What is Pope Francis’ dilemma? That of choosing between Christ and Moses. That is, choosing between the merciful truth and the casuistry for the hard of heart. That is, choosing between religion and sociology. In the end, Moses’ mistake is also Karl Marx’s mistake, as explained by Stanislaw Grygiel in a profound and dense article he penned for the Italian newspaper Il Foglio.
Grygiel is not an ordinary person. Philosopher, St. John Paul II’s friend, Grygiel teaches at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Family and Marriage. His May 26 paper is an intense (and painful) description of the dilemmas of today’s Church. This dilemma does not merely affect the Pope Francis’ Church. It is part of the always present dialectic between the “spirit of the world” and the “reasonable truth of faith.” However, put into the picture of Pope Francis’ pontificate, this dialectic may risk leading to what Grygiel defines as “a theological chaos”.
Taking his cues from the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the Polish philosopher provides a different and wider point of view. According to Grygiel, Amoris Letitia “forces us to a deep reflection on faith, hope and love, that is, on the gift of freedom we received from God,” as the exhortation itself “does not bear a clear message about the gift of God” represented by “truth, good, freedom and mercy.”
Grygiel looks at the roots of Pope Francis’ thought. He notes that the Pope was educated according to the Ignatian principle of the “discernment of spirits in the concrete situation,” and, accordingly, the rule that “we should enter into the house of the other man through his door and exit through our own door.”
This is the rationale at the basis of the pastoral praxis Pope Francis that suggests for those who are hard of heart and who deny the Ten Commandments on the basis “of their cogito (‘I think’) that doubts whether is true that Christ ‘did not need anyone to testify about another’ because ‘he knew what is in every man’s heart’.”
This cogito brings about the infiltration “in the Church of the Arian doubt,” namely, “whether Christ is God or not, and whether the sacraments are what the Church’s faith proclaims, or whether they are no more than empty signs, the outcome of the emotional push of concrete situations.”
This is one of the core issues that brought about a sort of Protestantization of the Church: that Protestant thought proclaimed by Luther, whose notion of the free examination of conscience penetrated the Freemasons, and has subsequently touched the world elites. That Protestant thought is nowadays are the Church’s real enemy.
This is the kind of secularization, one in which the oligarchy holds power (an outcome of this secularization), that Pope Francis rightly points the finger at, as he is nurtured in the notion of pueblo opposed to elites.
Grygiel’s analysis goes even further. He recalls how Moses received the Decalogue from God and then destroyed the Table of the Law when, while coming down from the mountain, he saw his people kneeling in front of the Golden Calf. When the Lord gives Moses the Ten Commandments again, Moses praises the “merciful and compassionate God, slow to anger and full of grace and fidelity, who forgives the fault, the transgression and the sin, but who also does not leave without assigning punishment.
However, Grygiel notes, even Moses “surrendered to the pressures of those who are sick of hardness of heart” by permitting them “to repudiate their wives when the latter were no longer seen as worthy in their eyes.”
Moses’ choices remind Grygiel of “the Marxist thesis that quantity is transformed into quality when it reaches its critical mass, that is, when the evil committed often ceases to be evil and becomes a good.”
Moses’ anthropology is based on this idea of critical mass, and “Marx needed to understand Moses’ rationale of situations, since he took from it those conclusions that result nowadays in sociology and statistics replacing the Decalogue.”
Hence, the Church’s dilemma: priests “should help us to live the presence of the living God, historically incarnated and forever present among us with the Eucharist.” However, these priests are right in the middle between the pressures of concept of man who is “hard of heart” and man from Christ’s point of view: “in Christ, God creates man.”
Grygiel makes accuses forcefully: “Some of our shepherds or ‘archshepherds’, trying not to make Moses’ same mistake openly, and at the same time trying not to expose themselves to the criticism of being ‘hard of heart,’ assure everyone that the indissolubility of marriage is beyond discussion.” On the other hand, they claim that “the pragmatic rationale concerning failed marriages pivots on the word ‘but’, as this will permit them to construct a casuistry through which they can justify adultery.”
Grygiel clearly speaks of a “yes, but” casuistry, that “does not take into consideration the conscience of the human being together with its inclination to evil.” This is the reason why, Grygiel explains, “if things keep on going this way, it is to be expected that chaos will follow shortly.”
This is not a new dilemma for the Catholic Church. This dilemma was also lived on the occasion of the 2005 Conclave, which resulted in Pope Benedict XVI’s election. The presence of the dilemma was recounted by Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, Benedict XVI’s private secretary, at a book presentation on May 20.
During his speech, Archbishop Gaenswein underscored that “Joseph Ratzinger, after one of the shortest elections in the history of the Church, was elected after only four ballots following a dramatic struggle between the so-called ‘Salt of the Earth Party’ gathered around Cardinals Lopez Trujillo, Ruini, Herranz, Rouco Varela and Medina, and the so-called ‘St. Gallen Group’ gathered around Cardinals Danneels, Martini, Silvestrini and Murphy O’Connor – a group that Cardinal Danneels himself recently amusedly described as a sort of ‘mafia club’.”
Archbishop Gaenswein’s words certify the existence of an internal struggle. Perhaps, this internal struggle is the key to the many attacks on Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate. Just so, the outcome of the struggle is the “charm offensive” around Pope Francis’ pontificate. In the end, Pope Francis had been identified as the person able to carry forward the “agenda of mercy” that Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Dean of the College of Cardinals, outlined during his homily in the Missa Pro Eligendo Romani Pontifice at the opening of the 2013 Conclave.
That the struggle is still ongoing is attested by some details of Andrea Riccardi’s talk at the same book presentation. Founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, Riccardi wanted to underscore that in the end the St. Gallen Group had not so much importance and weight, since some of its members could not take part in the Conclave (those over 80 years of age can no longer take part in a conclave). In his talk, Riccardi even spoke about a conclave made up of cardinals who did not know how to elect a Pope.
Why did Riccardi made these remarks, in spite of the fact that his talk was full of praise for Benedict XVI? Perhaps the reason is that Sant’Egidio, with his social initiatives, with its tireless work with refugees, with its initiative of creating humanitarian corridors that Pope Francis appreciates (so much that the Pope made of the Holy See a humanitarian corridor on his way back from Lesbos) is now a key actor on the Vatican chessboard, while it was not so under Pope Benedict XVI. Under Pope Francis, Sant’Egidio is free to play at being a sort of diplomatic outpost: this has always been the secret goal of the movement, even thought they were not so free to act in this way during past pontificates.
Not by chance, Sant’Egidio is called “Trastevere’s United Nations” (the reference is to the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome where they have their headquarters), as is shown by its facilitating the reopening of dialogue with Sunni Islam of the al Azhar Mosque – so successfully that the Grand Imam al Tayed was in Paris with Sant’Egidio the day after he met the Pope, and by its active presence in Syria, where it launched the campaign to save the city of Aleppo.
There are many good fruits among the results of Sant’Egidio activity. On the other hand, what they do, especially on a diplomatic level, has raised some criticisms. Some have noted that Sant’Egidio always carefully chooses its geopolitical involvements: yes to Burundi, Sudan and Algeria, no to Timor East and Chiapas (Mexico), where – as Sandro Magister observed in an article some year ago – “there is not so much space to be noted.”
This pragmatic geopolitics of presence can be well associated with the notion of critical mass by Moses and Marx. For example, Sant’Egidio held talks with the terrorists in Algeria. The story was recounted by Franco de Courten, Italian ambassador to Algeri from 1996 and 1998. De Courten published a book containing his diary of those years. De Courten reported that the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs was very sensitive to the lobbying operated by Sant’Egidio in order to gain its support. The Community also lobbied managers of the Italian Oil Companies. The ambassador was then recalled to Rome, and he thinks it was because of these pressures, as he was one of the biggest opponents of the Community.
The ambassador was not the only critic. Sant’Egidio was accused of having close relations with terrorists. Even Bishop Pierre Claverie of Oran criticized Sant’Egidio’s approach. Bishop Claverie was in fact assassinated by some of those terrorists.
This is one of the risks incurred when applying the concept of a critical mass instead of carrying forward a diplomacy based on truth.
This is also the today Church’s dilemma. The Church is apparently suspended between the concept of truth and a casuistry that Pope Francis always says he does not want.
At the moment, what is perceived is that the defenders of pastoral praxis are more visible than the defenders of doctrine, that fluid diplomacy based on the pursuit of concrete goals is more present than the diplomacy of truth, that the gesture becomes the message, as Pope Francis said during his meeting with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar.
Is this enough to solve the Church’s dilemma, which is also the current pontificate’s dilemma? Probably not.
And so we need to get back to Archbishop Gaenswein’s presentation to understand the signs of the times. Benedict XVI’s personal secretary describes Benedict’s choice to renounce to the Petrine ministry as a big innovation in the papacy. This innovation makes the papacy a collegial institution, though the pope is always one and unique.
Archbishop Gaenswein said: “Since Pope Francis’ election, there are in the end not two popes, but de facto an expanded ministry – with an active and a contemplative member. For this reason, Benedict XVI did not renounce his name, nor the white cassock. For this reason, the correct title through which he is addressed is still “Holiness”. Besides, for this reason he did not retire to an isolated monastery, but within the Vatican – as if he just stepped aside to leave space to his successor and to take a new step in the history of the papacy.”
How much of impact is this “expanded” Petrine ministry, integrated with a “collegial and synodal dimension” thanks to the Pope Emeritus, is under the gaze of everyone.
Facing the challenges of the times, the Pope needs the strength not to surrender to the “hard of heart,” as Moses did. Pope Benedict XVI was a great prophet in perceiving this. Even his motto – Archbishop Gaenswein observed – is “cooperators in the truth,” a plural and not a singular (it is a passage from the Third Epistle of St. John).
In the end, the Pope Francis’ ecclesial dilemma lies entirely in this primacy of conscience that helps professionals in casuistry more than people of faith. A casuistry as cold as a sociological analysis – and in fact, the papers of the so-called “progressive” theologians barely mention the joy of faith. How Pope Francis will solve the dilemma is yet to be seen. Certainly, the fact that he can count on a hidden advisor like Benedict, who lives in contemplation and close to him, does not undermine the authority of his pontificate. It rather supports it.