In recent weeks, Pope Francis has repeated that critics of the new developments he is introducing into the Church are victims of “ideology.” In his view, this is because they refuse to embody Catholic doctrine into the vicissitudes of the daily lives of the baptized and their fellow countrymen.
In his controversial conversation with Portuguese Jesuits on the World Youth Day sidelines, the pope attacked the supposed backwardness (indietrismo) of the American hierarchy and laity: “The view of Church doctrine as monolithic is erroneous.” Because in “a climate of closure. . . . [y]ou can lose the true tradition and turn to ideologies for support. In other words, ideology replaces faith, membership of a sector of the Church replaces membership of the Church.” He added, “Those American groups you talk about, so closed, are isolating themselves. Instead of living by doctrine, by the true doctrine that always develops and bears fruit, they live by ideologies. When you abandon doctrine in life to replace it with an ideology, you have lost, you have lost as in war.”
During the press conference on the September 4 return flight from Mongolia, Pope Francis returned to this doctrine vs. ideology dichotomy. Asked to address the irritation caused by his praise of the Russian autocrats Peter the Great and Catherine II, the pope stated:
There are imperialisms that want to impose their ideology. I’ll stop here: when culture is distilled and turned into ideology, it’s poison. Culture is used, but distilled into ideology. We must distinguish the culture of a people from the ideologies that then appear from some philosopher, some politician of that people. And I say this for everyone, also for the Church.
Within the Church there are often ideologies, which separate the Church from the life that comes from the root and goes upwards. They separate the Church from the influence of the Holy Spirit.
An ideology is incapable of incarnation; it is only an idea. But when ideology gathers strength and becomes politics, it usually becomes a dictatorship, right? It becomes an incapacity to dialogue, to move forward with cultures. And imperialisms do this. Imperialism always consolidates starting from an ideology.
In the Church too we must distinguish doctrine from ideology: true doctrine is never ideological, never. It is rooted in God’s holy faithful people. Instead, ideology is detached from reality, detached from the people . . .
Asked later how to avoid polarization in the next Synod, Pope Francis replied, “There is no place for ideology in the Synod. . . . The Synod is about dialogue: among the baptized, among members of the Church, on the life of the Church, on dialogue with the world, on the problems that affect humanity today.”
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José Antonio Ureta is co-author of The Synodal Process Is a Pandora’s Box: 100 Questions & Answers.