Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium (the joy of the Gospel), which was to be a synthesis of the Synod on the new evangelization that Benedict XVI had called together in October 2012. In fact, the new pope hardly takes this synod into account, and leaves to the local episcopates the care of drawing for themselves the conclusions that they find useful. He prefers, in this document, to develop the themes that seem important to him and that he has already exposed here and there in the first eight months of his pontificate.
Thus do we find in the 288 points of this long exhortation his favorite expressions: the Church must “go out to others to reach the fringes of humanity”; “a poor Church for the poor”; rather a Church that is “bruised and hurting” because she went out to meet others, than a Church that is unhealthy because she is closed to others…
Throughout this document, that has no very strictly logical plan, the pope speaks of “the Church’s missionary transformation” (Ch. 1); “the crisis of communal commitment” (Ch. 2), in which he treats the “temptations faced by pastoral workers”; preaching (Ch. 3); “the social dimension of evangelization” (Ch. 4), in which he mentions, among other things, attention to the poor and social peace.
In the beginning, Francis recognizes the “programmatic” nature of this exhortation for his pontificate: “I want to emphasize that what I am trying to express here has a programmatic significance and important consequences.” (#25) Which brings some Vatican specialists to say that this is in reality an encyclical.
Speaking of the reform announced in the Church, as Jean-Marie Guenois wrote in Le Figaro on November 27, the Sovereign Pontiff:
calls for one of the applications of Vatican II that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, under the pontificate of John Paul II, had always fought, by burying the project of “a status for the Bishops’ conferences” that would give them “a certain authentic doctrinal authority.” This does indeed imply weakening the center, the papacy, the Vatican, to leave more room for the local bishops. (…) This will to reform the profound culture of the Church — to go from a centralizing and dogmatic vision to the vision of a Church “with her doors thrown open” the better to welcome — implies a series of small reforms, that are not just friendly suggestions, but whose application Francis is very clearly demanding.And observers did not fail to notice that this apostolic exhortation contains as many references to texts from bishoprics in different regions of the world as to texts from the Roman magisterium.
While waiting upon a more thorough analysis, three remarks can already be made:
1. Behind the pope’s desire to inspire a new missionary impulse, we cannot help seeing an implicit denunciation of the present evils in the Church, a denunciation that does not dare to trace back to the cause of these evils. When he invites Catholics to be more involved in social life, he shows — without saying as much – how great a disaster was caused by the “burial” encouraged by the Council, on the pretext of being more open to the world — a “burial” that was none other than a secularization, an adopting of the spirit of the world, made visible to all the faithful by the adopting of the secular habit by most clerics. And this secular habit gave birth to secular habits…
2. When Pope Francis rightly denounces the myth of the “invisiDIUCble hand” that harmoniously but mysteriously rules the movements of the “divinized market”, he is denouncing liberalism, but he fails to quote the great anti-liberal encyclicals of his pre-conciliar predecessors, such as Leo XIII. Perhaps because these criticisms of economic liberalism come with a criticism of doctrinal liberalism, to whose values the Council wished to open the Church, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger admitted?
3. The apostolic exhortation denounces the privatization of religion in post-modern society, which rejects the political and social dimension of Catholicism, but at the same time wishes to maintain the conciliar requirements of religious liberty and inter-religious dialogue, claiming that evangelization is contradicted by neither one. The exhortation merely states this non-contradiction, but the facts take care of proving it wrong. Thus does the pope “humbly pray and implore the countries (of Islamic tradition) to grant the Christians the freedom to celebrate their cult and to live their faith, taking into account the liberty that the believers of Islam enjoy in the Western countries!”(#253) There we see the Council put to the test of reality.