The Audacity of Pope Francis
During his “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada, as essayist Jean Duchesne notes, the Pope did not shy away from showing how cancel culture is nothing other than a variant of the same colonialism it is claiming to eradicate.
It was towards the end of July, and commentators had already left or were preparing to leave on vacation, so nobody made a big deal of it. But better late than never. In the middle of his “penitential pilgrimage” to Canada, Pope Francis issued a vehement criticism of cancel culture. The media duly reported it without much fuss. Still, it could be asked whether his attack against this present-day movement that claims to denounce oppression in all forms might not blur the point of the Pope’s visit, which was to offer apologies and ask forgiveness for Christians’ participation in the disastrous policy of assimilation carried out against the Indigenous peoples of Canada in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The answer to the riddle can be summed up in one word: colonization. It is condemned today as the cynical exertion of techno-economic dominance that enabled white western power to exploit the rest of the planet, all the while repressing the traditions, cultures and identities of entire nations contemptuously deemed inferior. The audacity of the Pope consisted in voicing his view that colonialism has not been eliminated, that those perpetuating it today are among the most strident anticolonialists. Of course, their form of militant action does not aim to overtake countries militarily in order to impose laws and profit from their human and material resources. This neo-colonialism is ideological. Back in 2020, Pope Francis wrote in his apostolic exhortation, Querida Amazonia, “Colonization has not ended, in many places it has been changed, disguised and concealed.”
It is the merciless repression of any and all opinions differing from its own, and thus constitutes a kind of intellectual and moralistic terrorism. This is the intolerance we see in action on campuses, in artistic circles and in the media, preventing the free self-expression of any person suspected of not
only racism, but now homophobia, transphobia or just not being unequivocally enthusiastic about medically assisted or third-party reproduction for all, abortion, assisted suicide, euthanasia, etc. Such has been the fate of, among others, the creator of Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling and, in the French-speaking world, the philosopher Sylviane Agacinski.
But there lies a self-contradiction analogous to the one that characterized the colonizers of “modernity” throughout the last two centuries. In their desire to export their principles, which they claimed to be universal, they trampled underfoot the very “values” that formed the foundation of their supposed superiority: human rights and freedoms and democracy – not to mention Christian charity… A similar incoherence exists today whereby, “under the guise of defending diversity,” as Pope Francis observed in his July 27 address at the Citadel in Quebec City, the present-day ideology ”ends up cancelling all sense of identity, with the risk of silencing positions that defend a respectful and balanced understanding of various sensibilities.”
This is how “right-thinking,” while fiercely defending the legitimacy of all differences, in the end turns on itself. Its adherents “imposed their own cultural models,” which “neglected the concrete realities of people’s lives” and “stifled the population’s natural attachment to their values by attempting to uproot their traditions, history and religious ties.” Put somewhat more crudely, the majority of those who formerly were “colonized” are now unwilling to rally around the liberalism (especially, but not exclusively sexual) now predominant in the west. Take, for instance, the resistance among Africans of the Anglican confession against homosexual unions and gay clergy, above all when this goes so far as installing lesbian bishops.
Big Brother, always there
This, says the Pope, is “a normative cultural fashion based exclusively on the “rights and needs of certain individuals.” And it ends up suppressing
any other sensibility and uprooting the traditions, history and religious ties of entire peoples, in addition to “judging the past on the sole basis of certain present-day criteria.” This is precisely the so-called cancel culture that leads to the elimination (for instance, by toppling statues of accomplices to slavery) of any historical trace of anything that in our day is condemned.
The Holy Father was even more explicit in his address to the Diplomatic Corps in January 2022: “A kind of dangerous “one-track thinking” [pensée unique] is taking shape,“ he stated, “one constrained to deny history or, worse yet, to rewrite it in terms of present-day categories, whereas any historical situation must be interpreted in the light of a hermeneutics of that particular time, not that of today.” In his book 1984, George Orwell illustrated over 70 years ago how Big Brother’s dictatorship is founded on the perpetual elimination of anything from the past that does not comply with the (incidental) orthodoxy of the moment.
Catholicity against ideologies
For Pope Francis, on the contrary, “we must rediscover our sense of common identity as one human family,“ in order to “be truly inclusive,” and not to disrespect any “sensibility” or neglect “those fundamental values […] in particular the right to life, from conception to its natural end, and the right to religious freedom.” And thus, the Holy Father’s address in Quebec City does not constitute a counter-argument to his declarations of repentance for the harm caused to the First Nations peoples of the Americas. The continuous thread connecting his positions is the denunciation of colonialism throughout its mutations over time. Moreover, in a positive sense, the ideal he proposes is the common good, it is communion and brotherhood without amnesia and without the elimination of distinctions – summed up in one word: catholicity. It should not be surprising that the Pope is its foremost defender, nor that he is equally disruptive to the “left” and to the “right.”
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