NCR’s John L. Allen on African symposium about dangers of Western Secularism

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"?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. medievalist says:

    I don’t think Mr Allen identifies himself with the doves, or the hawks, for that matter. We don’t know to what extent the NCR editors have “suggested” the usages in this article and it is entirely possible that Mr Allen is simply using language familiar to his readership (i.e. the typical NCRer who, as pointed out often on this blog, only understands things in terms of politics). [I don’t think so. I think they leave Mr. Allen alone and print what he writes. They would be smart to do so. The editors of NCR – though wrong about nearly everything – would be right to do so.]

    It’s also possible Mr Allen is trying out a new phrase or even getting away from the liberal/conservative dichotomy, since this is the first time I can recall such usage in a piece by him, though I’m willing to accept correction here. One might well say that by using “seeking detente with secularism”, Allen implies that secularism is the enemy (thus revealing his “hawkish” tendencies) because detente only happens between foes. Perhaps, naturally, he feels some pity for his sad fellow “dovish” writers at NCR.

    I’ve read Allen’s pieces and books for years, even before coming across WDTPRS, and sometimes think that he has a secret “hawk” or “traddie” buried deep, deep down. In any case, since he has almost always maintained a steadfast neutrality as a reporter and seems a very well-balanced Catholic, I’ll continue to make excuses for him for some time to come. What a shame nobody else can offer him a great salary.

    The Holy Father is neither hawk nor dove, but head birdkeeper, looking out for all his charges.

  2. medievalist: What a shame nobody else can offer him a great salary.

    Hear! Hear!

  3. Supertradmum says:

    Hawk and dove are military diction. The article is couched in terms of “war”. And, although, as a “hawk”, who believes we are at war with the unseen powers mentioned in St. Paul’s Encyclical to the Ephesians (“not with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers”), nonetheless, the militaristic jargon is disturbing when applied to bishops.

    In addition, the “toxic gender theory” has been alive and well in American academia and in religious orders, for many, many years and is just now hitting the core teachings of the Church in the form of this bishops’ conference. For example, those nuns who use “inclusive language” for their Liturgy of the Hours, and I know one Carmelite, one Benedictine, and one secular groups of sisters who do so, have paved the way for this post-feminist, anti-patriarchal agenda to take hold within the Church. The brain-washing of those in administrative and teaching positions in seminaries, who allow homosexuals into the seminaries, and who object to anyone who points out the anomaly and disobedience of this position, have been “enemies within the gates” as well.

    We are reaping what has been sown for at least four decades and now importing it into one of the most conservative of synods.

  4. Tom in NY says:

    It appears the struggle of secularism has not stopped since the French Revolution. Clerics educated with French connections (which may include many African churchmen) should be aware of the contentious history of Church-state relations in the 19th and early 20th century France, ending in laicite.

    “Modernism” started later. Don’t forget Cardinal Ratzinger addressed it in his discussion of Bible scholarship in the shadow of the Twin Towers in New York in 1988. It’s easy to see the struggle continuing today.
    Salutationes omnibus.

  5. Geoffrey says:

    Mr. Allen’s book about Opus Dei is a must-read also. Too bad The Wanderer can’t hire him!

  6. Mickey says:

    Question: “I am lead to question: Is Pope Benedict a “hawk” or a “dove”?”

    Answer: Ja.

  7. Wonderful piece. This is crucial. And I wish certain churchmen, especially in the Vatican, would see the UN and the Euro Union as the threats they generally are. (And for the life of me I can’t figure out what the Holy Father was up to when he seemed to call for an international government with “real teeth” [in the rather dynamic English translation]; perhaps someone can help me get that.) I understand that many (very) senior churchmen remember WWII and the rebuilding of the 50s and the optimism of the 60s as well as the spectre of nuclear holocaust from the 60s through the 90s, and indeed to today, and thus they prefer internationalism to rabid nationalism. But it seems to me these speakers and writers are right on — they see that what the UN and Brussels do best is export the culture of death. Beyond that, they’re fairly useless.

  8. Peggy R says:

    This is fascinating. Two women who are hawks against secularism is good to see. All three appear by their names to be of French extraction, which is interesting as the French are quite big Euro-secularists. I agree that the UN, EU, other supra-national organizations and the NGO-hangers-on are indeed threats to the Church, the faith, and the developing world’s faith The same battle is being waged in the Anglican communion, of course, where Bp. Peter Akinola is of course condemned and Africa patronized for not being as modern as the Westerners about homosexuality and all that.

    The “gender theory” stuff is really wacko and relies on much gobbledy gook language. I consulted a scholarly article on the Cairo, IL, riots and activities of the diocesan clergy and women religious earlier this summer. It didn’t make much sense. The author was interested in the gender differences in the women religious and diocesan priests and what they were free to do during those days. She didn’t see that the women religious had greater liberty outside the diocesan hierarchy. She thought it was about their gender, that the women were inferior. Same as it ever was.

    I am disappointed that Allen ends with the call to “doves” to take action. It seems out of place. There was really no reason to signal that warning, except that it showed his bias. This suggests he doesn’t agree with the hawks’ warnings or solutions. The Catholics should be united against secularism.

  9. PostCatholic says:

    I think Antarella oversimplified to make his point. Any “ideology of gender” which would like to be taken seriously needs to account for what is empirically observable fact, well-established by scient. Men and women have extensive biological difference–both exterior (viz. genital and skeletal differences) and interior (viz. neural pathways, hormonal composition, etc.). He’s basically arguing against a straw man. Perhaps he’s not wrong–perhaps–but he certainly isn’t right.

  10. PostCatholic says:

    well-established by science. The backspace button is not my friend.

  11. The Cobbler says:

    I’d actually rather John Allen stays at the NCR, simply because I imagine some folks never would hear the Church’s side of things (except in caricature) if it weren’t for him.

  12. Tantum Ergo says:

    (“This ideology of gender,) 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.


    I’ve raised six kids. Give a boy a stick and he sword-fights.
    Give a girl a stick and she hangs clothes on it.

  13. ppb says:

    PostCatholic et al: Msgr. Antarella isn’t exaggerating. I have friends who have gotten sucked up into certain academic trends in feminism, and they have tried to tell me exactly the same thing: all gender roles are entirely socially constructed, there is no natural law, even the evidence of biology is questionable because male scientists run it and you can find counterexamples (supposedly) in nature and in embryological development, therefore sex and gender roles are entirely up to us to define for ourselves as individuals. This kind of thinking is what is behind the push for gay marriage as well. There are plenty of otherwise
    intelligent people in academia who are buying in to this fantasy.

  14. mdsmelser says:

    Guess I am a hawk. I observe Gender differences that are plain to see by even a 5 year old. We don’t need a “male dominated” scientific community to translate that to us, so that argument is specious. We see it every day ourselves, everywhere, and have for all time. So, Allen thinks the UN and NGO gender-benders need More help (dove-like voices) skewing people’s minds in Africa to Not believe what they see everywhere with their own eyes? Whew. He must think those Africans are stupid or something. He is so wrong. They live every day far closer to the Natural Law than we Westerners live.

  15. John Weidner says:

    “‘moral and anthropological deregulation’ analogous to the market deregulation associated with liberal capitalism.”

    I don’t really think the analogy works. The theory of liberal capitalism is very much about working with fallen human nature as it is, and holds that, empirically, liberal capitalism produces more justice and prosperity than other systems.

    The anthropological heresy here is that there is no human nature.

    (Note: Father, I think you mean “flaunting,” not “flouting.”)

  16. TonyLayne says:

    PostCatholic: “Any ‘ideology of gender’ which would like to be taken seriously needs to account for what is empirically observable fact, well-established by scient. Men and women have extensive biological difference—both exterior (viz. genital and skeletal differences) and interior (viz. neural pathways, hormonal composition, etc.). He’s basically arguing against a straw man.”

    Actually, Msgr. Antarella seems to be talking about “queer theory”, which treats both gender and sexuality as purely social constructs with no basis in biology. And it’s taken quite seriously in many academic corners, even though the “science” used to back it up is heavily compromised by politicization. The term “gender reassignment” would be never be taken seriously by anyone if there weren’t considerable support for the notion. According to sociologist Mary Bernstein, “For the lesbian and gay movement, … cultural goals include (but are not limited to) challenging dominant constructions of masculinity and femininity, homophobia, and the primacy of the gendered heterosexual nuclear family (heteronormativity).” (Bernstein, Mary, “Identities and Politics: Toward a Historical Understanding of the Lesbian and Gay Movement”, Social Science History 26:3 (fall 2002).) Far from being a “straw man” argument, Msgr. Antarella is pointing out a valid threat.

  17. TonyLayne says:

    As for John Allen, I really respected his attempts to present the Holy Week attacks on B16 in a neutral light while still defending HH’s efforts to clean the sickos out of the presbyterate. He may be a bit liberal—he’s certainly not the beau ideal of a conservative—but he’s certainly not a knee-jerk liberal.

  18. jcn0903 says:

    I dunno. Can one seek detente with secularism and still be Catholic? I, for the life of me, do not see how. But then I would be a hawk wouldn’t I?

  19. dennis345 says:

    Fascinating. Anatrella is right in noting that this “toxic gender theory” has been foisted on us chiefly by the French, in particular, Simone de Beauvoir in her monumental work, The Second Sex. She was the one who posited that gender is a social construct, that existence precedes essence. She says that men and women were equal in the beginning, but that primitive man quickly began to dominate women through sheer physical strength. And history proceeded from there, with men constantly striving for and reaching transcendence as statesmen, builders, warriors, artists, writers and thinkers. All the while, women remained trapped in immanence, quietly restrained in the home and burdened by pregnancy and family. In time, this situation, she said, succeeded in conditioning women to think that this was the way things were supposed to be. But “as technology expands—technology being the power of the brain and not of the brawn—the male rationale that women are the weaker sex and hence must play a secondary role can no longer be logically maintained.” The technological revolution, therefore, was already aiding the socialist revolution in helping women to finally achieve transcendence (i.e., the dignity achieved through labor, through projects pursued in order to mold the world according to one’s desire) and manufacture their own essence. A woman could stand at the assembly line and make bullets for mass executions as well as men, and herein lay the possibilities to achieve her dignity.

    So if existence precedes essence, if we can manufacture who we are, if gender is malleable and subject to our remolding, then the family has no inherent value and can be recast any way we want. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if Africa rescues us from this Marxist, materialist madeness?!

  20. dennis345 says:

    For a real life look at the disastrous results of this gender theory, read the book, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. The story of a Canadian boy (one of identical twins) who was raised as a girl because of a botched circumcision. The perfect specimen to prove the wicked theory, dressed as a girl, given girl’s toys, counseled regularly by the pervert John Money of Johns Hopkins (who pressed the theory of gender as a social construct). The attempt failed disastrously. The boy hated his clothes and his haircut, insisted on playing as a boy, etc. The treatment and counseling utterly ruined him, and he eventually committed suicide as an adult.

  21. bmadamsberry says:

    I have read many of John Allen, Jr.’s books. They are just as good as his articles. In fact, he did something that I have NEVER seen ANYONE else ever do in a book… he once wrote a biography of Benedict XVI in which he was very critical (it was one of his early books). He then APOLOGIZED and wrote a new biography. Any man that can do that deserves to have his books read.

  22. ghp95134 says:

    Fr. Z: I am lead to question: Is Pope Benedict a “hawk” or a “dove”?
    Neither, Holy Father is an eagle! “The Eagle Has Landed!” Der Adler ist gelandet.

    I love doves … fried. (Apologies to W.C. Fields)


  23. Gail F says:

    “…Simone de Beauvoir in her monumental work, The Second Sex. She was the one who posited that gender is a social construct, that existence precedes essence. She says that men and women were equal in the beginning, but that primitive man quickly began to dominate women through sheer physical strength. And history proceeded from there, with men constantly striving for and reaching transcendence as statesmen, builders, warriors, artists, writers and thinkers…”

    I don’t think she made that up, although she may have given it a lot of publicity. What a bunch of hooey. It amazes me that anyone believes such bunk — such a ridiculous statement about ALL of history (and pre-history), around the entire world!

    John Allen’s book “The Future Church” is a fascinating read. If he’s right, things don’t bode well for the liberaly, seculary Catholics. But the conservativey Catholics are going to have to face a lot of disconcerting things from Africa and South America. We are in for interesting times.

  24. Norah says:

    For a “taste” of Msgr Anatrella

    World Youth Day: From Toronto to Cologne

    Rome 10-13 April 2003

    Fr. Tony Anatrella
    Psychoanalyst, specialist in Social Psychiatry

  25. TonyLayne says:

    <b)@ Norah: Thanks for the link. I’ve got it saved to my Favorites. Maybe we should just move out of our cities, build communes out in the hinterlands without cable, Internet and radios, and just sever ourselves from the outside world until it collapses and is ready for repopulation.

  26. TonyLayne says:

    Whoops! What happened to my comment? Anyway, thanks for the link, Norah!

  27. Ed the Roman says:

    Gloria Steinem wrote an article in the 70s in which she predicted that with true equality of the sexes women’s stature would begin to change in a sort of radical feminist Lysenkoism.

  28. The Cobbler says:

    “She says that men and women were equal in the beginning, but that primitive man quickly began to dominate women through sheer physical strength.”
    Wait, so the feminist argument is that men aren’t different than women, Heaven forbid superior to women in any way, they just think they are because they were different from and superior in strenth to women? Doesn’t that seem just a tad… self-contradictory?

    I mean, I don’t believe physical strength gives men the right to think women are inferior, any more than I think the Martians would be right to eat us or do with us as they please because they’re more powerful. But really, I’d like to know how a consistent gender-is-artificial feminist can also claim that men have historically succeeded in beating women down. Maybe recently through coincidence, but historically as a rule blows their own premise of non-difference out of the water, doesn’ it?

    (I’m also not convinced it’s true that men have always been on top of women like this, but I can have a lot more fun shooting arguments with their own guns than whining that I don’t have the research at my hands to prove whether a particular claim is true.)

    Of course, Simone de Beauvoir may simply believe that women ought to be equal in dignity and easily beat us men in intelligence and therefore it should round out in modernity, which is totally different from believing women are no different from men; I’d have to know more about her before I levelled any accusations of inconsistency against her specifically.

  29. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I encountered what is here called “toxic gender theory” more than twenty years ago, manning a pro-life stand at a university societies fair, in argument with homosexual activists. I asked if they were concerned that there were people who would abort their babies if they thought they might have an innate homosexual inclination. They thought this was nonsense: there was nothing innate about homosexual inclination. Nobody was ‘born that way’. There was no such thing as ‘human nature’ of any sort. It was all positivistic construction. They referenced Michel Foucault. I have since seen him described as ‘Neo-Nietzschean’. That sounds right. N. is the great highjacker of ‘values’ language to mean that people make up and impose ‘values’, there being no such thing as ‘good and evil’.

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