e war on Christianity
When historians tell the story of 21st-century Christianity, one word is likely to loom large: persecution. According to the International Society for Human Rights in Frankfurt, Christians are the victims of 80 per cent of acts of religious discrimination. Ours is by far the world’s most persecuted religion. As followers of Christ, this should not surprise us. Jesus, after all, said: “If the world hates you, realise that it hated me first” (John 15:18). Nevertheless, we should not simply shrug our shoulders at this onslaught.
One of the most reliable chroniclers of this drama is Aid to the Church in Need. Every few years the charity publishes a report, Persecuted and Forgotten?, offering a global overview of what one commentator has called “the war on Christianity”. This year’s report, covering 2013 to 2015, is extremely sobering. The authors say the Church is on the verge of extinction in parts of the Middle East. Christianity, they write, “is on course to disappear from Iraq possibly within five years”.
The situation is hardly less bleak in Syria. Growing pressure on the faithful in Iran and Saudi Arabia, meanwhile,
means that “the Church is being silenced and driven out of its ancient biblical heartland”.
The report also brings depressing news from Africa, usually regarded as one of the bright spots for Christianity today. Islamists in Nigeria, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and elsewhere are “destabilising the Christian presence”, according to the authors.
Yet Islamists are not the sole perpetrators of persecution worldwide. The report says that “Christians have been targeted by nationalist religious move-
We should tell countries: defend religious minorities or forget about aid money ments – Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist – many of which see Christianity as a ‘foreign’ colonial import.”
A detached observer might regard these trends as unstoppable. We have worried about the exodus of Middle Eastern Christians for decades. Despite our fretting, the trend has merely accelerated. We have expressed concerns about Islamist persecution since at least the mid-1990s. Their attacks have simply multiplied with each passing year and show no sign of stopping.
Is hand-wringing, then, our only option? Fortunately not. We should support charities that provide desperately needed help to embattled Christians. While our individual donations may seem insignificant, taken together they powerfully demonstrate our love for our persecuted brethren. We should also be much more assertive in the political arena. As Ann Widdecombe argues on page 23, we must put pressure on the Government to give countries that persecute Christians an ultimatum: defend religious minorities or forget about aid money.
A participant in the family synod in Rome has suggested that Catholics today can be divided into two groups: the “suffering Church” and the “comfortable Church”. There is no doubt which we belong to. Our relative comfort gives us a heavy responsibility. We must do everything in our power to defend and to serve the suffering Church. Our response to this challenge is likely to be judged not just by historians, but by Christ himself.
High stakes at the synod
To say that events have been moving fast at the family synod is putting it mildly. Even veteran Vatican correspondents have been struggling to keep up with the claims and counter-claims being made about the synod’s procedures and the structure of committees. Some of the participants, including senior cardinals, believe that the structures have been adjusted in order to nudge the synod fathers in the direction of “liberal” change – that is, towards relaxing the ban on divorced and remarried people receiving Holy Communion, and perhaps a new approach to homosexual couples. Others, also including senior cardinals, argue that this is a conspiracy theory.
On Monday morning the synod’s progress was disrupted by the leaking of a private letter to the Pope supposedly signed by, among others, Cardinal Müller, Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, and Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The leaked text, whose accuracy is disputed, addressed perceived shortcomings in the synodical procedures; complained about certain bishops’ obsession with the divorce and Communion issue; and warned the Holy Father that if the Church was at risk of sharing the fate of Protestant denominations that adjust their teachings in response to secular pressure. Whether the original letter actually made this last point is not clear at the time of writing. But it strikes us as a good one that should be taken on board by all the synod fathers, not just those of a conservative disposition. Once pastoral practice becomes malleable, decided by vote, the outside world jumps to the conclusion that doctrine can be moulded in the same way.
But the Catholic Church does not develop doctrine in that fashion. Should it give the impression that its teachings are vulnerable to pressure from theological factions, as happens in the Anglican Communion, then the consequences could be disastrous.
CATHOLIC HERALD, OCTOBER 16 2015 3