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French Catholic Bishop Dominique Rey: ‘Thinking Outside the Box’

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Bishop Dominique Rey speaking at Acton's April 20 conference in Rome.
Bishop Dominique Rey speaking at Acton’s April 20 conference in Rome.

Yesterday in the French section of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, an exclusive interview finally appeared with the outspoken Bishop Dominique Rey of Toulon-Fréjus. Bishop Rey provided the interview when in Rome last month to speak about the current challenges to religious and economic freedom in Europe at the Acton Institute’s conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time“.

The May 19 headline “Sortir du prêt-à-penser” (Thinking Outside the Box) was based on the bishop’s appeal for a deeper study of Leo’s XIII’s  landmark 1891 social encyclical Rerum Novarum and Catholic social doctrine in general, but also his discontent with the way secular Western culture superficially appraises human nature and commonly proposes solutions to social injustice, while leaving God, natural law and human dignity out of the larger picture. Quoting him from the April 20 conference, we read:

Any analysis Rerum Novarum is based on the certainty that the answer to the evils of our time will come not so much as a particular technical solution, but more so out of respect for the natural law, that is, for man himself as God created him, and by recognizing God’s place in the society. Only opening up to such transcendence helps resist absolute [forms of] materialism and consumerism.

Rey, who is traditional in terms of social doctrine yet has a reputation for creatively applying the Vatican’s call for a New Evangelization in a hyper-secularized France, told the L’Osservatore Romano journalist Solène Tadié that today’s laity and religious alike must go beyond the “ready-made thinking” (prêt-à-penser) of secular materialism when seeking solutions to social problems such as consumerism, exploitation, and large-scale economic failure.

According to Rey, these socials ills require thinking beyond that which is normally accepted and set forth by today’s culture and which goes to the very core of the Church’s teaching human dignity: that man, created by God, is both individual and social, creative, rational, free, and therefore capable of loving agency through acts of charity, solidarity and responsibility for the common good and in service to his Creator. In his opinion, contemporary secular proposals are nothing more than a repetition of the same old tried-and-failed collectivist and materialist Marxist philosophy which was just as misguided in the 19th century as it still is today:

“We find today the same difficulties [like] those that were observed in past centuries and especially at the end nineteenth century…[and] the usual answer that the state proposes is socialism.”

Even with Pope Francis’s vocal denunciation of a throw-away culture of waste and indifference, he says, “the same words appear [again]”.

His frustration, therefore, has everything to do with Western culture not seeking the truth of “the anthropological question” (la question anthropologique) and remaining enclosed in common secular opinion, which only amounts to disastrous forms of social engineering and political experiments.

Rey, in speaking to Tadié,  added that often the media are complicit in being a “multiplier effect” (effet dé multiplicateur) to further compound and ingrain the secular state’s agenda, so much so that “there is a real risk of stifling individual freedom… [and fear of expressing] differing views from the majority.”

You can read the original article published in L’Osservatore Romano here.

Michael Severance

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