Has the pope failed?

Pope Benedict XVI leads the Vespers mass to celebrate the feast of Saint Peters and Paul in the Saint Paul Outside the Walls basilica in Rome June 28, 2010.  REUTERS/Tony Gentile  (ITALY - Tags: RELIGION)

There was something that confused me about this Associated Press story “Pope to create new office to fight secularization.” It’s by no means an in-depth story — just a quick wire report on some business that came out of Vatican City this week. But check out this lede and supporting paragraphs:

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI is creating a new Vatican office to fight secularization and “re-evangelize” the West — a tacit acknowledgment that his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe haven’t succeeded and need a new boost. …

Benedict said parts of the world are still missionary territory, where the Catholic Church is still relatively unknown. But in other parts of the world like Europe, Christianity has existed for centuries yet “the process of secularization has produced a serious crisis of the sense of the Christian faith and role of the Church.”

The new pontifical council, he said, would “promote a renewed evangelization” in countries where the Church has long existed “but which are living a progressive secularization of society and a sort of ‘eclipse of the sense of God.’”

Here’s my question: How does the reporter know that this new office is being launched because his plans have failed? She says it’s a “tacit” acknowledgment. But it would be nice to see some support for the claim.

I’m not saying it’s untrue — I have no knowledge of how well the Pope’s efforts are going compared to expectations or anything like that.

But what if the office were being launched precisely because the efforts were going well and they just wanted to provide additional support to them?

Or what if it was always a plan to start an office at this point in time?

I just think that if you’re going to say that the Pope has failed, you should explain what that means, exactly. And if you don’t have any support for the claim, just leave the speculation alone.

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  • Dave

    The Pope’s re-spiritualization program has only begun, so it’s premature to call it a failure, but already one big-ticket item — getting a reference to Christianity into the EU constitution — did not work. I daresay it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other.

  • Leo White

    I guess going to the emergency room could be construed as a “tacit admission” that a band-aid has failed. Or it could be looked at as an a realistic and aggressive response to a very serious problem.

  • ctd

    I think it reflects a different perception of time. In the church’s view of time, the effort has just begun. In a contemporary secular view, if something was not accomplished in the last five years it was a failure.

  • michael

    Perhaps the reporter is an omniscient narrator?

  • Bill P

    The AP reporter who wrote that story is Nicole Winfield. She seems to be the lead reporter on the Church and the sexual abuse crisis. Her stories on the Catholic Church and Benedict XVI are more often than not highly biased and anti-Church. To suit her obvious agenda, Ms. Winfield is adept at using passive tense, scare quotes, editorialized concluding sentences and damning phraseology—all of which lead the casual reader along paths of groundless implications.

    It is simply terrifying that such agenda-driven reporting finds its way into so many people’s morning papers and news searches.

    Good job catching this latest example of bias. If I had the time, I’d develop a blog dedicated just to the bad religion reporting coming out of the AP, and from the desk of Ms. Winfield in particular.

  • Julia

    his attempts to reinvigorate Christianity in Europe haven’t succeeded

    That aspect of the story jumped out at me, too.

    What criteria is she using? Is capitalism a failure? Why or why not? Is democracy a failure? Why or why not? Was the Enlightenment a failure because we still have so many people who don’t use logic or understand science?

    We’re talking about turning an ocean liner around. The secularization affecting the attitudes of European Christians really picked up steam in response to Nietzche, Communism, the two world wars, but particularly the Second World War, not to mention the existentialists and other European philosophic trends that don’t register on US radar.

    Benedict has been talking about this for decades. It’s a major subject of many of his pre-Papacy books. He gave a talk last year essentially saying this is what he was going to do.


    Here’s an article about part of what is being planned – not to “fight” secularization, but to dialogue with atheists. Benedict is famous for saying the church proposes; it does not impose. First stop – three locations in Paris, the center of philosophizing in Europe since forever. Benedict himself was famous for public discussions with atheists in the years before he became Pope.


  • Julia

    There seems to be a different use of “secular” in the US than in Europe.

    Example from ctd’s right-on comment:

    In a contemporary secular view, if something was not accomplished in the last five years it was a failure.

    This use of secular just means “non-religious”.
    [In the US non-religious is not the same thing as anti-religious]

    In Europe, secular usually means “atheist” or “anti-religious”.

  • Passing By

    Mollie -

    The link doesn’t take me to the AP story, nor can I find it on the AP site. Normally I like to read the whole story before commenting. It doesn’t guarantee I won’t make a fool of myself, but it’s a nice hedge. :-)

    Anyway, from what’s available, it’s arguable that efforts to reinvigorate Catholic Christianity in Europe actually have failed. However, you have to ask what other initiative of what other organization would get such a spin?

    I do rather like the “tacit admission” that secularism is an entity which forms an alternative to religion. I’ve read denials of that, as though secularism did not address the same questions addressed by all religions, with it’s own distinctive set of answers.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Passing By,

    The link works for me . . .

  • J.W. Cox

    I had to look up “tacit” which means “implied or indicated (as by an act or by silence) but not actually expressed ….”

    So in a sense 4)michael is right: the writer purports to know that the Pope or his action “implied” when in fact she’s simply inferring.

    Having said that, though the new congregation is, well, new, B16′s awareness of the need for a European (and probably American) re-evangelization is NOT new, from what I can tell from his writings while he was still Cardinal Ratzinger.

    As usual, the lack of detail knowledge and historical context results in a facile news report that pretends to say more than it actually does.

  • Jerry

    Mollie, to me the word ‘tacit’ is perfectly appropriate and does not need justification assuming you believe that the Pope would not do something arbitrarily and for no reason. So the fact that he created the office and based on the direct quote from him, it’s clear to me that he believes the West is too secular and that needs to be addressed.

    Would any Catholics or others here believe otherwise? Does anyone contend that he believes that the West is not too secular? Don’t all the surveys about religious expression especially in Europe support that contention?

    Do we really need this news story to repeat all the other stories that address his views on the West and to recapitulate all the news stories about increasing secularization? Not in my book.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie


    But what you wrote has no resemblance in any way to what the reporter wrote.

    It’s a “tacit” acknowledgment that he thinks there’s a problem, sure, but is it a tacit acknowledgment that he’s failed?

    Those are completely and wildly different things to say. And unless you have proof of failure, it’s best not to use terms like “hasn’t succeeded.”

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I don’t think–except for this AP reporter- that even Americans who are steeped in the instant gratification mentality would agree that the pope could be expected to turn around in only a few years a Western Civilization trend that has been growing since the 18th Century and the French Revolution.
    In fact one could argue the first steps of success have been taken. One major one being that Russian Orthodox leaders–formerly among the most anti-papal of the Orthodox– have publicly commented that the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Churches need to work together to combat European secularism.

  • Passing By

    On this computer, the link above takes me here. I looked on another computer and it went to the AP story. Fascinating.

    I wanted to make one more comment. The “fighting secularism” terminology was new to me, as the reading I’ve done on the new dicastery stressed the positive. However, a search on
    “vatican fights secularism” turned up any number of hits, including the Catholic News Services and that bastion of mainstream journalism, Nepal Erotica & Sex News. So maybe my complaint about the negativity of “fighting secularism” is ill-founded.

    Nepal Erotica & Sex News

  • dalea

    For some time, the press has been reporting that the Pope expected the RCC to become a much smaller and much more traditional church in the developed world. I have seen this for years, even before he became Pope. Perhaps, this is what the article is referring to. If that is the case, the story should say so. Instead it is as if we have entered in the middle of a conversation and are expected to keep up without knowing the current topic. It would seem such a topic deserves a very thorough examination.

  • Dave

    dalea, I’ve been very aware of B16′s anti-secularism efforts for some time now, through my daily blog crawl including both GetReligion and some Pagan sites. That part of the AP reference is not in dispute.

  • Martha

    I don’t know what efforts are supposed to have failed, nor how success would be judged.

    Going by reports, the idea of this new dicastery has been knocking around for a long time, even before Benedict’s papacy (link once again courtesy of “Whispers in the Loggia”:


    “The new dicastery, the idea of Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Patriarch of Venice, is expected to be headed by Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

    …John Paul II coined the term “the New Evangelization” to mean a reawakening of the faith in long-established Christian parts of the world, particularly Europe, but which have since fallen away from the faith. These areas, he said, are need of a “New Evangelization.”

    According to the report, Don Luigi Guissani, founder of the movement Communion and Liberation (CL), first mooted the idea of an ad hoc department dedicated to this task to John Paul II in the early 1980s. Cardinal Scola, a strong supporter of CL, raised the idea again with the Holy Father over a year ago and the Pope was said to have praised the proposal immediately. He believed Archbishop Fisichella to be most appropriate to lead the dicastery.”

  • Michael

    I think Benedict has more or less accepted the reality that Christianity is moving to the 3rd world. But he knows it still has to retain a place in the 1st (West) and 2nd (Eastern Europe) world to be allowed to function more of less freely.

    Who knows, maybe the promise/possiblity of Russian conversion is still on the radar. Miracles are known to have happened.

  • Maureen

    It’s like saying that Vatican Radio/TV just added more shows in more languages covering more of the world, because not enough people in Italy were listening…. :)