“Hope and confidence for the future”. That was the gist of the message released by the bishops of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE) after their Assembly last week in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
But beyond the platitudes of a “new European humanism capable of dialogue, integration and generation”, what did the bishops really talk about at the meet?
Driving the news
SIR spoke to French philosopher Chantal Delsol, who spoke at the bishops’ meeting, to get another perspective on the discussions.
The news agency reported that Delsol’s keynote address came as a “veritable tornado” to the gathered bishops.
Delsol, who as well as being a philosopher is also a political historian and writer, gave an incisive cultural, political and social reading of the lay of the land in Europe today that SIR said left the European prelates “shocked”.
The big picture
“Someone pointed out that what I said leaves no room for hope”, Delsol admitted to SIR.
The philosopher said she told the bishops that the ‘glorious past’ of a socially-esteemed and relevant Church is well and truly over.
The Church “will no longer have a lead position with respect to laws; we will no longer have the possibility of preventing divorce or abortion or euthanasia”, Delsol said she told the bishops.
“That time is over. We may regret it. We may dream up another situation. But by doing so, we will never move forward”.
Reflecting further on what she told the CCEE Assembly, Delsol explained that the two centuries since the Enlightenment have totally “wiped out the guiding role of the Church” in society.
“Nowadays, the Church no longer has a determining role with respect to customs, ethics and laws”, the philosopher said.
“The Church today is living as a minority that can be active, intelligent, yet nevertheless it remains a minority”.
Delsol said her advice to the European bishops was simple: that they return to New Testament humility.
“When there are bishops or cardinals who preach Gospel simplicity and then live in 250 square meters with a plethora of good nuns serving them, the Church loses credibility. This needs to be stopped”, the Frenchwoman warned.
The Church as a whole, she continued, must accept that Catholics today are a minority.
“We must learn to be a minority. A minority that can also be intelligent and full of energy”.
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Between the lines
Delsol added that bishops and faithful must remember that “the Church is an institution like all others and certainly no better than any other”, as the clergy sex abuse scandal has made clear.
“The Church has not understood that as a minority deprived of power, it is all the more afflicted and discredited by scandals”, the philosopher lamented.
Delsol continued that European people today have a thirst to give life meaning that they have understood can’t be quenched by market forces.
For that reason, bishops must guide the Church back to its teachings “on human dignity, on individual conscience, a culture of truth as a gift of science, a culture of progress”, the Frenchwoman continued.
Why it matters
Delsol summarised her message to the bishops: “Your actions must not contradict your words”.
She said she told the prelates: “People will never believe you if you act this way”.
“Consistency between words and way of life is of the essence. Way of life is the first thing. That’s what people must see first of all, only then can you speak. This is what I said”, Delsol concluded.