it is interesting to note that Bishop Fellay makes a supreme effort of explicate the inexplicable and theorises a desire to counteract the recent spate of persecutions as the real motive of this initiative.
Personally, I cannot see this as a real motive. Christians have always been persecuted and they always will; to water down the Christian message and to try to appease the persecutors will in my eyes only have the effect of increasing their aggressiveness. You just don’t fight religious intolerance by watering down the Christian message.
If you ask me, I can only see one – or all – of these three motives:
1) Pope Benedict wants to re-make in the right way what Pope John Paul once made in the wrong way, thus erasing as far as possible the bad memory of Assisi I and II with a theologically impeccable Assisi III. This seems to me a bit like trying to make dung smell good but one can – with a stretch of the imagination – understand the logic.
2) Pope Benedict thinks that conservative Catholics are becoming too cocky (utter and complete dominance on the Internet; vast support among young clergy; resurgence of the popularity of old, once forgotten or ignored heroes like Pius XII and Fulton Sheen) and wants to help the “other side” a bit. The beatification of JP II before the beatification of Pius XII, the oh-so-liberal sounding convocation of Assisi III and, perhaps, a restrictive interpretation of the scope of Summorum Pontificum would all be parts of the same thinking.
3) Pope Benedict is simply trying (in the wrong way, if you ask me) to promote the JP II brand as he sees in it a powerful instrument of evangelisation. Again, one understands the logic. I just wonder why he would allow himself to be persuaded to pick the most controversial of JPII’s many controversial inititatives to do so. It seems to me a bit like promoting Bill Clinton’s presidency by remembering the Lewinsky affair.
We’ll have to wait and see how all this pans out. In the meantime, I allow myself the comment that Pope Pius XII would have never dreamt of an initiative like Assisi (whatever numeral you may put to it); that Fulton Sheen would have never dreamt of encouraging interreligious gatherings of any sort, but exclusively Catholic gatherings of every sort; and that Padre Pio would have never dreamt of the necessity of a Novus Ordo mass, however “reformed after the reform” it may be.
In recent months, Pope Benedict seems to have been skating on rather thin ice. More the reason to pray for him.