Here is a fascinating piece by John L. Allen, who sadly is still writing for the National Catholic Reporter. In his posting Allen shows both his worth as a Catholic journalist along with his own positions. He conveys useful information and then, in a second step, reveals his own tendencies.
I don’t agree with Allen’s tendencies (which seem generally in line with NCR’s agenda) but I have great respect for him as a journalist who brings home stories and fairly reports what goes on. Another reason I respect him is that he actually understands what he is writing about, which is not evidenced by many liberal Catholic writers.
Some readers here cannot believe that I am friendly with Mr. Allen. To my unending amusement, I am inevitably excoriated for this in my email inbox for this whenever I mention him favorably.
Here is Mr. Allen’s section from his article about a conference in Africa with my emphases and comments. Read along with me, carefully, and for content.
During the Cold War, both sides saw the so-called "Third World" as a battleground for hearts and minds. More and more, the same thing is true in today’s ideological struggles over secularism, and this summer has brought some important changes to the strategic map:
* On July 15, Argentina became the first nation outside Europe and North America to approve same-sex marriage.
* In two dramatic recent rulings, the Mexican Supreme Court has upheld marriage and adoption rights for homosexuals in Mexico City.
* Kenyans overwhelmingly approved a new constitution in early August despite objections that it opens the door to liberalized abortion.
For cultural conservatives who believe all this is fueled by Western campaigns to export radical secularism around the planet, Africa usually looms as the great hope for drawing a line in the sand. The latest effort to shore up the African front came during the July 26-August 2 plenary assembly of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), which brings together the Catholic bishops of Africa, and which was held this year in Accra, Ghana.
[Now watch the image Allen uses here. It is important. File it away.] At that event, three Catholic writers and activists had the chance to address the African bishops, all associated with a fairly hawkish line vis-à-vis faith and culture. How successful such thinkers are in framing the African agenda may have a great deal to say about how Catholicism engages both the promise and perils of secularism in the 21st century. [And this concern will be dealt with again, below!]
First up was French Msgr. Tony Anatrella, who denounced what he regards as a toxic Western "gender theory," contrasting it with Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate. A social psychiatrist who teaches in Paris, Anatrella is a consultor to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care as well as a member of an International Commission on Medjugorje for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Anatrella briefly became a cause célèbre in 2005, when he wrote an official commentary for the Vatican newspaper asserting that homosexuality represents a "problem in psychic organization" and that gay men should not become priests even if they remain celibate. [Okay… so… Msgr. Anatrella is a "hawk" when it comes to faith and culture. Msgr. Anatrella is opposed to "toxic gender theory" and he supports his position with the work of Pope Benedict. Now move on to what Msgr. Anatrella thinks. ]
In his speech to the African bishops, Anatrella urged them to resist a Western ideology of "gender theory," which, he charged, has been elaborated by radical European (mainly French) intellectuals, and is currently being spread around the world "by the U.N. agencies, NGOs, the European Parliament of Strasburg and the Commission of Brussels." [What is "toxic gender theory"?] Gender theory, Anatrella said, posits that "human nature does not exist because the human being is merely the result of culture," and that "masculinity and femininity are mere social inventions." [Right on. Thus we see everywhere today how some groups, perpetually flouting their victim status, trying to propose a new normal. We see in the entertainment industries and in the courts an effort to change the social conventions. This is how they re-engineer society.]
Those ideas, he said, amount to "intellectual viruses" and "anthropological heresies" with dangerous consequences. Here’s how Anatrella laid it out for the African bishops:
"This ideology of gender, produced by the human sciences, is a new form of idealism which, like Marxism, is contrary to human interests. … It suggests that sexual identity is independent of biological facts, treating biological and psychological sexuality as nothing more than a social construct and a power game between men and women. The war between the sexes thus replaces class struggle. … Motherhood is considered a handicap and an injustice, since only women carry children. It is therefore necessary to liberate women from maternity, which explains the multiplication of campaigns in favor of contraception and abortion." [I think he is right.]
What all this amounts to, Anatrella said, is a "moral and anthropological deregulation" analogous to the market deregulation associated with liberal capitalism. [He moves into ground I am less familiar with here, but I think I follow his analogy.] He warned that a radically post-modern, post-Christian moral vision is often bundled with the process of globalization, and called on the African bishops to be on guard. [Remember: Anatrella is a "hawk".]
Marguerite Peeters, an American citizen who lives in Brussels, is author of The Globalization of the Western Cultural Revolution, which decries Western efforts to foist a post-modern secularist ideology on the rest of the world. Her topic in Accra was "recent Western ideologies and lifestyles contrary to the values and virtues of Christianity." [I like her so far. But then I would be a "hawk" too, right?]
Peeters’ text wasn’t immediately available, but in an essay on the "new global ethic" that amounts to her manifesto, Peeters argues that secularism is more invidious than Communism because it does not "bring about a new political regime." Instead, it achieves "radical changes of mentality and behavior within institutions, inside enterprises, schools, universities, hospitals, cultures, governments, families — inside the church." [I believe we can attach this to the "dictatorship of relativism" against which Pope Benedict is struggling.]
"The institutional façade remains standing, while foreigners already occupy the rooms," she writes. "The enemy must be sought within — inside is the new battleground." [What an intriguing image. Alarming image.]
Peeters warns that a sweeping "deconstruction of man and nature" has been packaged in a benign-sounding "new global ethic," which Catholics sometimes confuse with the social doctrine of the church. [I wonder if Catholics who watch Glen Beck – whom I catch only rarely – should keep that in mind. There really is a good way to understand "social justice" as well as bad ways.] In fact, however, it seeks to install a "new hierarchy of values," with personal well-being placed above the sacredness of life, women’s rights above motherhood, the individual above legitimate authority, the right to choose above the moral law, and, ultimately, the human person above God. [The essence of Modernism which is, even more essentially, the fruit of the serpent’s lie: you shall be as gods. Don’t hawks kill and eat serpents?]
Like Anatrella, Peeters charges that this agenda is being propagated through the United Nations and various Western NGOs, which, she said, are funded and sustained by ideological special interests. [Okay… at this conference, the UN and NGO’s are the bad guys.]
Finally, the bishops heard from Daniele Sauvage of the Africa Family Life Federation. Sauvage is a native of Mauritius, and her federation represents 29 groups in 20 African countries which promote traditional Catholic approaches to family life such as Natural Family Planning. [So, "hawks" promote natural family planning. This is hot issue in Africa where so many even in the Church are pushing condoms.]
Over the years, Sauvage too has warned against Western concepts such as "reproductive health" and "gender ideology" which, she argues, amount to "virulent ideological poisons" being "imposed" upon the African continent by international organizations and special interest groups. [I think she is right.] To fight that threat, she urged the African bishops to invest in programs of formation for children, couples and families, and to support the development of pro-life movements and institutes. [Is that wrong? Is that a bad idea? On the other hand… she is a "hawk".]
Many African bishops seem sympathetic to such arguments. [When you read an article, look not just for what is there, but also for what is not there. Many bishops are not sympathetic to such arguments.]
During the October 2009 Synod for Africa, for example, Archbishop Joseph Tlhagale of Johannesburg, president of the South African bishops’ conference, asserted that Africa is "under heavy strain from liberalism, secularism and from lobbyists who squat at the United Nations," representing "a second wave of colonization, both subtle and ruthless at the same time." [Spiritual colonialism is worse.] Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra was equally emphatic in an NCR interview, asserting that there’s a "deliberate campaign" to push Africa towards acceptance of practices such as abortion and homosexuality, stemming from what he called "a particular lobby that sees African values as a danger to the ‘new global ethic’ propounded by the U.N., by the World Bank, by the IMF, and even by the European Union." [This is highly charged stuff. If NCR got that interview, then WDTPRS gives them a feather for their cap today.]
A SECAM spokesperson told me this week that Anatrella, Peeters and Sauvage had been recommended as speakers by several of the bishops, and that their presentations were "well appreciated." [NB: several of the bishops. But there are divisions among the bishops. That is what is between the lines here.]
"The bishops of Africa are really concerned about the issues they raised," said Ben Assorow, Director of Communications for SECAM.
If nothing else, all this may suggest that Catholic doves, meaning thinkers and activists in the church interested in seeking détente with secularism, [HERE IT IS] might do well to reach out to the Africans. At the moment, their voices don’t seem to have the same echo as the hawks.
First, I want to know a great deal more about the work of the three speakers. Jot down these three names for future reference.
- Msgr. Tony Anatrella
- Marguerite Peeters
- Daniele Sauvage
Second, keep in mind that in the political/social/ecclesial language of the NCR and its satellites, "doves" are good and "hawks" are bad. To label one group the one, and the "opposition" the other imposes an evaluation. If I understood Allen’s position correctly, and I hope he will correct me if I didn’t, he supports those seeking détente with secularism. He sees the message of the three speakers, which I have no doubt at all he understood clearly and thoroughly, as being a threat. So, he is telling dovish "thinkers" to get busy and get involved in Africa because the other team is making too many inroads.
Third, there are divisions among the bishops. This is something the "doves" must seize upon.
In any event, this was a very good and useful piece.
I am lead to question: Is Pope Benedict a "hawk" or a "dove"?