Not All Catholics Agree With the Pope
It’s not every day that a bishop says the pope is wrong—at least not in public. “I admire the pope, this is clear, but I disagree with him,” Bishop Andrea Gemma told the Italian religious news site La Fede Quotidiana last week.
Pope Francis’s comments on Islam in the wake of a brutal attack by Islamic State terrorists on a priest in his mid-80s have disappointed many Catholics. The world is at war, the pope said in the aftermath. But he made clear that “I do not speak of a religious war.”
“Religions, all religions, seek peace,” Pope Francis said. “It’s others who want war.”
“It’s not right to identify Islam with violence,” he told reporters on the papal plane as he was returning from World Youth Day celebrations in Poland. Instead, he blamed capitalism for these atrocities. “Terrorism grows when there is no other option and as long as the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the person.”
Rather than shutting Europe’s borders to keep its people safe, Pope Francis told Poles, the Continent needs “a merciful heart” that “opens up to welcome refugees and migrants.”
The pope may be the head of the Catholic Church, but this time he’s seriously out of step with many of its members. Within hours of the pope’s comments, the hashtag #PasMonPape—“not my pope”—became the number one trending phrase on French Twitter.
Bishop Gemma said he was “confused” and “disoriented” by the pope’s statements.
“I would expect a more firm defense of Christians,” he said. “I would like a pope more energetic in defense of our principles and our faith.”
There may be an even more high-profile figure who disagrees with the pope’s comments; one who lives just down the road from him in the Vatican—former Pope Benedict xvi.
Much of the difference between Benedict and Francis has been overblown in the media. Until now, these differences have been more of style than substance.
Even now, the difference between the two may be more about priorities than belief. In blaming capitalism for terrorism, the pope is advancing his push to give the Catholic Church a much greater role in the world economy. This has constantly been the pope’s top priority.
But it is clear that the pope’s latest words do not reflect Benedict’s beliefs. His Regensburg speech in 2006—the most famous of his papacy—stands in stark contrast to Francis’s remarks.
Gemma called that speech “prophetic” and said that it should be “read, reread and studied.”
Benedict’s Regensburg speech triggered protests and riots across the Muslim world. Muslims of many different stripes said they were offended. The more extreme ones attacked churches in the West Bank and killed a nun and priest.
“Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached” is the key phrase many disliked. But here, Benedict was merely quoting Byzantine Emperor Manuel ii Paleologus. He later made clear that he did not agree with this emperor.
But the substance of what he said was still remarkable. “‘Not to act reasonably … is contrary to the nature of God,’” he said. Hence the quote from Manuel. Conversion by the sword is irrational and unreasonable, therefore, any religion that preaches it does not know God. “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul,” he said.
In Benedict’s view, God is a rational Being. Yet he said that Islam teaches that “God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.”
If God is rational, and can be understood through human reason, and Islam teaches the opposite, then the pope emeritus was saying that Muslims do not know God. Connect a few dots and the implication is that Islam is an irrational faith and false religion.
As Stratfor wrote at the time, in making this speech, Benedict was moving the Catholic Church into prime position to lead the growing right-wing movement in Europe:
There is an intensifying tension in Europe over the powerful wave of Muslim immigration. Frictions are high on both sides. Europeans fear that the Muslim immigrants will overwhelm their native culture or form an unassimilated and destabilizing mass. Muslims feel unwelcome, and some extreme groups have threatened to work for the conversion of Europe. … [W]ith his remarks, [Benedict] moved toward closer alignment with those who are uneasy about Europe’s Muslim community—without adopting their own, more extreme, sentiments. That move increases his political strength among these groups and could cause them to rally around the church.
However, the tempo of terrorist attacks in Europe slowed. The break in attacks meant that this fear of Muslim migrants receded somewhat.
Now that the fear is back, Benedict is gaining great respect for his message. “Regensburg was not so much the work of a professor or even a pope,” wrote the priest Raymond de Souza in the National Catholic Register as he watched the Islamic State unfold its reign of terror in 2014. “It was the work of a prophet.”
“Benedict xvi grasped the nature of the new age of terrorism,” wrote consulting editor of the Catholic Herald Alexander Lucie-Smith. “Why did nobody listen?”
Such a message repeated today would fall on fertile ground. “Whatever the extent of Western reluctance or prudence, the truth is there’s no better way to shake Europe out of what many now see as its guilt-ridden paralysis than to assault French Catholicism—the oldest, most ingrained force that transcends nationalism in Europe’s most powerful proud nation,” wrote James Poulos in Foreign Policy. He continued:
History has long prepared this seemingly revolutionary moment. If in one sense, postwar French Catholics like Robert Schuman—one of the European Union’s founding fathers and the architect of the European integration plan—were innovators, in another, they simply recapitulated a vision of continental unity as old as Charlemagne. However vital the force and thrust of political rationalism, mere secularism could never make European civilization as whole as Christian Rome had once made it. Even Napoleon Bonaparte, despite his tyrannical embrace of ancient cruelty and modern statism, recognized the centrality of the church to France’s unique claim on European leadership by having the pope coronate him as France’s emperor in 1804.
While the current pope preaches for open borders, “France’s increasingly devout Catholic insurgents see, and paint, a darker picture,” wrote Poulos.
Europe is both divided and faced with the threat of radical Islam. It’s easy to see how a strong pushback from the Catholic Church against radical Islam could help solve both these problems. Only the Catholic Church has an appeal wider, deeper and older than nationalism. Only the church could unite Europe—but Europe’s leaders would only let that happen in a crisis.
This is why criticism of the pope is so widespread. After the attack on the church, the attacks in Germany, the attack in Nice, people all across Europe are scared. They want leadership. They want answers. They want someone to rouse them. They turned to the Catholic Church for all this and received only platitudes.
That may not last for long. Sooner or later, the Catholic Church will reject its current platitudes—as the attacks become worse, it may be forced to. Many in Europe are already looking in its direction for leadership. How long until it provides it?
As Poulos points out, this is the way it has been for most of Europe’s history: “For [National Front politician Marion Maréchal] Le Pen and Europeans starved for leadership consistent with patterns adhered to for centuries on end, it is Islam’s would-be holy warriors who have invited a defensive Crusade, and the time has come to give it to them.”
Europe stands on the brink of repeating the pattern set for centuries—armed confrontation with Islam. This pattern exists for a reason. Islam has repeatedly tried to expand into Europe. The papacy gains greater power and prestige in Europe when it organizes a crusade. Europe’s leaders gain a religious excuse to plunder the riches of the Middle East. And the masses feel protected from the barbarians they fear at their gates.
History alone warns us that Europe and at least some parts of Islam are heading for another clash. To understand this history and what it tells us about the future, read our free book The Holy Roman Empire in Prophecy.