The Road from Regensburg

FAITH Magazine September-October 2010

Papal-inspired dialogue in search of a new apologetic

New Council to Re-Propose Truth

In his homily for the vigil of St Peter and Paul the Pope announced:

"The [spiritual] challenges of the present time [...] are certainly beyond the human capacity.... Even in the deserts of the secularised world, man's soul thirsts for God, for the living God. It was for this reason that John Paul II wrote: 'The mission of Christ the Redeemer... is still only beginning' (Redemptoris Missio, n. 1). ... [the] complex dynamic [of] the secularisation process has produced a serious crisis of the meaning of the Christian faith and of belonging to the Church. From this perspective, I have decided to create a new body, in the form of a 'Pontifical Council', whose principal task will be to promote a renewed evangelisation in the countries ... [which] are experiencing the progressive secularisation of society and a sort of 'eclipse of the sense of God',which pose a challenge to finding appropriate means to propose anew the perennial truth of Christ's Gospel."

New "Court" to Foster Search For God

Meanwhile Archbishop Ravassi, Prefect for the Pontifical Council for Culture, had already announced that a "Court of the Gentiles" will be inaugurated in Paris next March, hoping "to create a network of agnostic or atheistic people who accept dialogue". This was in response to the Pope's words to the Roman curia on December 21, 2009:

"In Paris [see this column Nov 2008], I talked about the search for God as the fundamental motive from which Western monasticism was born, and with it, Western culture. As the first step in evangelisation, we must try to keep this search alive ... I think that the Church should open today a sort of "court of the gentiles"... to dialogue with those for whom religion is something foreign, to whom God is unknown, and who nonetheless would not like simply to remain without God, but at least to approach him as the Unknown."

In a 25th February Avvenire interview Ravassi stated

"Attention must be paid to the different forms of atheism ... On one side there is the great atheism of Nietzsche and Marx, ... with its own ethics ... It is a serious and courageous vision, for example, in considering man alone in the universe. Then there is an ironic-sarcastic atheism that takes aim at marginal aspects of belief, or at fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. This is the atheism of Onfray, Dawkins, and Hitchens. In the third place there is an absolute indifference born of secularisation"

Scrutiny of Papal Phrase

In late June the prominent Catholic BBC journalist Edward Stourton, who presented the BBC's 1997 documentary attack upon Humanae Vitae and papal authority "Absolute Truth?", presented an interesting Radio 4 reflection upon Pope Benedict's phrase "dictatorship of relativism". The Pope used this term to describe Western culture in his April 2005 sermon at the opening of the conclave which elected him. Fr Stephen Wang, Dean of Studies at Allen Hall seminary, London, spoke about an example of the State gradually enforcing its absolute dogma of no absolute dogmas, namely trying to force Catholic adoption agencies to offer children to homosexual couples. Now the Church cannot do what it believes is right, which is to try and give a mother and father to a child. We've actually narrowedthe possibility of freedom and pluralism."

This is based upon the absolutisation of human rights and freedom:

"when you suck all content out of freedom and you're just left with competing freedoms, then you don't have any moral foundation for the goods that your society is trying to strive towards. You don't even have anything to found the notion of the value of freedom."

Two philosophers from Oxford and Cambridge respectively, Simon Blackburn and Leslie Green, presented the main argument against the validity of Pope Benedict's phrase, simply pointing out that in practice very few people at present are radically relativist in all morality to the point of being anarchic and care-less of cruelty.

Green was allowed to make the unopposed penultimate point suggesting that just as religious dictatorial fundamentalism and theocracy are causing "enormous violence" around the world hierarchical Churches believing in "one fundamental and absolute truth" are places where child abuse flourishes.

Celibacy Debate and Catholic Voices

A welcome public debate on priestly celibacy is to take place on the Tuesday before the Papal Visit at Leicester Square's Odeon cinema. It will occur after a well reviewed film, Conspiracy of Silence, which in effect presents an anti-Church and anti-celibacy case. The debate is scheduled for just 90 minutes, a short time it would seem given that there are six "leading Catholic" speakers. Arguing against "compulsory celibacy" will be Professor Tina Beattie, Helena Kennedy QC, Fr. John McGowan (OCD) taking on Bishop Malcolm McMahon, Jack Valero and Fr. Stephen Wang.

Jack Valero commented "We've decided with Catholic Voices that we're going to tackle head on all criticisms of the Church, and explain our position in a reasonable manner."

Forgetting the Ontology of Gift

Stefano Fontana, on the Cardinal Van Thuan Institute website (19th July), argues, like Edward Hadas in these pages last March that “few are those who appreciate [Caritas in Veritate] in depth, and many are those who contest it Fontana, the Institute's director, highlights the June 2010 issue of the Parisian Quarterly Liberte Politique entitled "Liberating civil society. An appeal of Caritas in Veritate". He writes:

"In calling for the liberation of civil society Caritas in Veritate proposes a truly peaceful revolution. ... civil society alone is the place where gratuitousness and the logic of gift are experienced, which are the main and truly new themes of the encyclical. Neither economics nor politics are exempt from this, insofar as the logic of gift is proper to man as such. Man needs meaning, and meaning is not something he can produce on his own; it has to come his way in a gratuitous manner."

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