The ‘New Evangelization’—Discarded? by Phil Lawler

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Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium

By Phil Lawler, Catholic Culture, July 09, 2019

Yesterday’s CWN headlines included a remarkable interview with Cardinal Jozef De Kesel of Brussels, in which the cardinal welcomed the arrival of secularism in Europe. Read the whole interview (if you have the stomach for it), and see if you can detect therein any statement, any argument, any suggestion that could not have been endorsed by an atheist or a pagan. I can’t.

Just for example, take this remark:

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Church in Europe, and it’s also an opportunity, because it helps us to rediscover our roots and our mission, is to wholeheartedly accept secularized society.

Wouldn’t Voltaire have been delighted with a Church that pursued such a goal? He wouldn’t have had anything to ecrasez!

And speaking of Voltaire, take a careful look at the Belgian cardinal’s thumbnail history of modern Europe:

After antiquity, a Christian culture was established in Europe. From the 17th century and during the Enlightenment, particularly during the French Revolution, little by little the Church found that Europe was no longer an entirely Christian society.

Notice the passive tense: a Christian culture “was established.” How was it established, one might wonder; who did the establishing? And then the Church “found” that Christianity was not longer dominant. How did that happen? There’s no recognition that the Church lost the allegiance of many Europeans— no acknowledgment of a sad institutional failure.

The rise and fall of Christian culture is not something that “just happens”— a phenomenon like the weather, which we can observe but cannot influence. No; Christian cultures are built by committed Christians, and when those cultures decay, it’s because the Christians stopped building.

Cardinal De Kesel argues that “the Church is not here to ‘reconquer lost ground.’ This is not its mission.” Well, OK, the mission of the Church is to reclaim lost souls. But unless you think that the culture in which we live has no influence on our moral conduct and our spiritual outlook, you must recognize the necessity for the Church to influence— ideally, to shape— our culture. Isn’t it obvious that sin could be easier to avoid, virtue easier to nourish, in a culture thoroughly imbued with Christian faith?

Cardinal De Kesel has doubts. “It is always dangerous,” he warns, “to have one religious tradition that obtains a monopoly.” Is it really? So we shouldn’t look forward to that blessed time when all the world’s peoples come together in faith? Should we not pray— as our Lord prayed— “that they all may be one?”

Still reeling from reading this interview and seeing the cardinal’s very clear renunciation of the “new evangelization,” I was grateful to come across a Twitter comment by an American prelate, Bishop John Strickland of Tyler, Texas, encouraging “every faithful Catholic to read this and pray for all who are caught up in the culture of lies.” And then, looking a bit more closely, I was flatter to see that “this”— the article to which Bishop Strickland linked— was my own piece about the necessity of confronting a debased culture. My thanks to Bishop Strickland for his support, encouragement, and candor.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.