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Should the Church apologise?
Political correctness has demanded, and still does demand, apologies for whatever is the fashion at the moment. Whilst I firmly believe that the recognition of wrongs done is good and necessary - after all, Catholic Christians do not have the Sacrament of Penance for nothing - Christians seem to be expected to apologise to everyone for everything, as if they are the only ones on this earth that have made mistakes and been foolish.
We have apologies for the Crusades, for the Inquisition, for what was done to Galileo and Savonarola. In our own country, apologies are being asked for all our relationships with our indigenous brothers and sisters over the last 200 years.
The Catholic Church, and very specifically, that spiritual and intellectual giant of our century, Eugenio Pacelli, Pius XII, are being held by some responsible for the Holocaust or, at least, not doing enough to prevent it. Pius XII's sanctity and leadership qualities are being called into question by comfortable armchair experts 50 years after the events.
This is all very well. Recognition of the human weaknesses and mistakes of our ancestors is one thing; but surely in the interests of truth, there must be a balance somewhere.
Have all Christians, in all centuries and in all places, always been bad? The answer to the question is obviously No! That fact does not sit kindly with the secular humanist, politically correct ideology current in our time. Christianity and Catholic Christianity, in particular, are regarded as superstitious, discriminatory, brutal, dishonest and hypocritical.
Yes! It is time to tell the whole truth, and so I ask the question: where would our precious concept and practice of democracy be without the influence of Christianity? I would venture to suggest, nowhere.
Democracy and human rights depend upon a view of mankind which goes much deeper than the very obvious differences of gender, intelligence, ability, wealth and property. If we look at each human being on face value, we see all these differences. But when faced with the Biblical concept that every human being is created in the "image and likeness of God", these differences become superficial.
If we follow Biblical teaching, then our day-to-day differences pale into insignificance beside this concept that every human being has an infinite value and equality before God. I think it was G.K. Chesterton who said that in a democratic decision, we have the decision of "the million faces of God."
Put very simply, without Christianity, we would not have democracy. Nor would the cry for human rights have any significance. Nowhere is this more true than in the modern idea of "women's liberation".
It is Christianity which raised up women from the prejudices of the pre-Christian era. "Male and female he created them", and don't forget he created them in his own "image and likeness".
The whole idea of chivalry, respect for women, protection of those who need protection is inspired by these concepts mediated to us through Christianity, to say nothing of Catholic respect for the Blessed Virgin Mary. This overflows into respect for all women.
The notions that are abroad at the moment, and given immense publicity by the anti-Christian forces in our world through the media, would paint Christianity as mysogynist. Add to this feminism, women's rights to Ordination and abortion, we are given a very distorted view of the influence of Christianity in our lives.
Since the Renaissance and through the Enlightenment, we have had a consistent attack upon Christian principles until now, in the 20th and 21st centuries, we have an almost total abandonment of these principles in public as well as private life.
One of the best examples of this is that the equality of women, laudable in itself, has been twisted into a woman's right to kill her unborn child, who is also created in the "image and likeness of God."
An article in The Catholic Times in the UK on 1 January 2000 said: "The family has been declared obsolete, and many children are condemned to a life of poverty without a father. Individualism has glorified greed and materialism. The mission of art to educate and inspire has been reduced to its ability to shock and offend. Relativism has corrupted morality."
To make political and diplomatic life easier, human rights are declared a "Western concept". This leaves the field wide open to condone "oppression, torture, imprisonment without trial and mass slaughter as 'culturally conditioned'" and therefore legitimate.
Real human progress will only come with the recognition that Christianity is at the heart of human development - not that which is holding it back. What will hold back and eventually destroy mankind and the world in which we live is the unbridled adulation of secular humanism, which over a number of centuries has eroded the basic principles upon which human society and human development depend.
For example, far from the Holocaust being the responsibility of the Church, it is the direct result of the abandonment of Biblical understanding of who human beings are. This can be applied to so much of what has gone on in the modern world.
Another example would be the French Revolution. This was, and still is, lauded as progressive, with the catch cry, "Equality, Liberty, Fraternity!" Yet it unleashed an oppression and persecution that would rival human degradation of any day and age. It culminated in the enshrining of the Goddess of Reason on the High Altar of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, as the sign that Christianity had been surpassed by something greater - Human Reason. Enough said!
Looking back over the last 2,000 years, I think it is about time we stopped apologising, and recognise that without Christianity and its influence, brutal though the world is, it would have been and will be much more so, if Christian and Biblical principles are eroded any further.
Father Colin Barker, BA, STL, PhD, Dip.Ed., is a former lecturer at Australian Catholic University.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 13 No 3 (April 2000), p. 3
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