Can the Church Recover Its Fighting Spirit?

The Islamic world is waging—and winning—a war on Judeo-Christian civilization.

With 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide, the Catholic Church is potentially one of the most powerful centers of resistance to Islam. It certainly has been in the past. Unfortunately, that’s not the case today. What are those 1.3 billion Catholics doing in regard to the struggle with Islam? Well, essentially, very little. Many of them are just standing on the sidelines.

Why is that? The chief reason is that Catholics are receiving little guidance about Islam from their leaders. And what little information they receive is misleading. The hierarchy is still sticking with the message that Islam is a religion of peace which has recently been given a bad name by a tiny handful of terrorists who misunderstand the beneficent nature of their faith.

Meanwhile, while Catholic leaders have been pedaling this rosy picture of Islam, 90,000 Christians were murdered for their faith in 2016. Between 2005 and 2015, 900,000 Christians were martyred. In most cases the executioners were Muslims.

That tiny handful of extremists must be extremely busy. Either that, or the extremist ideology is actually widespread and the bishops have been woefully mistaken in their assumptions about Islam. As Islam gobbles up more and more of the geographical and cultural landscape, the latter possibility seems most likely. The Catholic leadership has been dead wrong about Islam and, as a result, a lot of Christians who were put off their guard by clerical reassurances, are dead, period.

Before 900,000 becomes 9 million, the Church’s hierarchy needs to engage in an agonizing reappraisal of its Islam policy. What is required is not simply a change of mind, but a change of heart. Cor, the Latin word for heart, is also the source of the word “courage.” And it will take considerable courage to abandon the familiar and comfortable narrative about Islam, and chart a new course.

One way to summon the requisite courage is to look to the past. Church leaders need to recover the memory of past examples of courageous resistance to tyranny. In former times, the Church didn’t declare its solidarity with oppressors, it fought against them. If the Church is going to successfully resist the Islamization of the world, it needs to recover its fighting spirit.

There are numerous examples from which to draw courage. At the battle of Tours in 732, the Catholic army of Charles Martel defeated a larger Muslim army and saved Europe from an Islamic invasion. In 1571, a Catholic fleet organized by Pope Pius V defeated the larger Muslim fleet at Lepanto and staved off another invasion. In 1683 at the battle of Vienna, the Catholic Polish King Jan Sobieski arrived with his army at the last moment and saved Europe once again.

But let’s fast forward to a twentieth century example of Catholic resistance to tyranny—the Church’s struggle against communism. This resistance actually began before the twentieth century. Long before anyone else saw the problem, Catholic popes, theologians and intellectuals warned about the dangers of communism. And during the Cold War, under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, the church played a major role in bringing an end to communism in Eastern Europe.

In 1979, against the wishes of the Soviets, the pope made a nine-day visit to Poland. Tens of thousands lined the route from the airport to Warsaw; 250,000 attended the opening Mass at Victory Square. When the pope went to the shrine at Czestochowa, a crowd of a million were on hand. When he celebrated Mass in Krakow, between two and three million turned out. Altogether some 12 million Poles, or one third of the population, saw John Paul during his trip.

That trip marked a turning point in history. One year later, Lech Walesa called for a massive strike of workers at the shipyard in Gdansk. That was the beginning of the pro-Catholic solidarity movement in Poland, and that was the beginning of the end of communism in Europe.

Another individual who was inspired by the pope’s Polish trip was Ronald Reagan. From the time of their first meeting, the pope and the president became partners in a deliberate effort to bring down the Soviet empire. Reagan wasn’t Catholic, but several of his closest advisors were, and in private with Reagan they often spoke of the “DP”—the “Divine Plan” to take down communism.

Without the inspiration provided by the pope, the “DP” might not have succeeded. And, of course, he paid a heavy personal price for the role he played. Two years after his Polish visit, John Paul was the victim of an assassination attempt—an attempt that was ordered by the GRU, Soviet Army Intelligence. Not everyone understood the crucial role that John Paul played in converting the world away from communism, but the Soviets certainly did (for the details of this amazing story, see Paul Kengor’s A Pope and A President).

Another example of courageous resistance to tyranny is Pope Pius XII. Many today think of Pius XII as “Hitler’s pope” because in the 1960s the Soviets launched a disinformation campaign to discredit the Church, and make Pius out to be an anti-Semite (even then, the Russians were pedaling fake news). But the charges are far from the truth. During the Nazi occupation of Rome, Pius asked all the churches, seminaries, convents, and monasteries in Italy to shelter Jews. Roman convents and monasteries sheltered approximately 5,000 Jews. Almost 500 were sheltered in the Vatican itself, and another 3,000 found refuge at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence. All told, 85 percent of Italy’s 40,000 Jews were saved.   Jewish historian Sir Martin Gilbert said that Pius had a direct role in saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of European Jews. Pinchas Lapide, another Jewish historian, puts the number at 700,000. And far from being Hitler’s pope, Pius XII was actively involved in a dangerous plot to kill Hitler. In fact, he was one of the key figures in the plot.

If the Church hopes to withstand Islam’s military and cultural onslaught, it needs to recover the fighting spirit that saw it through difficult times in the past. At the risk of being branded as politically incorrect, one might even speak of a manly spirit. Although courage seems to be equally distributed between the sexes, and although the fighting spirit is not absent in women, that spirit has always been recognized as a predominantly masculine trait. Which may be one of the reasons that Christ appointed an all-male priesthood. He realized that in every age the Church would have to fight for its existence.

The Church seems to be in just such a fight right now. And it makes intuitive sense that a feminized Christianity won’t fare well in the fight. A case in point is Antje Jackelen, the Archbishop of Uppsala. She is the Church of Sweden’s equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and her official motto is “God is Greater” or “Allahu Akbar” in Arabic. That’s no coincidence, but part of a deliberate policy to appease the faith that seems on course to take over Sweden within a decade or two. Two years ago, another Swedish bishop, the Reverend Eva Brunne (Sweden’s first lesbian bishop), made headlines by proposing to remove the Christian symbols from the Seaman’s Church in Freeport in order to make it more inviting for visiting sailors. The land of the Vikings is being invaded, but, thanks to the feminization of Sweden, there don’t seem to be any Viking types left to resist.

There aren’t many Viking types in the Catholic hierarchy either. But, being men, they have more of a chance of recovering some fighting spirit than do the matriarchs in Sweden. That doesn’t mean that priests and bishops need to take up arms. Although he took a bullet in the course of his struggle with communism, John Paul fought back with spiritual weapons. And Pius XII didn’t raise up an army to fight Hitler. There are other ways to fight tyranny.

But before resistance comes recognition. Before you can resist tyranny, you need to grasp that it is a tyranny. Catholic leaders have not yet reached that stage of recognition in regard to Islam. For the most part, they’re still stuck in the “must-show-solidarity-with-fellow-Abrahamic-faith” stage. Unless they’re pursuing some ultra-clever secret strategy, it looks like they’ve fallen for the Islamic party line.

This, too, bespeaks a lack of the kind of manly vigilance displayed by earlier leaders. For example, although one can argue that Pius XII could have done more to resist the Nazis, one can’t say that he was ever fooled by the Nazis. About a year before Chamberlain gave Czechoslovakia to Hitler, the future Pope Pius XII helped Pius XI compose the anti-Nazi, anti-racist encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge. Pius had no illusions about the Nazis. The same cannot be said of Pope Francis in regard to Islam. He seems to genuinely trust that the whitewashed version of Islam presented to him by prominent imams is the authentic one.

Accordingly, he sees no problem with opening up Europe to waves of Muslim migrants. And he justifies this stance with a very emotional appeal: “Christ himself asks us to welcome our brother and sister migrants and refugees with arms wide open.”

There’s nothing wrong with faith-based appeals as long as they actually apply to the situation at hand. But it’s not clear that what Christ said about taking in the stranger applies to a million strangers many of who are imbued with an ideology of conquest. In any event, Catholicism is supposed to be based on faith and reason, and I don’t recall any well-reasoned arguments emanating from the Vatican for admitting Muslims by the millions to Europe. If you’re a spiritual father, it would seem that you have a responsibility to get your facts straight about this unprecedented migration before exposing your spiritual children to the deluge.

But Francis has not bothered to do this, and the result is that millions of Europeans are now at grave risk–and one group in particular.

Pius XII has been falsely smeared as “Hitler’s pope” and an anti-Semite. But, in a sense, it is Francis who is the real anti-Semitic pope. I say “in a sense” because I don’t believe Francis is personally anti-Semitic in any way. On the other hand, the immigration policies he promotes have created an extremely dangerous situation for European Jews. For almost five years he has been telling Europeans that Christ is asking them to welcome into their midst masses of people who, upon examination, turn out to be the most anti-Semitic people on the planet. As a result of the welcoming offered by Francis and by European governments, Jews have been leaving Europe in droves. Perhaps they have fewer illusions about their “brother and sister migrants.”

While Francis asks Europeans to embrace Muslims, he himself seems to have embraced the fallacy of the “new Jews.” The “new Jews,” of course, are the Muslims. To assuage their guilt over the Holocaust, Europeans determined to banish every trace of prejudice from their lives. But since there were relatively few Jews left to practice their openness on, Muslims—the “new Jews”—became the beneficiaries of the new-found tolerance. No one seemed to notice—or care—that Muslims as a group are deeply anti-Semitic. In short, the “new Jews” were like the old Nazis. In retrospect, the substitution of the “new Jews” for the old Jews as reparation for the Holocaust has to rank as one of the dumbest projects ever conceived.

Yet this self-contradictory idea goes unchallenged in Rome. This doesn’t necessarily indicate a lack of intelligence, but it does suggest a lack of something else—namely, mental fortitude. Now, mental fortitude is not unrelated to intestinal fortitude. It often takes guts to speak the truth. In other words, the fighting spirit also plays a part in the life of the intellect. It is a passionate desire to get at the truth of things, no matter the cost or danger. Unfortunately, one doesn’t see much evidence of it in the bishops’ approach to world affairs. Instead, they seem content to repeat secular clichés such as “Islamophobia,” “xenophobia,” and—one of the pope’s favorites—“encounters between cultures.” For many in the hierarchy, the mere repetition of these incantations is all the argument that is needed. Moreover, insofar as they approach issues from a distinctly Christian point of view, they ignore the Church’s rich tradition of reason, and rely instead on the emotional tug that one feels when he is told that Christ wants us to welcome migrants “with arms wide open.”

Warfare, whether physical or ideological, is a constant in world affairs. While hoping for peace, nations and institutions can’t afford to lose their readiness to fight. But it’s difficult to summon that fighting spirit if you won’t acknowledge that you’re under attack. Many in the Church have succumbed to a double-barreled disinformation campaign intended to put them off their guard. It comes from Islamists on the one hand, and cultural Marxists on the other. So far, it has been quite effective.

Generals speak of the fog of war, but one can also speak of the fog of ideological war. Indeed, the fundamental purpose of ideological warfare is to create a fog of confusion in the mind of one’s enemies. As a result of this fog, the Church’s leadership has failed at the essential task of accurately sizing up the dangerous situation that they—and we—face.

Islam has been a perennial foe of Christianity. Arguably, it presents a greater threat to Christians than Nazism or communism. In alliance with the cultural Marxist heirs of communism, it is a formidable enemy, and it ought to be seen as such. The Church was once a bulwark against Islam. And it can be today. The Church doesn’t command armies any more but, then, much of the battle that needs to be fought now has to be fought on the intellectual, informational, and spiritual levels. To fight this culture war successfully, Church leaders must recover the fighting spirit displayed by previous popes, bishops, saints, and warriors. They also need to acquire that clear-eyed view that Catholics of earlier generations took when faced with an ideological foe.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is Pope Francis greeting Syrian refugees at the Rome airport in 2015. (Photo credit: Reuters)

William Kilpatrick

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William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com

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