Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Europe and the Popes

The great Catholic historian Hiliare Belloc once remarked "The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith." Indeed one cannot deny the strong ties between the two. If there has been one force that's done so much to shape Europe's identity and heritage, it's been the Christian faith. If one place on earth has done so much to shape the nature of the Christian faith, it is Europe. The two are closely linked and in many ways cannot be separated. Yet many people cannot seem to understand this, and we've clearly seen this with many of the reactions to the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

One big question that was raised during the Interregnum was one concerning the nationality of the next pope. The two main questions concerning this issue were: 1) would the next pope be an Italian 2) if not, would he be non-European. Of course the media jumped on every occasion in suggesting (even at times predicting it as a sure certainly) that a Third World pope would be elected. Well of course that didn't happen, since Benedict XVI is German.

Of course many people are not happy about that, and it's an interesting combination of people who are upset about this. Well of course Catholics in the Third World are upset over this, but they're not alone. Many liberal Catholics are also up in arms over Ratzinger's election. It's seems the two main reasons why people are upset over Benedict XVI is that 1) he has a reputation for being a hard-line conservative 2) simply for the fact he is European. Of course there are other reasons, but these the ones most commonly heard.

There are many voices out there that call out for a Third World pope. Let's look at some of these voices and their arguments.

Let's start with a report done by CBS news titled "Scoping Out A Third World Pope." The report states:
"Many Latin American Catholics said the only way to improve on a papacy they overwhelmingly support would be to select someone from their own ranks."

It should be noted that Latin American Catholics are not the only ones supporting the Catholic church. Of course Latin America (or even the Third World as a whole) wants one of their own to be pope, what region/nationality doesn't? As both a Byzantine Catholic and being of Ukrainian decent, I myself was really hopeful that the conclave would elect Lubomyr Husar. How wonderful that would've been, to have not only the first Ukrainian pope in history, but also the first pope from an Eastern rite of the church. However not every nation/region can have one of their own as pope, it's a fact of life. Whether or not people of a certain region support the church should not be based on whether or not one of their own is elected pope. And a Latin American pope is not necessary in order for the church to deal with the issues concerning the church in that region of the world.

Andrew Greeley also puts forth the case of a Third World pope(Brazilian in particular) in his article "Word is Third World pope need not apply, but why not?". He begins his argument by trying to compare objections to having a Third World pope to past objections to having "a black baseball player or a black quarterback or a black head coach in the NFL". That is, he's trying to pin the label of "racism" on those who refusing to support a Third World pope. First, it makes perfectly good sense to have European pope, as I will explained further. Second, support for a European pope does not at all imply racism and it's sad he tried to bring that into the debate.

Greeley goes onto to say;
"If the cardinal electors should choose a Brazilian pope, it would be a brilliant acknowledgment of the universality of the Catholic church and a potent sign of its concern about South America (about half of whose Catholics live in Brazil)."

Michael Walsh makes the same argument in his article "What chance a black pope?", stating that those supporting for the election of an African pope see it "as a grand gesture, an assertion of the universality of the Catholic Church, a protest against racism".

There are several problems with this argument. One, having a European pope does at all mean neglecting the universality of the Catholic Church. People all over the world are more than welcome to become followers of Christ and members of the Holy Catholic Church. But just because one of their own is not elected pope does not mean they're being neglected. Just because Italians sat on the Papal throne for 450 years did not mean that the universality of the Catholic church was neglected during that period.

In fact it made geographical sense for Italians to be Pope, since the Vatican is situated on the Italian Peninsula; not to mention when the Popes were rulers over the Papal States they had to keep an eye on Italian affairs. Today, even with the lost of the Papal States, Italy still plays an important role in the church. In fact it's well known that any pope (whatever his nationality) will have to deal first and foremost with the Italian Bishops. If the pope cannot get along with the Italian bishops, that pope's pontificate is not going anywhere. These are among the many reasons why some people still insist on continuing having Italians as popes. Upon logic similar to those of advocates for an Italian pope, we can explain why a European pope is needed. The Vatican itself is situated geographically in Europe. The most important and immediate issues dealing with the Vatican will be European issues. The most important bishops the pope will have to deal with are European bishops. So just from a geographical point of view it makes sense to have a European pope.

ConcernedCatholic, who runs the Catholicism, Culture, and Politics blog, is another strong advocate for a Third World pope(in particular Cardinal Arnize from Nigeria). He seems very skeptical about the need for a European pope at the moment, as he explains in his post "Has Europe 'Committed Suicide'"?

Remarking on criticism he received from those insisting on a European pope, he states:
"I don't fault the individuals who have offered this criticism, as they raise valid points, but ultimately I still wonder if it is worth the souls of the Third World to try to save a culture bent on killing itself."

Well as I explained above, having a European pope does not in any way mean that Third World souls are being neglected. No more than when Italians dominated the Papacy were non-Italian Catholics neglected. ConcernedCatholic seems to imply that advocates for an European pope are neglecting the Third World by trying to save "a culture bent on killing itself". Ok, let's remember what culture we're talking about here. We're talking about the one culture that has done more to shape the character and history of the Catholic Church than any other culture in the world. Many of the saints, theologians, Popes, and other great historical leaders of the Catholic faith even worth mentioning were European. It was Europeans who spread the faith to the far corners of the world. In fact the irony is that without the work of European missionaries, the faith never would've reached the peoples of the Third World. It is in Europe that many of the great historical cathedrals, shrines, and other holy places of the Catholic faith are to be found. It simply cannot be denied that Europe is more closely connected to the Catholic faith than any other culture in the world. ConcernedCatholic asks if it's worth it to save Europe, of course it is! To lose Europe is to loose an important aspect of the Catholic heritage. The conversion of the Third World (however wonderful it maybe) will not replace what is lost!

To emphasize Europe's ties to the faith does not mean that non-Europeans are somehow less Catholic than Europeans. Indeed many of the churches of the Middle East in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, etc all have a rich heritage of their own and many of these churches can even trace their roots back to the Apostles. This region also once hosted many of the great centers of learning for the Christian world. Thats perfectly fine, and in fact shows that non-European Christians can have their rich heritages to be proud of. But Europe still takes the center stage for being the main preserver and defender of the faith, especially when the Muslims conquered those centers of learning in the Middle East.

A very good comparison is how France was referred to as "the Eldest Daughter of the Church". It earned this title for the many great contributions the French nation made for the Holy Church, which are summarized here. This certainly did not rule out the possibility for other nations to gain the favor of the Church, indeed many other nations have. However it was acknowledged that France played a very key role in the history and development of the Church. If anything, it encourages other nations to follow France's lead. The very same logic can be applied to Europe's place within the universal church. Non-European Catholics are no more being neglected by this than non-French Catholics were. It's a simple acknowledgement of Europe's important contributions to the Catholic faith. Europe's nations constitute altogether "the eldest children" of the Church so to speak.

Many of these supporters for a Third World pope try to use demographics to further their arguments, saying that most Catholics in the world today are found in these regions as opposed to Europe. However demographics alone are not really a factor in choosing a new pope, nor should it ever be. Again, this brings us back to the fact that Italian popes long dominated the Papacy. This was so, despite the fact that most Catholics in the world were not situated in Italy. So the demographics argument doesn't really stand up.

Possibly the biggest argument for a Third World pope is that supposedly the churches in the Third World are the fastest growing, while the churches in Europe are largely empty. ConcernedCatholic for example himself links to a column by George Will. George Will in turn cites George Weigel, who has written columns on this topic as well. Their notion is that Europe is fully secularist and that Europeans are largely indifferent to Catholic (or Christian in general) teachings. Many of their arguments seem convincing, at least at first sight. This is especially true when concerning the issue of low church attendance.

Massimo Introvigne and Rodney Stark did an interesting study on this titled "Religious Competition and Revival in Italy: Exploring European Exceptionalism" for the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion that takes a deeper look at this. They particularly focus on what's going on in Italy, where much of a religious revival is supposedly taking place.

They noted that low attendance rates in many of Europe's churches is due largely because of the unwillingness of church leaders to attract people to services. The mainstream churches have largely become complacent and even corrupt; often because these churches are state supported and face no major competition. This is in contrast with churches in the Third World, which are actively seeking out converts and trying to stay ahead of major competitors (like Islam is many parts of the Third World). Unlike their European counterparts, many of these churches are not state-sanctioned and thus need an active rank-and-file in order to survive.

Yet In cases of non-mainstream religious groups, their activities have actually risen in Europe. This is true when concerning more traditional forms of Catholicism. Massimo Introvigne and Rodney Stark note how many different Catholic movements, such as Opus Dei, are beginning to attract more members in Italy. And certainly Italy is certainly not alone in this. France has also been considered a stronghold of secularism with the Catholic faith barely staying alive. Well evidence is beginning to say otherwise. Dr Geoffrey Hull mentions in his article "France and the revival of traditional Catholicism" that Traditional Catholicism is quite a popular phenomenon among the French people. Concerning church attendance, Huff notes:
"The traditionalist movement in France is today far more vital than 'mainstream' Catholicism, whether ultramontanist or liberal. Churches and chapels where the 'immemorial' Mass is offered by priests of the late Archbishop Lefebvre's Society of St Pills X or under the 1984 Indult are generally well-attended, whereas the more numerous parish churches and cathedrals given over to the Novus Ordo liturgy of Vatican II are more often than not close to empty, even in former bastions of religious practice like Brittany and Alsace."
This most certainly fits well with the arguments made by Massimo Introvigne and Rodney Stark when concerning the sad state of "mainstream" churches. This is a major factor that's often overlooked; it's the mainstream churches that are often empty, not the traditionalist ones.

Mary Jo Anderson adds onto Hull's arguments in her article "Faith of the Eldest Daughter -Can France retain her Catholic heritage?" stating:
"Whatever the socio-political influences may be, there is evidence that faith is making a comeback among ordinary French Catholics... All across France, convent and abbey guest quarters are finding more religious pilgrims at their door. Increasingly, families combine reunions and celebrations with retreats at a nearby religious house. And while France is still in grave danger of losing her soul to secularism, there are genuine signs of hope."
The last sentence could very well sum up the situation the Catholic Church is facing in Europe in general. If we restore the vigour that the Church once had, instead of settling for a watered-down version of it; we may very well see a major revival of the faith in Europe. If anything this shows that European popes are needed more than ever!

Thank god we may very well have a pope who has great concerns for Europe's fate. As Yahoo reported on the new pope:
"Ratzinger selected a name rich in European tradition - the first Pope Benedict, who ruled from 575-579, was declared the patron saint of Europe because of his involvement in forming Christian Europe. Vatican watchers said Ratzinger's selection of the name indicated he would emphasize the need to consolidate Europe's Christian roots."
As we have seen, many of the arguments made in favor of a Third World/non-European pope do not stand up. Certainly the need to make the Third World feel welcomed within the faith and to express the universality of the faith itself are indeed genuine concerns. But a European pope can easily fulfill those ends.

But why does it seem that many arguments in favor of a Third World pope seem to insist on it as some measure to redeem the church? For the answer, we have to look at a non-Catholic perspective. Andrew Philips of Orthodox England did his own commentary on the pontificate of John Paul II and its effects on the Catholic church as a whole. Philips made an interesting point about how "the tendency for modern Roman Catholicism to forget the next world and put the 'Third World' in its place typifies the whole secularized Western world which seems to have replaced the Gospel of Christ with the Gospel of sociology."

Indeed, it does seem at times that the salvation of the Third World has taken the place of concern for salvation for the next world. Philips explains this is just a part of the wider secularization of the Catholic faith.

All in all, the Vatican is situated in Europe and has been a major European institution for the past 2000 years. Although the Pope governs over a universal church, its most immediate concerns are in Europe. Europe has has played a key role in Christianity's development. So there are many valid reasons to continue having European popes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Hail Pope Benedict XVI

Well the conclave of Cardinals have elected Joseph Ratzinger as the new pope. He has chosen to be known as Pope Benedict XVI. He's been well known to be a hard-liner and has tried to crack down on the liberals. He's also very concerned about the state the of the faith in Europe, and even wrote a book dealing with this issue. Here's a short biography of the man.

So best of luck of to him and his pontificate. Although I doubt much will change, but you never know.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Pope John Paul II is dead!

Pope John Paul II died at 9:37 PM Rome time yesterday. Like other fellow Catholics, I sincerely mourn his death. I've already dealt with many of the issues concerning his death back in my March 1 posting. I dealt with the issue of his possible successor and what lies ahead for the church. Rev. Anthony J. Figueiredo of Seton Hall University explained the situation very well about the concerns of the next pope:
''The first major concern for the next pope is evangelization of major areas that have lost the faith, particularly in Western Europe, where in many countries the church has really become irrelevant."
Europe, the historical heartland of Christendom, is indeed the main spiritual battleground of the present and near future. May Europe return to its cultural and spiritual roots. As Hilaire Belloc immortally proclaimed; "Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish. The Faith is Europe, and Europe is the Faith."

I also pointed out at the time the mourning for the Pope's health, and how much of it was a complete farce. The same logic can easily apply now that he's actually dead. A very good example of this of course is President Bush's plans for attending the Pope's funeral. John Stanton gave a very good assessment of the President and his policies from a Catholic perspective in his piece "Operation American Pharisee: Bush's War on Jesus Christ". It was interesting to see Israel express sorrow over the Pope's death, especially since the Pope was often a staunch critic of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians; including the Israeli government's insistent plans for building a security wall(to which the Israeli government ignored him). This mourning comes almost literally a year after Jews launched a massive campaign against the Catholic film-maker Mel Gibson for his Passion of the Christ, so it's often interesting to see how these events play out. Without a doubt the most surprising incident of mourning came from Mehmet Ali Agca, who attempted to assassinate the Pope back in 1981. Whether genuine or not, this is nothing short of remarkable.

In that same post, I certainly criticized John Paul II for much of the harm he done to the church, all of which can be visually seen here. Many of his teachings clearly violated the traditional doctrines of the Church as outlined here. Nevertheless he did have his virtues. He certainly played an important role in fighting international Communism both in Eastern Europe and Latin America. Lech Walesa made note of the Pope's role in inspiring the Polish people to resist Soviet oppression and to reclaim their lost national heritage. To the Polish people he truly was a national hero. George Huntson Williams supposedly gives much reference to the Pope's devotion to Polish nationalism in his book The Mind of John Paul II: Origins of His Thought and Action. Being partially of Polish decent myself, this means a lot to me personally. We should also not forget John Paul II's tough stance when it came to sexual morals and the protection of life. He was clearly a man devoted to the well-being of mankind, even if his actions in that field were misguided. So overall, I think other traditionalist Catholics need to make a fair assessment of John Paul II and give him credit for the good things he accomplished during his pontificate while being aware of the not so good things he did. The Society of Pius X certainly had no trouble doing so.

Rest in Peace John Paul II!