Cardinal Paul Poupard to I.MEDIA: “Illiteracy of the faith raises questions”

Source: FSSPX News


On January 17, Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, gave his reaction to the survey carried out by Le Monde des Religions, to the Roman agency I.MEDIA. After having called into question the formulation of the questions asked and the interpretation of the responses, the French prelate wondered why the people who declared themselves Catholic were not attending Mass (only 8% attending Sunday Mass), and he proposed a real renewal of liturgical life. One would have thought that the post-conciliar liturgical reform would have ensured this renewal. Could it have failed? Looking at the figures and more directly at the empty churches, without a doubt! But Cardinal Poupard does not envisage a restoration of the Traditional Mass as a solution to the present collapse; on the other hand, he keeps his distance from a catechesis which would merely “put forward the faith” (this is a veiled attack on the famous Dagens report, “Proposer la foi dans la societé actuelle”, Ed.[1])

 In the face of “illiteracy of the faith”, it is not enough to “present the Christian faith”: The Church has the responsibilty of transmitting it as taught by St.Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians: “I have transmitted what I myself have received…2”. The life of the Church is tradition-transmission. But instead of transmission, the Roman responsible for interreligious dialogue, just like the Dagens report, offers a Christian faith which is “love and reaching out to others”, “recognition of the dignity of others” independently of the truth to which he adheres or not, according to the sacrosanct principles of conciliar religious liberty - “the desire to put into practice Christ’s commandment to: “Go, make disciples of all nations,” which leads to an invitation to “bear witness to the Christian life”…This program is too vast not to be vague and finally without practical impact.

 With a robust supernatural common sense, Fr. Calmel O.P. condemned “those who find it quite fruitless to promote Christian institutions faithful to the natural law and the spirit of Jesus Christ, to work thus for the building up of Christendom. They would like us to cling to an individual witness of justice, and as they say nowadays to a presence. In reality, such a presence in the midst of iniquitous structures, and on condition of being pure of all complicity, is absolutely indispensable; but it does not in the least stand in the way of the effort necessary to create Christian institutions, be they ever so small. (…) The presence calls to the institution, a far cry from contradicting it.” (Ecole chrétienne renouvelée, Téqui, p. 168).


What is your initial reaction to the results of this survey?

 We are faced with the umpteenth survey on the faith in France, which the questions do not always allow us to identify clearly, as for example, the questions asked on “other religions” demonstrate, or the equivocal question: “If God exists, how do you see Him?” This ‘how’ is too vague to invite clear and meaningful answers on the content of the faith of Catholics in God. As for the interpretations given, they are sometimes questionable, if not deplorable…

 For example, if the regular church-goers make up, according to the survey, 17% of the Catholics, and that the same number are opposed to women priests and marriage for priests, could it not be deduced from this that those who have a spiritual life which corresponds with what they believe, do not want married priests or women priests? Which is not the same as saying: the overwhelming majority of Catholics want marriage for priests and women priests… and to condemn the blindness of a Vatican supposedly narrow minded on this subject. Is not the Vatican more on the side of the “regular believers”, those who are able to say what they expect of their priests?


What do you think of the changes which this survey reflects concerning the French and the Catholic religion?

 This survey gives rise to reflection. Not so long ago, these same surveys were saying that a great number of Catholics believed in reincarnation, which is practically no longer the question today. It is interesting and surprising that more than 70% of Catholics interviewed had a good impression of the pope, whereas it was considered in good taste, not so long ago in certain circles to avoid all reference to the Roman Pontiff.

 But we also have to explain why people who call themselves Catholics have arrived at the point where they deprive themselves of the Mass. We really have to find an answer to this question which invites us to consider, if not new pastoral choices, at least a true renewal of liturgical life in our parishes. Finally, illiteracy of the faith poses a question…It is not a question of denying the reality. It is worrying for all those who are responsible for the transmission of the Faith. Therefore, the Pontifical Council of Culture is reflecting on the great challenges of the new Millennium, and the last plenary Assemblies have been devoted to these subjects in order to find answers. In 2004, we worked on non-belief and indifference, (…) we analyzed this ‘believing without belonging’ which appears to be a discovery for the authors of this inquiry by Le Monde des Religions.


How can this ‘illiteracy of the Faith’ be tackled today?

 The question of the transmission of the Faith is crucial; its terms evolve simultaneously with the transmission of culture. The survey on the beliefs of Catholics makes one think about the difficulty of its priests to transmit, not only through catechesis, but also through sermons, the content of the Faith of the Church. We often forget it, and the inquiry does not take it into consideration, that today  parents are sometimes the people who exert the least influence over their children! The school, that is to say, the teachers and above all other children, fictional characters from the cinema, television and the internet are, in terms of hours and power of influence, much more present to their children than they themselves when they come home from work.

 As for the growth of leisure and out of school activities, this takes more and more time and does not favor reading or discussions about ideas at home, not only about the faith but also about life in society, and culture in general. Let us also consider catechesis. I notice that if 80% of young French people were attending catechism in the 60’s, there are only 30% today. Obviously, it is not enough to “propose the Christian Faith”: The Church has the responsibility to transmit it as taught by St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians: “I have transmitted to you what I myself have received…” The life of the Church is tradition-transmission. The survey makes us think about the illiteracy of Faith of our contemporaries. We know that few people read, and many are content with sensational newspapers, which only publish things about religion which are scandalous, or seem to call the Faith into question: for example, the pseudo Gospel of Judas, The Da Vinci Code, destructive works on Mary and the Church, etc…(…)


How should we react to the fact that only one Catholic out of  two asserts belief in God?

 Alongside the 52% of people who confirm their belief in God, 31% express a doubt which can not be comparable with a negation. Did those who doubt have the real possibility to meet Christians, faithful or priests, capable of helping them to see the light? Opening to religion is a notable progress, on condition that it is not the symptom of religious relativism. Interreligious dialogue is founded on a clear personal and community religious identity, it is one of the consequences of the Christian faith which is love and seeking others, recognition of others’ dignity, allied to the desire to put into practice Christ’s commandment: “Go make disciples of all nations…” We have before us an immense mission field, whose magnitude is the kind of thing which motivates not only Christian communities, but also each of the faithful to  give a witness to the Christian life, which is more necessary than ever.



[1] The Dagens report, written by Mgr Dagen, bishop of Angoulême, and voted by the plenary assembly of the French bishops, in November 1996, is entitled Proposing the Faith in Present Day Society. It reads:

“We accept without hesitation to take our place, as Catholics, in today’s cultural and institutional context, which is especially characterized by the emergence of individualism and the principle of secularization. (Emphasis in the text)

We reject any nostalgia for past times when the principle of authority seemed to impose itself unquestionably. We do not dream of an impossible return to what used to be called Christendom.

We mean to set  to work in the context of present society with the strength with which the Gospel is endowed to propose and to interpel and we do not forget that the Gospel is capable of criticizing the world’s and society’s order, when this order tends to become inhuman.”