Ecclesiastic behavior and de-constructivist ideologies
Are we witness to a Church that is gradually falling in line, more rapidly recently, with the most radical de-constructivist ideologies of our time, the woke culture, the cancel culture? These words conveniently describe some intellectual analysis and an activism which intend to fight against some forms of racism, homophobia, etc., claiming to be structural, that is to say against the white Western patriarchy under all its forms; the fight comprising necessarily, and in some respects necessarily, the social disappearance of the perpetuators who with their ways are preventing the coming of a pacified, open and inclusive society.
The exemplary case James Alison
A book recently translated into French, says it all and its title is quite a program of its own: Faith beyond resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay (Herder & Herder publisher, 2001). Its author, James Alison, born in an Anglican family, converted to Catholicism at the age of eighteen, before entering the Dominican order and becoming a priest in 1988. At the end of the 90’s, he was suspended of all priestly function (suspens a divinis) because of an open homosexual lifestyle. In 2017, on 2 July, he received a personal phone call from Francis who said to him: “I want you to walk with a deep inner freedom, following the Spirit of Jesus. And I give you the keys. Do you understand? I give you the power of the keys.”
In the opening statement of his book, in the name of the truth of faith as he presents it, he affirms radically: “I have never associated Catholicism with the superior annihilation of the being with which the monotheist world has marked the homosexual desire, even if it submitted to these forces of annihilation, fell to them and has institutionalized them, and even if Catholicism lacking courage did not resist them as it should have.” The rift existing between monotheism and the Christian faith could be intriguing. In fact, as a self-proclaimed disciple of René Girard, James Alison thinks the death of Jesus as the denunciation by the victim of the sacrificial pattern which strive to regulate human societies involved in the mortiferous spiral of mimetic desires. From it, flows an undifferentiated violence of all against all which requires, when it is exacerbated, that the community be reconciled; this takes place by designating a scapegoat, bringing it to its death, bloody or not for that matter. In some ways, according to René Girard, Jesus was one of them. Although, thanks to the freedom he had, thanks to the fact that the story of his death is written, not by the executioners but by his disciples, Jesus denounces the falseness of the victim process and consequently makes true fraternity possible.
According to Alison, the evolution of societies has lead the Church, especially since Bergoglio came to the throne of Peter, to consider homosexual persons in a different way. Pope Francis, notably with his “who am I to judge?”, denounced the obvious of the LGBT+ exclusion; moreover, he invites us to consider the rigidity of the judges and persecutors to designate the responsibility of the situation. This allows to more freely rethink the theological and moral narrative about the sexual disorder, to de-construct it by going back to the Creation and original sin; without necessarily trying to argue or convince, because it is less about refuting false arguments than it is to unveil an oppressive system: this unveiling, bare, is enough to remove its legitimacy and soon its strength. Yet, it is important, according to James Alison, not to fall into resentment and thus reverse the victim process against such and such followers of a strict moral doctrine. For, what is in question here, is not this such person but, within the Church, “a hypocrite system of cover and exclusion.”
The inclusion of the marginalized
James Alison is not, so we believe, an isolated case. His thinking resonates through words and behaviors more institutional. Evidently, things are not said so bluntly. For all that, a deep renewal of the concept of borders by the Church is presently taking place, and it is proving itself to be quite worrisome because it is actually moving into that direction, that way of thinking.
In classical theology, the union of the faithful to Christ and to the Church is measured according to faith and charity, the opposite being heresy, schism or also mortal sin. The desire to open to other Christian confessions, to other religions, to secularized societies, agnostics and atheists, has lead to a calling into questions. Before, during and after the Second Vatican Council, “what we have in common” was emphasized, starting with the worshiping of the one God with the Muslims, to the search for peace and justice in this world, not to mention the confession of the divine paternity and lordship of Jesus Christ with the Protestant churches. Relying, among others, on the parable of the Last Judgement which we find in the twenty fifth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, it was also suggested reasoning should be done in terms of orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy. Apart from a valorisation of the subjective spiritual experience and of the ethical act, with these two perspectives in mind, an eschatological reserve, a “not yet” hoped for in the “already-there” of the personal and communal existences had to be studied so that the Church and the Kingdom of God may not be too strictly associated. In this space where the Holy Spirit dwells and acts, Non-baptized people and non-Catholics altogether find their place.
Yet, in a context of relativisation and contestation of moral doctrine in family and marriage, this category of orthopraxy still had strong boundaries, meaning for some the exclusion of those whose life cannot be judged without difficulties according to an orthopraxy leaning against an orthodoxy, a clear doctrine on the indissolubility and fecundity of marriage. In this regard, Amoris lætitia introduced a profound change which was considered by some as an unacceptable rupture causing harm to the doctrine; by others, it was considered as a progress and an homogeneous improvement with what was previously; or lastly, it was considered as a happy rupture from a moral rigorism deemed ancient. In any case, all agree to see in mercy a central function in the new figure where the contours of the Church are precisely being redrawn. To the relatively clearly-drawn borders, though considered as element of exclusion, Bergoglian mercy substitutes a transformative and inclusive dynamic, according to the four great principles Pope Francis, as he likes to repeat often, must structure the life of the Church: time superior to space, unity to conflict, reality to idea, the whole to the part (Evangelii gaudium, 215-244). “Leaving self” which is the “principle of enrapture” residing in all men, must lead to an inclusive fraternity, open to all (Fratelli tutti, 88). This fraternity meets one of its concrete models in the process of admission to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist of people in irregular matrimonial situation; a process which concerns as much the Christian community which is to welcome them. It definitely seems that the next Synod on the synod is to follow the same identical program.
A mercy of de-construction
To characterized mercy as it is conceived today, we would like to recommend the very interesting paper by French Canadian theologian Gilles Routhier. This paper is the last chapter of a collective work, with Joseph Famerée, Penser la réforme de l’Église (Cerf, 2021). Inscribing himself in the wake of Vatican II, he wants to bring to germination the seeds of fecundity yet to be developed, especially because of a routinization of the reforms already initiated, most likely because they were caught in a logic too centered on the Church. Routier’s book is titled “Mercy. Founding, principles and criteria of all reform in/of the Church” (pp.159-197). According to our theologian, in order to avoid these set-backs, the reform must have an inner source which cannot be but the conversion made possible by divine mercy. This applies definitely to personal conversions but to Church conversion as well, our particular subject of interest here. Not only because, though holy, She is made of sinners but also because of the impregnation of the sin of men in structures of the Church as well as of the perpetuation by these very structures of disorderly situations, which since John Paul II are called “structures of sin.” As a matter of fact, what are these structures? According to Routhier, they are “institutional figures”, fed by “mental frameworks (patriarchal structures of reasoning, for example, belief in the superiority of Western culture, etc.)” (p. 180). So here we are, back in the Bermuda Triangle of intellectual and radical de-construction.
For, there are two possibilities, either Gilles Routhier uses fashionable formulas without any particular intentions – and we doubt it very much -, or he is using these new categories knowingly, to rethink such realities as ordination of men only, relation between Church government and sacred powers of the priesthood, a Curia over-abundantly Italian and Western, and then probably also the classic philosophical and theological canons. The reasoning is no longer done only in terms of de-centralization, collegiality…
Can we go further in the similitude with the woke-cancel culture? For, indeed, woke culture is not only in the business of denouncing what it considers is to be denounced, it also erases it: an erasure which happens in two steps: first a diabolisation, then a plain erasure, the first step leading to the second step. Like in a retroactive ring, the more those who are called to be erased resist, the more the increase of criticism is justified. In this way, a particular behavior can be deemed unacceptable, contrary to the funding principles of the open community. Then we are permitted, or rather obligated, to denounce in the most vigorous terms what not so long ago would have simply been considered antisocial behavior. Demonized repeatedly, systematically, without recognizing any positive aspects, when partial repentance is never enough, soon after the individual will be disregarded for not fitting the way the community defines itself. The duty of people who are aware, awaken (woke), is to ensure this clarification of positions, this denunciation and relegation.
Inclusive but exclusive
Is it outrageous to read through this prism – particularly since Gilles Routhier invites us to – that is, on the one hand, the denunciation quasi obsessional of those deemed too “rigid” by Pope Francis, and on the other hand many silences. For the latter, we think of the dubia of the cardinals, following Amoris lætitia, left to this day without a response, not even a simple acknowledgment of receipt; we think of the old missal which receives no title or name in the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, thus being erased from the lex orandi of the Church; or, as a last example, we think of the recent visit to Hungary (directed by Viktor Orban) which received, to everyone’s dismay and the incomprehension of many, no diplomatic status as it should have and as the most ordinary norms require.
In the same time, the necessary opening to all opinions had been advocated by the pope during both sessions of the Synod on the Family, which was not supposed to be a subject of worry for anyone since these discussions were taking place sub Petro et cum Petro. In the same way, the encyclical Fratelli tutti advocates an open and inclusive vision of relations between States, between communities or groups, between people, where no one would be excluded because all are brothers, so are we told. Lastly, on the return plane from Slovakia (Hungary being only a stopover), Francis gave a dilatory response to the question on the admission to communion of politicians favorable to abortion, the question having to do explicitly with the United States: After reaffirming abortion is a crime, the Pope declared that personally he had never denied the Eucharistic communion to anyone.
Double standards, shall we say, by means of standard classifications. It seems to us these examples indicate a new trend, one that we try here to summarize. So, it is because of their strong attachment to an objective moral doctrine, intangible in its principles and in some of its consequences; it is because of their strong attachment to a prescriptive and elaborate rite which places at its apex the sacrificial and worshiping dimensions of the Christian religion; it is because of their attachment to a vision of the national common good which feels in debt to a multi-secular heritage as much national as it is religious, it is because of these reasons that they are not awarded freedom of speech and intellectual consideration both constitutive of the debate and dialog, though so in vogue today. The reason is, as some in the Church insinuate, maybe soon to be in the open, it is they who are the obstacles to harmonious co-existence and, not what they still call sins, disorders and abuses.
Fr. Jean-Marie Perrot