Home/Rod Dreher/Pope Francis On Not Making ‘Little Monsters’

Pope Francis On Not Making ‘Little Monsters’

Erin Manning passes along this interesting report about the Pope’s remarks the other day to Superiors General of men’s religious orders. Excerpt:

“Daily culture is much richer and conflictual than that which we experienced in our day, years ago. Our culture was simpler and more ordered. Inculturation today calls for a different attitude. For example: problems are not solved simply by forbidding doing this or that. Dialog as well as confrontation are needed. To avoid problems, in some houses of formation, young people grit their teeth, try not to make mistakes, follow the rules smiling a lot, just waiting for the day when they are told: ‘Good. You have finished formation.’ This is hypocrisy that is the result of clericalism, which is one of the worst evils. I said as much to the bishops of the Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) this summer in Rio de Janeiro: we need to conquer this propensity toward clericalism in houses of formation and seminaries too.”

“If the seminary is too large, it ought to be divided into smaller communities with formators who are equipped really to accompany those in their charge. Dialogue must be serious, without fear, sincere. It is important to recall that the language of young people in formation today is different from that in the past: we are living through an epochal change. Formation is a work of art, not a police action. We must form their hearts. Otherwise we are creating little monsters. And then these little monsters mold the People of God. This really gives me goose bumps.”

Fascinating. “Formation is a work of art, not a police action.” Beautifully said. I would love to know more about how he would characterize the “epochal change” of our time, and how that requires a specifically different response from the Church. I believe the pope is right about the magnitude of the change we’re living through. Here’s my guess as to what he is talking about. [UPDATE: The next paragraph is not the Pope’s, but my own. Sorry for the confusion. — RD]

The Western world is becoming truly post-Christian, not only in the sense that people don’t believe (though many do not), but also — moreso — that people do not think in Christian categories any longer. They don’t carry an authentically Christian point of reference in their heads. Moreover, we live in a time in which the dynamic of individualization that has been part of Western social history for centuries is processing at breakneck speed. Each man and woman — including among Catholics — has become his or her own pope, to a great extent. A priest cannot speak from a position of authority and expect to be heard. The culture in which young people are being raised makes them deaf to the traditional ways of presenting the Gospel, and thinking about it. This doesn’t make the truth of what the Church proclaims any less true, but it does require the evangelists and catechists to change their approach to better reach the people.

If that’s what the Pope is thinking, in my opinion he’s correct. What I would love to know is what he thinks about the experience of the post-conciliar Church’s attempts at evangelization. You have had two generations since the Second Vatican Council, during which time the attempt to update the Church’s outreach to the world has resulted in widespread ignorance among Catholics about what their own church teaches, and has a right to expect of them, and in the US, Latin America, and Europe, a hemorrhaging of Catholics out of the Church. Rorate Caeli, a traditionalist Catholic website, published this the other day:

We hear often the present Pontiff speak against “ideological” Christians, and many read this as referring to Christians of a traditional mind-set, who are accustomed only to denounce the state of the Faith and of the Church in terms that are never positive.  Now this definition is not very useful, because there is  so much “ideological Catholicism” in our day.  But let us ask ourselves:  in whom is this attitude found?  To whom should this verbal tag be attached?  To those who read things as they are or to those who indulge in the illusion that things are going well when they are not going well at all?

… Last Advent the Cardinal of Vienna, Monsignor Schonborn, preached in the diocese of Milan, and, speaking of the Church of today, he said:  “(…)let us get rid of nostalgia for the ‘50s, those of my childhood, in my village, when the church was filled with people three times every Sunday.  Everyone went to church.  Let us leave behind nostalgia for the vitality of our places of prayer in the ‘50s and ‘60s.”  This is an example of the real “Christian ideology”.  It is one thing to say that, recognizing the difference between the past and the present, the Catholic should not lose heart. It is another thing to say that the longing for another time should be abandoned.  When one loses something beautiful, this longing is more than appropriate, and it is the only response that is human and reasonable.  Of course, one should not get depressed.  On the contrary, it is necessary to do what has to be done, to roll up one’s sleeves, and to act, convinced that the fortunes of history are not in our hands but in the hands of God and of his most holy Mother. But an undertaking, a commitment like this, can be motivated only by an intelligent assessment of the situation: things are not going well, so it is necessary to act to change them.  To speak of “letting go of nostalgia” is the most an ideologue can say in this type of situation…at least if he does not want to “apostasize”, something we do not consider as possible, able to imagine or be thought of in a cardinal of the Holy Roman Church.

Pope Francis is certainly right that the Church has to speak in a different voice to be heard today. He is certainly right that becoming a priest (and becoming a Christian) is about transformation of the heart, not simply a matter of perfecting our conduct. And heaven knows he’s right about the dangers of clericalism. What is not clear to me is where he thinks the Catholic Church erred after the Council as it tried to speak to the modern world. Does he think it made a mistake? Or does he think the Council’s modernizing reforms were never really tried, or didn’t go far enough?

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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