In the wake of a recent critical overview of the four years of Pope Francis’ papacy as presented by the German Catholic journalist Matthias Matussek, another German journalist (who is not a Catholic) has now raised his voice of resistance with respect to Pope Francis. We speak here about Jan Fleischhauer, who is an editor of the influential secular weekly magazine Der Spiegel, and who, in 2009, wrote a book about his change of conviction away from a leftist to a more conservative viewpoint.
On 17 April, Fleischhauer published a column in Der Spiegel which is entitled “Self-Secularization: The Sponti-Pope [i.e., the spontaneous Leftie Pope] ” (“Selbstsäkularisierung: Der Sponti-Papst”). With its subtitle, the author already indicates what he criticizes the current pontiff for:
Among Church critics, Pope Francis is much appreciated due to his pandering to the zeitgeist. Unfortunately, he thereby repeats the mistakes which the evangelical church has already committed.
Fleischhauer himself knows what he is speaking of here, because he himself was for many years a member of the Evangelical Church in Germany – mainly for political reasons. However, he later left the Protestant church and now describes himself only as a conservative. But he now also shows some admiration for the unmodernized Catholic Church when he writes:
The only Church which one can take seriously is the Catholic Church. I know that this sentence is for many readers an imposition, and I am also sorry that, of all years, I have to write this sentence in the Luther Year [of 2017].
Especially because he has seen some of the gravely defective adaptations of the Protestant church to the zeitgeist of his time, Fleischhauer now regrets that Pope Francis is now leading the Catholic Church into a similar ethos and direction. First, he describes his own admiration for the Catholic Church when he says that
Everything that critics bemoan about the Catholic Church – the Marian devotion, the cult of the Saints, the priesthood, the liturgy – is what, in my eyes, speaks for Catholicism. In addition, of course, to the length of time: an institution which is 2,000 years old has to be taken more seriously than one, let’s say, that is only 500 years old. Whoever was there first as Church, clearly has, when one deals with the last questions, the first position. Everything that [innovatively] comes later is, up to a certain point, heresy.
When speaking about his own final leaving of the Evangelical Church in Germany – at the moment of his own analogous change of political views – Fleischhauer explains just how weak the spiritual roots of Protestantism actually are:
Since the spiritual roots of Protestantism are thin, there is little that holds one back if one changes one’s worldview. A church in which not even the very existence of Heaven and Hell is binding becomes – for everyone who could only be kept in [the church] with the help of faith – a lost cause.
It is here that Fleischhauer sees that Pope Francis is now committing a comparably grave mistake:
If I am not mistaken, then, the Catholic Church is right now repeating the mistake of the Protestants. At its peak stands a man who shows a strange disdain for everything gradually grown and rootedly traditional and who enjoys surprising the Church people with thrown-down follies and jokes.
The German journalist then makes the explicit reference to Matthias Matussek’s own recent “fulminating text” and says that the Catholic Matussek “understands much about the importance of Dogma as a dam against the relativizations of the zeitgeist.” Fleischhauer places Matussek next to the German author Martin Mosebach, “another great Catholic reactionary.”
It seems that Fleischhauer understands more about what has happened to the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council than many Catholics of today, as he attempts to explain:
One could, if one wishes, see in [Pope] Francis the perfecter of a development which started with the Second Vatican Council. The first blow was taken against the liturgy between 1962 and 1965 – not accidentally a decade in which everywhere in the world the iconoclasts leaped greatly forward.
Here we Catholics are being rightly instructed by a German journalist as to how the Catholic Church removed “important elements of the centuries-old rite” because “she wanted to adapt to the zeitgeist”: “Priests no longer stood before the altar, but behind it, like behind a moderator’s table of the “Tagesthemen” [a German TV news show].” He also mentions here the thorough removal of the Latin language and the dubious permission of Communion in the hand. Piercingly, Fleischhauer adds:
Where they also took it especially seriously with the change of times, the clergymen themselves dragged the altars into the fields and chopped the Saints’ statues into pieces. For those without faith, these things might appear to be minor things, but, of course, it is not. Whoever has once assisted at a Mass in the old Tridentine Rite knows what the Church has lost when she succumbed to the 68-rush [cultural revolution of the 1960s].
Fleischhauer makes a prediction for the future of the Catholic Church, namely: if she follows the road the Protestants have taken, she will lose Church members and, consequently, will then consider adapting even more so to the zeitgeist in order to be purportedly more attractive. In the end, says the German journalist, the Catholic Church will have the same dilemma as the Protestants: “If the Church dissolves that which differentiates her from those other secular offers professing to give life a meaning – why then is the church still needed?” It is in this context that Fleischhauer sees the growth of Islam in the world which seems to move into the vacuum and to “fulfill spiritual needs better than the Christian competitor.”
This article written by Jan Fleischhauer is an uplifting as well as sobering event. It shows to us how elements of truth will always find their way into the minds of honest people. We have seemingly come to a point where modern man is becoming tired of the pervasive relativism – and its accompanying ideologies – for, they do not correspond to reality. Man has a thirst for the true, the trustworthy binding, and the beautiful. The modern world has mostly produced ugliness, loneliness and a lack of love.
Is it not time for all of us – inside and outside the Catholic Church – to make an effort to free ourselves cooperatively, to come out from under the “rubble” and thereby to find the way back to the deeper sources of trust and joy which can only be found in and through Jesus Christ Our Savior – and in His Sacramental Church?