An excerpt from a piece appearing in the Telegraph:
On Saturday, in what was interpreted as veiled criticism of his earnest, theologian predecessor, Benedict XVI, Francis said the Catholic Church often uses language that many ordinary people found baffling and overly intellectual.
The Church was "perhaps too cold, too caught up with itself, perhaps a prisoner of its own rigid formulas," he said. At times we lose people because they don't understand what we are saying, because we have forgotten the language of simplicity and import an intellectualism foreign to our people," he said.Context is crucial. Was this really an intentional critique of Benedict? I doubt it. Ever since Francis was elected, the media has been relentlessly billing him as the anti-Benedict. I've written about this a bit. More humble, more simple, less "baroque," the "people's pope," more down to earth, and so on. It's getting way too predictable. Francis would object to such tactics, I think.
That said, I can't agree that a problem dogging the Catholic Church over the past forty years has been "intellectualism" or "rigid formulas." If anything, we've traded in the intellect for the purely sentimental, even saccharine. For two generations and counting, Catholics have been reared in an anti-intellectual ethos, from schools to liturgy. Have you been to a typical Catholic parish recently? It's almost all touchy-feely: name tags, silly songs, hand-holding, Father Personality and his cringeworthy jokes, backslapping, high-fives, no substance, etc. It never ends. And having attended Catholics schools for most of my youth, I can't say that "intellectualism" was a cause for many of my peers leaving the Church (which many of them did). We simply weren't taught the essentials of the faith. Period. Feelings and self-esteem took precedence.
Are people abandoning a church that is "too cold"? Judging by the Latin Bishops do the Brady Bunch soundtrack shtick from last night in Rio (see below), it's difficult for me to swallow the "too cold" proposition. Maybe that's happening somewhere, but I don't see it. What's happening is a reaction to the opposite extreme, that of sentimentalism. Many are tuning out because faith rooted in a solitary reliance on sentimentalism and emotions, absent a personal encounter with Christ and solid formation, quickly dries up. There's no depth. Along with his humility, sanctity and unrivaled experience, Benedict brought his much-needed intellect (not intellectualism) to the papacy. George Weigel called Benedict the greatest papal preacher since Pope Saint Gregory the Great.
It is true that intellectualism is a threat (as an -ism) that can sometimes eclipse conversion and that necessary, personal encounter with Christ. That would be a problem, no doubt. The faith isn't an academic formula. I get it. Still, I wouldn't mind seeing a little more mind, a little less schmaltz, and a lot less dancing bishops, in our Church.