A Czech priest academic has criticised ‘culture warrior’ Catholics, lamenting that for them “the positive content of faith has become emptied”.

– More and more Catholics falling prey to “fundamentalism and bigotry”

“For a large number of today’s Christians, the positive content of faith has become emptied. Therefore, they need to found their ‘Christian identity’ on ‘culture wars’ against condoms, abortion, same-sex marriage, etc”, Father Tomáš Halík denounced in an article on “The Revolution of Mercy and a New Ecumenism” published October 30 on the website of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests.

Halík – who ministered as a clandestine priest in the underground Church of the communist era in Czechoslovakia – lamented that “for half a century I lived a great dream of uniting all who believe in Christ. Today, for me, this dream is ending in smoke”.

Halík – today a professor of philosophy and sociology of religion at Charles University in Prague and president of the Czech Christian Academy – deplored that his dream of identifying with all Christians is evaporating as more and more believers succumb to “fundamentalism and bigotry”.

“I really cannot march under the same banner” as Christians who align themselves with populist and nationalist political movements, hold to literalist interpretations of the Bible, deploy facile arguments against the ordination of women and engage in fanatical fights against abortion and LGBT+ rights, decried the priest, who is also a recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize and whose books have been translated into twenty languages.

Halík recognised that he struggles with “major doubt” with respect to those Christians who fall prey to what Pope Francis has called the “neurotic obsession” of a negative faith.

“Is it not time to leave behind the ecumenism of ‘all Christians’ and instead to concentrate our energy on deepening a fruitful sharing, synergy, and mutual enrichment among thinking people, both believers and non-believers?”, the priest asked.

– Pope Francis pointing Church beyond negative religion to “Christianity of tomorrow”

Pointing out that negative Catholics and Catholics who believe in and share Gospel faith, love and hope often seem to inhabit “unbridgeable parallel universes”, Halík quoted the great cardinal and former Archbishop of Milan Carlo Maria Martini to say that “I am not so much afraid of people who do not have faith; what disturbs me are people who do not think”.

Instead of negative religion, Halík proposed “a culture of spiritual discernment and fostering of those values that lead both to the heart of the gospel and a courageous and creative response to the ‘signs of the times'”.

He added that Pope Francis shows the way forward to such a culture in his fleshing out in his teaching documents and other places of “the Christianity of tomorrow”.

– On same-gender civil unions and other issues, “Pope Francis is not a revolutionary bent on changing church doctrine… rather, he is merciful”

As an example of that faith of the future that the pontiff is leading the Church towards, Halík pointed to Francis’ backing of same-gender civil unions, even if he added that it is important to keep the pontiff’s support for those partnerships in perspective.

“Pope Francis is not a revolutionary bent on changing church doctrine… rather, he is merciful”, Halík explained.

Insisting that “mercy is the key to understanding” the Pope’s “personality and his reform”, the Czech thinker wrote that “this pope does not change written standards, nor does he tear down external structures; however, he transforms praxis and life”.

The Pope “does not change the Church from the outside”, Halík said. “Rather, he transforms it far more thoroughly – spiritually, from the inside. He transforms it through the spirit of the Gospel; it is a revolution of mercy”.

“In his case, these words [on same-gender civil unions] are not mere empty pious phrases. Therefore, his reform has a potential to change the Church and bring it back to the heart of Jesus’s message more profoundly than many reforms of the past”, Halík insisted.

– Pope encouraging Church not to submit “to the ‘yoke of slavery’ of legalistic religion”

Halík defended Pope Francis against those who would like him to go further and condemn and change those aspects of Church teaching – like the Catechism’s harsh language against LGBT love – that are like “‘products’ that expired a long time ago and are now poisonous and harmful”.

The priest said that the pontiff “through his personal example of Christian bravery… calls us to act like free children of God, responsibly exercising the freedom to which Christ has liberated us and not submitting again to the ‘yoke of slavery’ of legalistic religion”.

Attacking those “high priests of the church of dead religion” who downplay Francis’ reforms on LGBT and other matters, Halik called on Catholics to continue the “spiritual renewal of the Church” and redouble their efforts to communicate the idea of God “as a kind, generous, understanding, forgiving, and healing power capable of transforming the human heart, the Church, and society”.

“At the beginning of the pandemic some Christians again tried to play their card of an evil, revengeful god with whom they could frighten those who had already disengaged themselves from the influence of the Church”, Halík closed his essay.

“Fear has always been a fertile soil for the entrepreneurs of false religion. Human pain serves them as an alleged proof of their apocalyptic visions”, he deplored.

But he said that like John Paul II, Pope Francis “emphatically repeats Jesus’s words full of hope and strength: ‘Do not be afraid! Do not let yourselves be intimidated'”.

More on Novena on Father Tomáš Halík:

Czech priest academic: coronavirus “calls for a new theology of history and a new understanding of the Church”

Avatar
Author

PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.