Apostolic exhortation "Ecclesia in Europa" : the effects of dechristianization

Source: FSSPX News


The established facts are overwhelming. The Europeans "seem disorientated, uncertain, without hope", and "numerous Christians share those states of soul". This lack of hope "is accompanied by a kind of fear of the future". " The signs and fruits of this existential anguish include, in particular, the diminishing number of births, the decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the difficulty, if not the outright refusal, to make lifelong commitments, including marriage.". The Holy Father also mentions " the widespread existential fragmentation. A feeling of loneliness is prevalent; divisions and conflicts are on the rise.".

John-Paul II denounces the temptation " to present European culture with no reference to the contribution of the Christian religion which marked its historical development and its universal diffusion." " We are witnessing the emergence of a new culture," "marked by a widespread and growing religious agnosticism, connected to a more profound moral and legal relativism rooted in confusion regarding the truth about man as the basis of the inalienable rights of all human beings".

" For most people the great certitudes of faith were substituted with a vague religious feeling which does not imply any commitment; various forms of practical agnosticism and atheism are spreading, contributing to widen the chasm between faith and life ; some let themselves be influenced by a spirit of immanent humanism which weakens their faith, and often leads them, alas, to abandon it completely; we are witnessing some kind of secularizing interpretation of the Christian faith which is undermining it and to which is added a deep crisis of the conscience and of the practice of Christian morals". "The great values which widely inspired European culture have thus been separated from the Gospel, states the Pope, thus losing their deepest soul and leaving the field open for numerous deviations."

In passing, we note with some interest, in the text of the exhortation, the implicit avowal of the failure of religious liberty so much extolled by Vatican II council. The Pope acknowledges that this religious liberty is often only one-way. Indeed, he asks that religious liberty be promoted not only within the borders of Europe, but also "in the countries with a different religious tradition, where Christians are a minority", plainly speaking, in the Muslim countries. John-Paul II sends an appeal to the "European institutions" for the promotion of this "reciprocity". The Pope points out that "one can understand the astonishment and the feeling of frustration of Christians who welcome, for example in Europe, believers of other religions, giving them the possibility of exercising their worship, and who see themselves forbidden all exercise of Christian worship" in countries where those believers are in the majority and have made their own religion the only one admitted and promoted.

In his picture of Europe, the Holy Father expresses a particular worry concerning the family, in so far as " many cultural, social and political factors are in fact conspiring to create an increasingly evident crisis of the family. " " The value of marital indissolubility is increasingly denied; demands are made for the legal recognition of de facto relationships as if they were comparable to legitimate marriages; and attempts are made to accept a definition of the couple in which difference of sex is not considered essential.
In this context the Church is called to proclaim with renewed vigour what the Gospel teaches about marriage and the family".

The Pope worries about " the falling birthrate which is in fact symptomatic of a troubled relationship with our own future". After touching upon the subject of abortion through the use of chemical-pharmaceutical preparations which make abortion possible without the involvement of a physician and in a way detached from any form of social responsibility", he denounces the "tendency in certain parts of Europe to consider it permissible to make a conscious decision to end one’s own life or that of another human being: the result is the spread of covert, or even openly practised euthanasia, the legalization of which is often sought and, tragically, at times achieved".

Regarding priestly vocations, the Holy Father states that it is "a vital issue for the future of the Christian faith in Europe and, in turn, for the spiritual advancement of the very peoples who inhabit the continent." The pastoral of vocations must thus be perceived "as one of the primary goals of the whole Christian community". "Priests must also live and act in perfect harmony with their real sacramental identity". Priests who are called "in Europe’s present cultural and spiritual situation to be a sign of contradiction and of hope for a society suffering from "horizontalism" and in need of openness to the Transcendent."

John-Paul II also tackles the question of "the priestly celibacy which stands out as the sign of hope put totally in the Lord. Celibacy is not merely an ecclesiastical discipline imposed by authority; rather it is first and foremost a grace, a priceless gift of God for his Church, a prophetic value for the contemporary world, a source of intense spiritual life and pastoral fruitfulness, a witness to the eschatological Kingdom, a sign of God’s love for this world, as well as a sign of the priest’s undivided love for God and for his people. Lived in response to God’s gift and as a mastery of the temptations of a hedonistic society, it not only leads to the human fulfillment of those who are called to embrace it, but proves to be a source of growth for others as well." "This eloquent sign needs to be cherished as a precious good for the Church". " A revision of the present discipline in this regard would not help to resolve the crisis of vocations to the priesthood being felt in many parts of Europe." Considering the many new difficulties with which the sacred ministry is fraught " on account of the prevailing culture and the lessened numbers of priests, together with the increase of pastoral responsibilities and the fatigue which this can involve, the Pope pays them homage: "esteem, gratitude and support is due to those priests who carry out with praiseworthy dedication and fidelity the ministry which they have received."

On July 13, in Castel Gandolfo, John-Paul II came back to this alarming evaluation, he did not hesitate to say that Europe gave "the impression of a silent apostasy on the part of satiated mankind", he denounced the attempt to desire to build Europe "without God and without Christ". In his exhortation, he sees the cause for this silent apostasy in " the loss of Europe’s Christian memory and heritage, accompanied by a kind of practical agnosticism and religious indifference whereby many Europeans give the impression of living without spiritual roots and somewhat like heirs who have squandered a patrimony entrusted to them by history". "Certainly Europe is not lacking in prestigious symbols of the Christian presence, yet with the slow and steady advance of secularism, these symbols risk becoming a mere vestige of the past".

After such strong accusations came insignificant remedies : the reformed liturgy and the new charismatic communities.

" A great effort of education is needed", says the Pope referring to the liturgy. " True renewal, far from depending on arbitrary actions, consists of constantly developing an awareness of the sense of mystery, in order to create liturgical moments of communion with the great and holy mystery of the Trinity". He thus wishes to "respond to two dangers: on the one hand, certain sectors of the Church seem to have lost sight of the genuine meaning of the sacraments and might trivialize the mysteries being celebrated; while on the other hand, many of the baptized, following customs and traditional practices, continue to have recourse to the Sacraments at significant moments of their life, yet do not live in accordance with the Church’s teaching." — We may wonder whether a liturgy inspired by ecumenism is really able to provide this spiritual education, and to react to the loss of identity which the Pope sees in the Catholics. Going further, we can even say that these "remedies" are the very causes of the illness they claim to cure. The loss of the religious sense, the crisis of conscience and morals, religious liberty, the decline in priestly vocations have a deep relation to the Novus Ordo, which destroys the notion of sacrifice, the Catholic identity and consequently the priesthood in its true meaning. This remedy will do nothing but add to the confusion and the loss of the Catholic roots of Europe.

Then John-Paul II, while acknowledging the indispensable role of the parishes, clearly sets into relief " the significant contribution that, in fellowship with other ecclesial realities and never in isolation from them, can offer new movements and new ecclesial communities. Such groups, in fact, "help Christians to live a more radically evangelical life. They are a cradle for different vocations, and they generate new forms of consecration. Above all, they promote the vocation of the laity, and they help it to find expression in different spheres of life. They favour the holiness of the people. They are able to be both the messenger and the message for people who otherwise would not encounter the Church. Frequently they promote the journey of ecumenism and they open the ways to interreligious dialogue. They are an antidote to the spread of sects and an invaluable aid to the spread of joy and life in the Church". — This recourse to the new communities seems to the Roman authorities like a solution to the crisis. Henri Tincq, responsible for religious questions in the newspaper Le Monde echoes this in his latest book God in France, death and resurrection of Catholicism (Calmann-Lévy). We will return to this in another issue of DICI. But let us already note that this second remedy is not more able than the first to stay the flood of secularization and indifferentism which is overflowing in European countries as a whole. In many instances, in particular as far as the charismatic renewal is concerned, they are a destructive factor as efficient as the new liturgy.

It could seem reassuring to see the Pope take stock with precision of the evils undermining our society. A therapy based on adulterated medicines brings us back to the harsh reality of the past 40 post-conciliar years.