Charitable works did not stop. In many countries, the priests cannot celebrate Mass with the people because of the lockdown restrictions due to the coronavirus. However, the Church’s charities kept working, even harder, facing new and more difficult emergencies.
As there are no public celebrations, the priests organized to broadcast daily masses via streaming. Pope Francis himself led by example and had the morning Mass he celebrates daily broadcasted live.
The bishops have never been so visible. They are visible in talking to the governments and seeking to alleviate the health safety measures in order to make it possible for the people to attend Mass; they are visible in celebrating Mass and speaking about God in the media.
The Pope has never been so present, too. The image of the solitary Pope walking to a rainy St. Peter’s square is set in everybody’s eyes.
However, despite this continuous presence, the Church has been absent in one field: the cultural scene. This must not be underestimated.
Pope Francis has often said that the Church runs the risk of turning into a merciful NGO. In the Apr. 30 morning Mass, Pope Francis reiterated that works do not amount to anything if they are not fed by faith. And faith, the Pope stressed, is spread by attraction.
Pope Francis, in the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium, called for a new multidisciplinary approach in the pontifical universities. This approach was to be undertaken in the Global Compact for education, which Pope Francis was supposed to launch in May. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the launch of the compact has been postponed to November.
Pope Francis’ engagement promoting new ideas did not translate into a wide range of cultural initiatives. Catholics in society seem to be invisible in the cultural debates. When they take part in the conversations, they are subjected to the influence of the mainstream. They barely give different points of view and fresh Catholic perspectives.
One example: when the coronavirus pandemic broke, and there was a lack of room for patients in intensive care units, consideration was given to giving priority to younger people, over the elderly. The same rationale risked being applied (and sometimes it was) when, in fact, there was room in intensive care units. The dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life highlighted this risk in a document.
After the publication of the document, nothing more has been said. The bishops did not comment anything further. Above all, Catholics in society did not speak about it. The issue of a sort of “hidden euthanasia” for the elderly never came up. However, this issue is part of a cultural debate that becomes a political question. It is about giving a voice to the elderly and least able to speak for themselves. Why were there no Catholic intellectuals to rise up to this challenge?
Another big issue on the table is that of freedom of worship. There is, it is true, the need to comply with health safety measures. However, very few commentators saw in the prohibition to celebrate Mass with the faithful in attendance a possible issue from the legal/international standpoint.
In this case, there was a lack of an institutional mentality realizing that the Holy See has autonomy in making these decisions. It should not be the State deciding that there be no religious gatherings. From a formal point of view, the Church should formally agree not to hold gatherings, thus meeting the government’s needs. It is a broad issue, worth discussing. Where have the Catholic intellectuals been?
Freedom to worship is part of religious freedom. And religious freedom is about the possibility to profess religion and live accordingly. Who does guarantee, then, that the Church and the faithful, in general, will always be able to proclaim their faith publicly?
Vatican Radio reached all the world thanks to the short and medium wave radio bands, that are not regulated by any State. However, Vatican radio chose to shut down its short and medium wave broadcasting, and sometimes even finalized agreements with the social networks to broadcast its programs. This means that the Church can be silenced at anytime. It was short-sighted not to think about that at the time of the Vatican communication reform. It appears even shorter sighted now, since priests can only resort to the digital sphere to spread the faith and celebrate Mass.
Digital freedom is thus a big issue. The Holy See has worked a lot on the theme of artificial intelligence. Two years ago, the Pontifical Council for Culture dedicated a plenary meeting to the issue. Last year, the Pontifical Academy for Life even launched a “call for ethics.”
These are valid approaches. There is, however, one perspective missing: the juridical – diplomatic one. How will the new technologies be used to control the human being? How can they be used in a war scenario? What does the Social Teaching of the Church say about it?
And still: how to counter the use of computer chips to create hybrid soldiers? Pope Francis’ trip to Japan shed light on the nuclear threat. This is not the future. The future wars will be waged with data control and small weapons, the so-called “lethal autonomous weapons.” The Holy See talked about it in many international gatherings. Where are the Catholic intellectuals able to present the issue to the public, fill the cultural void, and look to the future?
Finally, economic issues. In the 1980s, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace drafted two documents on the global economy and their possible consequences. Those two documents were prophetic and even anticipated the speculative bubble of the 1990s. Nowadays, the Pope launched the Economy of Francesco to gather young economists to think about a new economic model. Initially scheduled for March, the initiative’s first meeting has been postponed to November.
Despite these efforts, a prophetic response to counter this crisis is still missing. Catholic economists are capable of producing great analyses looking back, but fail to predict major changes. In addition, it seems that the economic model proposed is mostly welfarist. A development proposal is missing. And there is also the need for open-minded Catholic entrepreneurship, supported by Catholic politicians, based on a sound Catholic philosophy.
This is a time for pragmatic choices, and the Church is no different. From the doctrine to the response to the coronavirus outbreak, the Church is acting in practical terms. It seems that the Church has lost the ability to think in-depth and about the future. Everything is just a response to practical problems. Culture is now off the table. As if culture was only theoretical and for this reason not essential.
Culture creates civilization, though. Culture creates awareness. Culture makes history. Culture shaped the Church. And culture is seemingly marginalized today. Hopefully, in September, when everything will begin again, there will be some room to recover some of the prophetic outlook that has been lost.