Pope Francis has attacked the cancellation of culture. That sounds better than “ideological colonization”.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — In its annual report address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See this month, Pope Francis “strike to ‘cancel culture,'” as a title Put the. But the pontiff wasn’t complaining about how the twitterverse had banned Ellen DeGeneres or called for a boycott of Dr. Seuss.

Francis was indeed talking about the “social process of lynching someone”, according to Juan Pablo Cannata, a sociology researcher at the Universidad Austral in Argentina, who is writing his thesis on the culture of cancellation. But the pope has his own definition of cancel culture, one in which local voices, especially those in poorer countries, are drowned out by powerful institutions.

In international relations today, Francis told diplomats in the Vatican on January 10, the elite agenda of the global community “leaves no room for freedom of expression and now takes the form of” culture of cancellation “which invades many circles and public institutions”.

What the pope’s vision shares with social media-led boycotts against casual racism or misogyny, Cannata said, is that both are born out of people “trying to build a more inclusive society, promote values tolerance, acceptance, for different identities and groups”. “But in doing so, elites cancel, rather than engage with, cultures that are not in line with their values.

The pope calls this “ideological colonization”, because by imposing its worldview on the poorest nations, the elites erase local cultures and traditions.

“Pope Francis is concerned about the repeated imposition of power, especially by North American and European countries, in other parts of the globe,” said Cristina Traina, professor of Christian theology and ethics at the Fordham University.

This “ideological imposition” is often accompanied by “economic and political leverage”, she added.

Francis’ thinking, experts say, dates back to his days in Argentina, where, as Jorge Bergoglio, he led the Archdiocese of Bueno Aires.

“We must not forget that he is a Latin American who has always experienced ideological colonization, especially North American, as a problem,” said Massimo Borghesi, professor of philosophy at the University of Perugia and author of “The Spirit of Pope Francis: The Intellectual Journey of Jorge Mario Bergoglio.”

Borghesi explained that at the height of globalization efforts in the 1990s, economically developed countries adopted “a ruthless economic model” that combined financial aid to beleaguered Latin American countries with the promotion of contraception and abortion. More recently, aid comes with insights into gender, Borghesi said.

“Abortion is synonymous with the IMF,” Reverend José María “Pepe” Di Paola said in 2018, referring to the International Monetary Fund. Di Paola, a Catholic priest known for his ministry to Argentine slum dwellers and a close acquaintance of Francis, was speaking as the debate raged in Argentina over the decriminalization of abortion. Argentina legalized abortion in 2020.

Pope Francis approaches priests with an Argentine flag as he arrives in St. Peter’s Square for his inaugural mass at the Vatican March 19, 2013. Photo courtesy Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

Francis himself made similar claims while answering questions aboard the papal plane upon his return from a 2015 visit to Sri Lanka and the Philippines. He recalled an episode from 1995, when Argentina’s education minister was offered a loan to build schools for the poor only if she accepted a textbook that promoted gender theory.

“It’s ideological colonization,” Francis told reporters. “They present an idea to people that has nothing to do with people. With groups people yes, but not with people. And they colonize the people with an idea that changes, or wants to change, a mentality or a structure.

Inspiring the Pope’s Vision is one of his favorite books,”lord of the worlda 2016 work by the Reverend Robert Hugh Benson, a British Catholic priest who had converted from the Church of England. In the novel’s dystopian future of the 2000s, world powers impose what Francis called an “imperial form of colonization” that leads to the end of time.

As archbishop, Bergoglio often opposed the Argentinian government led by President Nestor Kirchner and Kirchner’s successor (and wife), Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, for what he saw as their efforts to promote abortion. and same-sex marriage, but also policies that Francis said were detrimental to the poor.

Francis shared his opposition with a group of Argentine intellectuals who sought to protect local South American cultures and traditions from globalization. Although this focus places them on the side of the poor against the elites, thinkers attempted to offer an alternative to the Marxist-inspired liberation theology that was gaining traction across the continent.

Among Francis’ role models was Uruguayan author Alberto Methol Ferré, whom Bergoglio praised for his ability to navigate the tension between the abstract ideals of international organizations such as the European Union, the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund and daily concerns. local communities.

“His acute and creative thinking knew how to look forward to the roots as well as the utopias, which converted him into a man faithful to the reality of the peoples,” Bergoglio said in 2010, during an event commemorating the death of Methol. Ferré a few months later. before.


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While Francis is often referred to as a progressive, his defense of local peoples and traditions against ideological colonization is one of the most conservative aspects of his worldview. He highlights how, despite his openness to LGBTQ issues, divorced and remarried couples, and other faiths, Francis remains a strong advocate of traditional Catholic principles regarding unborn life and the family.

In a document that was leaked in december, the European Commission has advised its officials to refrain from using the word “Christmas” and to use gender-neutral language. Francis compared the commission to a dictatorship.

But he also criticized the document as “anachronistic”, a point he echoed in his address to diplomats last week. Ideological colonization, according to Francis, is blinded by its actuality. He is “forced to deny history”, he told diplomats, “or, even worse, to rewrite it in terms of current categories”.

Nevertheless, the pope’s caution towards international organizations was motivated by his faith in their power to effect change. He believes they are necessary to achieve peace and meet today’s increasingly global challenges.

“The pope is sincerely concerned about the fate of international organizations,” Borghesi said.

Traina said there is “irony” in Francis’ critique of ideological colonization efforts, when historically “the church has been not only deeply engaged, but in many ways fore- guard in efforts to achieve it”. She cited the colonization of the Americas, when the church could be accused of trying to impose “one-size-fits-all thinking,” Traina said.

Even within the Catholic Church itself, there have been efforts to “cancel” thoughts and ideas that do not reflect the Vatican’s interpretation of doctrine.

The Pope seems aware of the Church’s complicity in ideological colonization. To address this, he launched the “Synod on Synodality,” a three-year consultation of Catholic parishes, dioceses and episcopal conferences aimed at overhauling the top-down structure that has defined Catholicism for decades. The ambitious program will end with a summit of bishops at the Vatican in 2023.

“Within the Church, this openness of communication has been very well signaled and reaffirmed by Pope Francis in his use of synods,” said David DeCosse, director of religious and Catholic ethics at Santa Clara University. .

Indeed, the synod is destined to do for the Church what Francis asks of international organizations. “The local church must begin to express its own voice again and must do so in concert with the universal church,” Borghesi explained.

But local communities must also listen to the global conversation, at the risk of falling into populism and nationalism.

“The particular and the universal need each other,” Borghesi said. “Dialogue does not mean losing my identity, but to build my identity I need the identity of the other.

“History, roots, home, family” are essential, he said, but they cannot thrive by “pretending the world doesn’t exist”.


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Helen D. Jessen