Is Pope Francis hinting at Christian persecution in America?
This Monday marked the second time in a couple of weeks Pope Francis has raised the specter of Christian persecution in the West. As you’ll read below, Pope Benedict XVI did the same even more blatantly at the conclusion of his pontificate. The sense of this reality is in the air, we can all feel it; heck there’s even a new movie about it. On July 18 the film PERSECUTED will open in theatres across America.
Monday June 30, 2014, Pope Francis spoke in his homily about Christian persecution, noting there are more martyrs today than ever before in Christianity’s 2,000 year history. While news of those remarks made headlines everywhere, there was a line in the homily missed by most. It referenced a different kind of persecution, an ‘elegant’ forcing out, or ‘white glove’ persecution, which the Pope said, is “persecution” nonetheless.
To discover his meaning, we can turn to Francis’ speech to the International Congress on Religious Liberty from June 20, 2014. In it he warned that “in the name of a false concept of tolerance,” those “who defend the truth about man and the ethical consequences” end up being persecuted.
He spoke of ‘religious liberty’ as a ‘fundamental right’ beyond mere ‘private worship’. “It is freedom to live according to ethical principles consequent upon the truth found, be it privately or publicly,” he said. Maintaining such liberty he said forms “a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak thought -- which is like a sickness – also lowers the general ethical level.”
And how do we know that Francis’ concerns are specific to America? Well, that’s easy. The Vatican made sure to specify that in the first meeting between the Pope and President Obama back in March, the Pope raised concerns about “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life, and conscientious objection.”
Pope Benedict on Persecution
The statements echo those of Pope Benedict, who in an address to the Bishops of America in January of 2012 warned: “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.”
“The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life,” said Pope Benedict XVI.
Like Pope Francis, Pope Benedict referenced the need for freedom of religion rather than mere freedom of worship. He also expressed grave concern about the denial of “the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.”
Pope Benedict’s assessment of the threats to America was ominous indeed. “To the extent that some current cultural trends contain elements that would curtail the proclamation of these truths,” he warned, “they represent a threat not just to Christian faith, but also to humanity itself and to the deepest truth about our being and ultimate vocation, our relationship to God.”
Solution for the Crisis
Benedict XVI’s solution for the crisis was to underscore the faith formation of the laity.
He spoke of the “need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”
He added, “The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country.”
However, Pope Benedict did not leave it at the laity alone. In another address he noted the coming persecution, stressing this time that bishops must lead the way in confronting it with courage.
The Bishop as the example
In January 2013, Pope Benedict spoke of what kind of a man a bishop should be.
“The courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today,” he said. “He must be courageous.” Seeking the “approval of the prevailing wisdom,” added Benedict, “is not a criterion to which we submit.”
“Today’s regnant agnosticism has its own dogmas and is extremely intolerant regarding anything that would question it and the criteria it employs,” Pope Benedict warned. “The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves.”
This courage, the pope said, does not consist “in striking out or in acting aggressively” but in “in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking.”
“Inevitably,” the pope said, faithful bishops will be “beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ”.