Church and World
Egypt: The Interreligious Dream and the Islamic Reality
On January 31, Vaticanist Sandro Magister published on his website chiesa.espressonline.it the call launched by 23 Egyptian Muslims in favor of a more authentic Islam, more respectful of the rights of all; as a commentary, figures the analysis of the Egyptian Jesuit Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, who compares this call to some of Benedict XVI’s declarations. The text, entitled “Document for the Renewal of Religious Discourse,” was published and made available online on January 24 by the Egyptian paper Yawm al-Sâbi (The Seventh Day), and passed on by many Arab websites at the very moment the crisis that would obtain the departure of President Hosni Mubarak was beginning.
Fr. Samir translated and made available to the non-Arab world, on the website of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions’ press agency Asia News, this document made up of 22 points, the basis of a reform program for Islam in order to pass “from a superficial and exterior practice of this religion to a more authentic and more essential practice,” followed by developments. Fr. Samir considers Point 8 to be important: it proposes a separation of religion from politics. In the development of this point by the Muslim intellectuals is the word “almaniyyah,” secularism, a word which, in Arab countries, is generally understood as meaning atheism and is therefore condemned by principle. The authors of the document write in their commentary that secularism should not be considered as an enemy of religion, but rather as a protection against the political or commercial use of religion. “In this context,” they write, “secularism is in harmony with Islam and is therefore legally acceptable.” But it is not so if it is transformed into a control exercised by the State over Muslim activities. “This point,” underlines Fr. Samir, “even if it has been the object of many debates, is the proof of the fact that the concept of a civil society that does not immediately coincide with the Muslim community is being born in Egypt.”
He also indicates Point 6 concerning holy war. The authors of the document would allow it only if it is defensive and only on Muslim land. It is never permitted to kill unarmed people, women, old people, children, priests, monks. It is never permitted to attack places of prayer. The authors underline that this doctrine has been that of Islam for 1,400 years and that those who violate it commit a grave transgression.
According to Fr. Samir, if we examine what Benedict XVI said–the same year as his discourse in Ratisbonne and his trip to Turkey–concerning Islam’s future, this document from Cairo constitutes a little step in the direction hoped for by the Pope. Benedict XVI had claimed before the Roman Curia on December 22, 2006:
The Muslim world today is finding itself faced with an urgent task. This task is very similar to the one that has been imposed upon Christians since the Enlightenment, and to which the Second Vatican Council, as the fruit of long and difficult research, found real solutions for the Catholic Church. On the one hand, one must counter a dictatorship of positivist reason that excludes God from the life of community and from public organizations, thereby depriving man of his specific criteria of judgment. On the other, one must welcome the true conquests of the Enlightenment, human rights and especially the freedom of faith and its practice, and recognize these also as being essential elements for the authenticity of religion. As in the Christian community, where there has been a long search to find the correct position of faith in relation to such beliefs–a search that will certainly never be concluded once and for all, so also the Islamic world with its own tradition faces the immense task of finding the appropriate solutions in this regard.
Such is the hope that guides the interreligious dialogue with Islam: the apparition of disciples of Mohammed rallied to the ideas of the Enlightenment and human rights, as the Roman authorities have been ever since Vatican II. Not to mention the doctrinal difficulties that such a project does not fail to raise up and that are of no little stature, let us evoke a simply practical problem: could Islam, which has no clergy, convoke a council for a “Muslim Vatican II” that would impose itself upon all Muslims no matter their school of thought (Shiite, Sunni, etc.) and no matter the antagonism between these schools of thought? In the end, what do these Egyptian Muslim intellectuals who wrote up this document really represent? Sure, we have seen at Tahrir Square in Cairo Muslims and Coptic Christians united against the regime in power; but at the same time, an investigation led by Washington’s Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in seven countries where Muslims are the majority–including Egypt–quoted by chiesa.espressonline, reveals that the “democratic” aspirations of the Egyptian population (59%) coexist with the defense of the principles of Islam, for example, the death penalty for those who abandon Islam (84%), the influence of the Islamic religion on politics (85%)… To go from a dream to reality, the only solution is to wake up.
Switzerland: Between 25,000 and 30,000 “Leave” the Catholic Church in 2010
Between 25,000 and 30,000 people left the Catholic Church in 2010 in Switzerland according to estimates published by the press agency Apic. The Secretary General of the Roman Catholic Central Conference (RKZ), Daniel Kosch, interviewed upon the publication of these figures on February 11 last, stated that “people primarily want to turn their backs on the Church as an institution,” because “they no longer have any living links with it and they no longer live in a milieu with people for whom it retains great significance.”
It seems, however, that the numbers of the faithful of the Catholic Church in Switzerland have not fallen and in some cantons have even increased thanks to immigration. But, as the head of the association of cantonal ecclesiastical organizations pointed out, “this should not be taken as a consolation.” Daniel Kosch hopes that “all those who influence and form the Church—and not only the bishops, priests, and other pastoral agents—but all of us” try to make the Church “a place of experience where a community lives, where one can experiment with meaning and confront the pertinent questions, where hope can be found and where misery decreases.” Meaning, pertinent questions, more hope and less misery–for all that a priest is not necessarily needed; social assistance and psychological support are quite enough. And so the vocations crisis is resolved. Through emptiness.
World Youth Day Catechism Suggests Endorsement of “Contraceptive Methods”
Italy: Participation in Catholic Religious Instruction Declining
Although still quite high, the participation in Catholic religious instruction in the academic milieu is slightly declining in Italy. Six million children and adolescents took religion classes in 2010, indicates the department of the Bishops’ Conference responsible for the question on February 27, 2011. This represents 90% of the students in public schools, whereas in 2008, it was 91%, and in 1994-1995, it was 94%, according to the Italian Bishops’ Conference’s National Service for Instruction in the Catholic Religion. Even if the grades in religion are taken into account in the general evaluation of the students, participation in religious instruction is optional in Italy.
High Up, Let Down by Pope Benedict
They are some of the leading traditionalist thinkers. They had wagered on him, and now they feel betrayed. The latest disappointments: the Courtyard of the Gentiles and the encounter in Assisi. The accusation that they make against Ratzinger is the same that they make against the Council: having replaced condemnation with dialogue...
Most recently, in the traditionalist Catholic camp, the criticisms against Pope Ratzinger have not diminished, but have grown in intensity. And they reflect a growing disappointment with respect to the expectations initially invested in the restorative action of the current pontificate.
The criticisms of some traditionalists are focused in particular on how Benedict XVI interprets Vatican Council II and the post-conciliar period.
The pope errs–in their view–when he limits his criticism to the deterioration of the postcouncil. Vatican II, in fact–again, in their view–was not only poorly interpreted and applied: it was itself a source of errors, the first of which was the renunciation of the Church’s authority to exercise, when necessary, a magisterium of definition and condemnation; the renunciation, that is, of the anathema, in exchange for dialogue...
On the historical level, this idea tends to be supported by the volume recently published by Professor Roberto de Mattei: Il Concilio Vaticano II: Una storia mai scritta (Vatican Council II: A history never written). According to De Mattei, the conciliar documents cannot be viewed in isolation from the men and events that produced them: from those men and those maneuvers whose deliberate intention–abundantly successful–was to break with the traditional doctrine of the Catholic Church on several essential points.
On the theological level, one authoritative traditionalist critic of Benedict XVI is Brunero Gherardini, a vigorous 85 years old, canon of the Basilica of Saint Peter, professor emeritus of the Pontifical Lateran University, and director of the Thomistic journal of theology Divinitas.
In 2009, Gherardini published a volume entitled Concilio Vaticano II: Un discorso da fare (The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A Much Needed Discussion), which concluded with an “Appeal to the Holy Father,” whom he asked to submit the documents of the Council for re-examination, and to clarify in definite and definitive form “if, in what sense, and to what extent” Vatican II was or was not in continuity with the previous magisterium of the Church.
Now, at a distance of two years from that book, Gherardini has come out with another book entitled: Concilio Vaticano II: Il discorso mancato (Vatican Council II: The missing discussion), in which he laments the silence with which Church authorities reacted to his previous foray. And pushes his criticism even deeper...