Messori: Pope Francis is Creating a ‘Liquid Society’ Church

Famed Italian author criticizes the Holy Father for mirroring modern society by turning the Church into a place where “everything is unstable and changeable.”

Vittorio Messori.
Vittorio Messori. (photo: La Fede Quotidiana)

The prominent Italian Catholic writer Vittorio Messori has expressed concern that Pope Francis is turning the Catholic Church into a kind of “liquid society” in which uncertainty and change are the only certainties.

Writing in the latest edition of the Italian Catholic magazine Il Timone, Messori took as a point of reference the Polish Jewish sociologist Zygmut Bauman who first introduced the idea of “liquid modernity.”

Bauman observed that the general trait of individualistic modern man is to flow through his own life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, spouses, values and even sexual orientation and gender. Bauman said the modern tendency is to exclude oneself from traditional networks of support, while at the same time freeing oneself from the restrictions or requirements those networks impose.

This trend towards such unbridled individualism has created societies in which “everything is unstable and changeable,” Messori noted, and referred to the “rapid change” not only in sexual behaviour but also in politics where legislators have given up on long term governance.

Quoting Bauman, he said it is becoming acceptable that “change” is the “only permanent thing” and that “uncertainty” has become the “only certainty.”

But he said this attitude has also afflicted the area of religion and the believer is now “disturbed by the fact that even the Catholic Church — which was an age-old example of stability — seems to want to become ‘liquid’ as well.”

Messori, who came to prominence in 1984 when he interviewed Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for the book The Ratzinger Report, pointed to a recent “disconcerting interview” with the Jesuits’ superior general, Father Arturo Sosa. He said Father Sosa effectively “’liquefied’ the Gospel itself” when he said that as Jesus’ words were not recorded on tape, “we don’t know exactly what he said” so it’s possible to “adapt” the Gospel according to times, needs and people.

The Italian author then criticized the Pope for being susceptible to the same attitude, quoting him in a recent interview warning against a “Catholic temptation” to have uniform or “rigid” rules instead of judging and acting “on a case by case basis.”

Messori, who published the 1995 bestselling book-interview with Pope St. John Paul II Crossing the Threshold of Hope, said the Pope’s frequent use of the term “discernment” is an old tradition of the Society of Jesus. But until now, it did not additionally mean to "freely interpret even dogma, depending on the situation, as has happened in some official documents containing his signature, which have aroused perplexity (to use a euphemism) in some cardinals.”

Messori said that in “all humility,” to have such an approach seemed to him “wrong and damaging to the Church and the faith” and that for him “the opposite would be right.” He said “in a ‘liquid world’ where everything becomes uncertain, precarious, provisional, it is precisely the stability and firmness of the Catholic Church that all humanity needs, and not only believers.”

“Those rocks of dogma, to which the superior general of the Society of Jesus is allergic, could and should become firm ground in a society that flatters itself and tends towards mushy chaos,” he said. One of the symbols of the Catholic Church, he added, is a “robust oak, held firmly to the ground by strong roots.” But is it, he asked, “really helpful to replace the oak with a rod that folds in any direction, with any breath of air, every human desire or fashion?”

Perhaps, he added, it is time to rediscover and apply to the whole Church the “ancient and beautiful” motto of the Carthusians: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis [The Cross is steady while the world turns].

Messori said that “more than ever” the “firm clarity of the Catechism is needed, rather than the ever-changing ‘in my opinion,’ and the “infinite opinions which the world is full of.”

Protestantism followed this path, he said, “and history has shown what it has led to, but unfortunately, as usual, history is not magistra vitae [life’s teacher].”