Pope Francis is all too abrupt with the cardinals of the Church. It should be enough to see how he dismissed the prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Gerhard Ludwig Müller.
While with the “cardinals” of secular thought he is ostentatiously friendly and acquiescent. Evidence of this are the “tears of emotion” shed by “Repubblica” founder Eugenio Scalfari at the end of their umpteenth conversation at Santa Marta, set up by Francis in part to continue their previous discussion on a daring hypothesis presented by the pope himself and summarized by Scalfari like this: “In a millennium or so our human species will be extinguished and souls will merge with God.”
One effect of these two modes of behavior is the high level of approval that Francis enjoys in secular public opinion worldwide, which sees whatever it wants in him.
But this general consensus is not without its dissonant voices. Rare, but significant. One of this is that of Professor Gian Enrico Rusconi (in the photo).
Rusconi has expressed his criticisms in a book released in Italy this year, entitled “The narrative theology of Pope Francis,” published by Laterza.
Rusconi is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Turin. After a Catholic education in his youth he left the Church, but maintained and fostered a solid theological proficiency. He is a specialist in the history and culture of Germany in the twentieth century and is close to the positions of the philosophical school of Frankfurt, particularly those of Adorno, Horkheimer, Habermas, and to their view of religion. He is a prominent editorialist for the newspaper “La Stampa.”
There are at least three criticisms that Rusconi makes against Francis. And they are substantially shared by another secular Italian thinker, Pierfrancesco Stagi, professor of moral philosophy at the University of Turin and he too a specialist in German philosophy.
Stagi reviewed Rusconi’s book for the magazines “Teologia e filosofia,” published by Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, and “Nuovo Giornale di Filosofia della Religione,” which he edits on behalf of the Associazione Italiana di Filosofia della Religione.
Presented below are three passages from his review.
One element not to be overlooked is that both Rusconi and Stagi are in the progressive camp. Which makes their criticisms of Pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio even more significant.
1. A NARRATIVE THAT SOWS “DUBIA”
“Francis no longer teaches the way Professor Ratzinger did, but he recounts, he narrates episodes and comments on them. A ‘narrative theology,’ according to Rusconi’s pregnant definition: ‘Bergoglio intends to revitalize, through a narrative theology, the biblical and evangelical events, setting them forth as if they were everyday happenings of the present.’ Such a hermeneutic, however, which is based on poetic and allusive discourses, on continual semantic throwaways, according to which it is rare for one and the same term to define a precise and stable frame of reference, creates not a few ‘dubia,’ which not only cardinals as stubborn as they are zealous but also secular philosophers of religion like Rusconi (and the undersigned) cannot fail to emphasize, because they threaten to undermine Bergoglio’s project of reform at its foundation. There is the risk that he may leave the field open for improvisers of the word, who open and sow more ‘dubia’ than they clarify. On this path, Bergoglio will certainly have to leave aside his prudent Jesuitical garb within the next few years to assume a tone ‘less elusively cautious’ and more direct in defining the main categories of a reform of Catholic dogmatics and more generally of the Church.”
2. THE MYTH OF THE PEOPLE, AGAINST THE OLIGARCHIES
“Francis lives in a natural sympathy for the people, the people made up of the common folk, of the indigent masses, who are contrasted with the violent despotism of the oligarchies. Francis is bothered by the negative meaning of populism, which is wholly European, because he has always experienced the other dimension, wholly positive, of South American populism, as closeness to the natural and therefore always good outlook of the people, which ‘naturaliter’ follows the Christian message in the face of selfish and exploitative oligarchies. More than opportune is Rusconi’s discussion of the populist South American theologians Rafael Tello and Juan Carlos Scannone. From them Bergoglio gets the conviction that in order to overcome the spiritual crisis of our time it is necessary first to overcome the paradoxes of the contrast between the people and the oligarchies, according to a model that in any case brings him closer to European and North American populism, even if on the other side of the barricade with respect to classical liberalism, meaning on the side of the ‘pueblo’ against the economic, social, and even hierarchical-religious oligarchies.”
3. A MERCY FORGETFUL OF SIN
“Another contradiction that Rusconi reads in the papacy of Francis is the exclusive stress on mercy, leaving in the shadows the ontological problem of sin. In the account of the expulsion from paradise and of the original sin of Adam and Eve, Francis aims his attention almost exclusively at the gratuitous gift and friendship that God offers to the two progenitors, without clarifying the circumstances and motivations of his original prohibition against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and even without clarifying why this original failing of man should unleash a tragic succession of suffering, illness, and death that culminates in the sacrifice of expiation par excellence: the death of the Son of God on the cross. Rusconi correctly demonstrates how the necessity of this infinite expiation, of this continual succession even today, after the redemptive sacrifice, of unheard-of sorrows and sufferings is not explained in the merciful theology of pope Bergoglio and ultimately not in Ratzinger either, both of whom tend to criticize the thesis of infinite expiation of Anselm of Canterbury, and is not able to escape the paradox of why there still seems to be no end to pain and suffering, in an endless chain of dramas that the tragedy of Christ does not at all seem to have resolved or reduced, but rather increased and incentivized. It is the enigma of “theodicy,” which at least from Leibniz on has marked modern philosophy and theology and shows no signs of stopping but on the contrary, as Rusconi recalls, seems ever more relevant, and precisely in those secular circles that thought they had left behind them the complex and at times captious arguments on the justice of God.”
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)