Church Observer Warns: Don’t Flatten the Faith to Fit In at the UN

“At one time the Church spoke of peace ... on the basis of the natural law and the Gospel our Lord,” says Stefano Fontana. “Today she speaks of it in the sense of collaboration between religions. The change is remarkable.”

Pope Francis addresses the the United Nations World Food Programme headquarters in Rome, June 13, 2016.
Pope Francis addresses the the United Nations World Food Programme headquarters in Rome, June 13, 2016. (photo: Photo by Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

The Holy See’s ever-closer collaboration with the United Nations and its affiliated organizations is causing it to adopt the “logic of the world,” a development that threatens to secularize the faith.

These are the views of professor Stefano Fontana, director of the Cardinal Van Thuan International Observatory on the Social Doctrine of the Church — a think tank created for the international promotion of the Church’s social teaching. Its president is Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, a former Secretary of the erstwhile Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  

In this Jan. 19 email interview with the Register, professor Fontana observes a “remarkable” change: that at one time “the Church spoke of peace, coexistence and fraternity on the basis of: a) the natural law, b) the Gospel our Lord. Today she speaks of it in the sense of collaboration between religions.”

Fontana explains how what he calls a “Rahnerian Church” that “conceives itself ‘in the world,’ on an equal footing with all the others,” came about and the dangers it presents. His comments were given for a Feb. 3 Register article on the Holy See’s relationship with the U.N.

 

The Holy See and in particular the Pontifical Academy of Sciences often supports the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but without showing any real opposition to Nos. 3 and 5, which promote abortion, contraception and gender ideology (under the terms “reproductive rights” and “gender equality”). What do you say about this approach, which avoids sensitive moral issues to collaborate with more acceptable secular values such as climate change and poverty?

Your question needs to be answered in two stages: firstly, to see the difference with the recent past; secondly, to try to understand the reason for the reversal of priorities you mention at the end of the question.

As for the first aspect, in 2014 our Observatory dedicated an issue of its magazine to the following theme: “It all began in Cairo, the post-human ideology of international organizations.” In one of the articles it said:

At the Cairo conference on ‘Population and Development’ (1994) and then at the Beijing conference (1995) on women, the president of the Holy See delegation, Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, Permanent Observer to the UN, was pursuing a line of clear opposition to the UN directives that was then being pushed by the United States and the European Union. The delegation, supported by John Paul II who followed events closely, denied the alleged problem of world overpopulation, opposed birth control through family planning, dissociated itself from so-called ‘reproductive rights’ — an expression that was coined there for the first time — and opposed the introduction of expressions such as ‘emergency contraception.’ Cardinal Martino, writing about these things in an issue of the magazine of our Observatory, recalled that in March 1994 John Paul II sent an eloquent letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Heads of State of all the participating countries. Six months after Cairo, he published the encyclical Evangelium Vitae, and in the run-up to the Beijing Summit, his Letter to Women.

 Recalling these things, the current reversal of perspective in relations between the Holy See and the U.N. is evident, even though the “dangers” that began in Cairo have become more acute.

The platform for action in Cairo ran until 2015, when it was relaunched until 2030 with a new program even more worrying than the previous one because it even included the objective of changing culture and religion from within on these issues.

Cardinal Martino had understood that a new front had opened up — that of words. In Cairo and Beijing, the Church went against use of expressions such as “reproductive health,” while today the Holy See uses these expressions. The Church should fight for various words, beginning with “sustainability” which in the U.N. context is used in a way unacceptable from the Catholic point of view. Expressions such as “ecological conversion” and “integral ecology” may appeal to the U.N. environment but are confused from the point of view of Catholic theology.

To get to the second point, the reversal of perspective we’re now seeing has produced another reversal: principles linked to the natural moral law such as abortion, artificial insemination, and birth control are no longer considered of primary importance and to be defended to the utmost, but rather replaced by a multi-religious society, ecological concern and the fight against poverty. Note that the same expressions “natural law” and “natural moral law,” so frequent and central until the end of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, have disappeared from the language of the Church.

 

Why is the Holy See so willing to collaborate with the U.N.?

Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, in their speeches to the United Nations Assembly, also had words of appreciation for the U.N., but they had never espoused its ideology and the Church had acted in two ways: proposing, in a positive way, different visions and alternatives rooted in natural law and revelation; combating through its nuncios and Vatican delegations in the various U.N. fora ethical and political distortions. The representatives of the Holy See did not sign, as observers, any directive of action or agreement on human development, although positive in many points if it did not conform to natural and divine law in matters such as abortion or sexuality. Today neither seems to happen anymore.

You ask why. I answer: for the same reason that the Church today says that we must collaborate with everyone because the truth is born of dialogue and confrontation. That is for an existentialist and historicist conception of the presence of the Church in the world and therefore also in this international context. That is why supporters of birth control and neo-Malthusians — precisely those against whom the Holy See of John Paul II and Cardinal Martino fought against — are part of Vatican bodies and are constantly invited and listened to. The new Rahnerian Church conceives itself “in the world,” on an equal footing with all the others.

 

What is your opinion that the Pope and grand imam of Al-Azhar are trying to convince the secretary general of the United Nations to create a World Day of Human Fraternity?

This flattening of ideas and language on the United Nations secularizes the Catholic faith, taking away the metaphysical structure from the philosophical point of view, and doctrinal absoluteness from the theological point of view. In this way the Catholic faith becomes a “path” alongside others, no longer having the pretension of being able to say a word of salvation even for temporal questions.

At one time the Church spoke of peace, coexistence and fraternity on the basis of: a) the natural law, b) the Gospel our Lord. Today she speaks of it in the sense of collaboration between religions. The change is remarkable. Not all religions accept natural law and morality and, of course, the Gospel. The dialogue with religions and international institutions therefore focuses on a lowest common humanistic, generic and universalistic denominator. To put oneself at the service of this objective means to think that religions can converge in certain humanistic objectives leaving aside their respective theologies, which is impossible and dangerous. Maritain was already wrong on this point. Religions consider human problems according to their conception of the face of God. To make them converge on a single vision of justice and peace, for example, it is necessary to twist them and force them downwards. To think of a day of human fraternity to be shared with all religions is to set aside natural law and the Gospel.

 

What are the dangers of this collaboration and how is it different from previous pontificates?

I think I have already answered this question, at least partially. I have given an example of the considerable difference in approach compared to John Paul II with regard to relations between the Holy See and the U.N. during the 1990s. I have also pointed out that the main danger is the secularization of the Christian religion. If I had to add something more, I would say that it is a form of adaptation of the Catholic faith to the logic of the world, thinking perhaps that it is precisely there that God communicates himself. Multi-religious society, ecological religion, planned immigration are the three main aspects of today's “secular religion,” which is taken up by the U.N. But it is precisely on these points that even the Church is converging without worrying too much about saying something specific and of its own.

Michelangelo, “The Last Judgment,” 1536-1541

Dare We Admit That Not All Will Be Saved?

“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’” (CCC 1033)

Michelangelo, “The Last Judgment,” 1536-1541

Dare We Admit That Not All Will Be Saved?

“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’” (CCC 1033)