In a sermon on Lampedusa, Pope Francis made it clear that he supports the migration of Muslims into Europe "on their voyage toward something better". He said,
I give a thought, too, to the dear Muslim immigrants that are beginning the fast of Ramadan, with best wishes for abundant spiritual fruits. The Church is near to you in the search for a more dignified life for yourselves and for your families. I say to you “O’ scia’!” [trans.: a friendly greeting in the local dialect].
This doesn't bode well for the Church under Pope Francis. First, it means that the Church is committing itself to a false and unorthodox understanding of solidarity. Second, it means that the Church is orienting itself toward fitting in with secular liberal modernity rather than standing against it.
I knew immediately when I first read about the Pope's visit (hat tip: Laura Wood) that this was an expression of a certain understanding of solidarity. And, sure enough, in the Pope's sermon he takes solidarity as his theme. For instance, he says in reference to those Muslim African immigrants who drowned chancing the voyage to Lampedusa:
These our brothers and sisters seek to leave difficult situations in order to find a little serenity and peace, they seek a better place for themselves and for their families – but they found death. How many times do those who seek this not find understanding, do not find welcome, do not find solidarity!
Why call this a false understanding of solidarity? It is false because it is part of the tendency to redefine solidarity as meaning compassion for the "suffering other". Who could be more "other" to Europeans than Muslim Africans? Therefore, it is with them that we are to find solidarity.
There is a disastrous logic to this understanding of solidarity. If we are to welcome and find solidarity precisely with those most different to us, then we will necessarily dissolve our own existence. If solidarity requires Europe to welcome African Muslims, then the long-term result will be the dissolution of a European Christianity. Pope Francis is following a policy that will ultimately dissolve his own church.
In truth, solidarity is based on relatedness, and the particular loves and duties which flow from these forms of relatedness. Therefore, I am commanded to honour my father and mother, because of the close and particular relationship I have with them. I am to provide for and protect my wife and children as part of my duties as a husband and father. I am not to shame my family name, nor to be disloyal to my ethnic kin. And, yes, it is true that I am also to be hospitable to the stranger, as I do have a degree of relatedness to him as someone made, like me, in the image of God. But my duty, and my compassion, toward the stranger, does not oblige me to do harm to those I am more closely connected to.
That is why the Catholic Church developed the ordo caritatis:
The exercise of charity would soon become injudicious and inoperative unless there be in this, as in all the moral virtues, a well-defined order...
The precedence is plain enough...Regarding the persons alone, the order is somewhat as follows: self, wife, children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, domestics, neighbours, fellow-countrymen, and all others.
That is the orthodox Catholic position. So why are so many churchmen reversing the order of charity?
Unfortunately, I think it has to do with an ongoing dispute in the Church about how the Church should relate to the secular liberal world around it.
The last pope, Pope Benedict, early in his life supported Vatican II, which was supposed to lead to the Church being more open to the secular world. But over time he saw how the principles of liberal modernity clashed with those of the Church and he took the view that the Church would have to resist, rather than join in with, the trends within the larger society.
Pope Benedict was very skilled in describing the principles of liberal modernity and how they could not be reconciled with those of Christianity. In particular, this is true of his writings on gender and the family (see here and here). But even on issues of communal identity he was critical of trends within secular liberalism. For instance he said:
This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. What Europe needs is a new self-acceptance, a self-acceptance that is critical and humble, if it truly wishes to survive.
Multiculturalism, which is so passionately promoted, can sometimes amount to an abandonment and denial, a flight from one's own things
He also opposed the idea of Turkish admission to the European Union on these grounds:
In the course of history, Turkey has always represented a different continent, in permanent contrast to Europe. Making the two continents identical would be a mistake. It would mean a loss of richness, the disappearance of the cultural to the benefit of economics.
But there is a significant section of the Church which wishes to reconcile itself with liberal modernity. And one way that this can be achieved is for the Church to emphasise the theme of "solidarity with the stranger" because that fits in well with the liberal belief in "solidarity with the other".
Where do liberals get this belief in solidarity with the other? I think it has to do with the way that liberal morality has developed over time. Liberals believe in autonomy as the overriding good. Therefore, they believe that what matters is that we are unimpeded in freely choosing what we do, i.e. what matters is the free choice, rather than what we choose.
However, this requires us to not infringe on other people making free choices. Therefore, a liberal morality will also emphasise qualities of non-interference, such as openness, diversity, tolerance and non-discrimination. So these become the liberal equivalents to positive virtues. And how then do you show that you are the most virtuous? You have to be the one who is most open and tolerant and non-discriminating and welcoming of diversity.
And how do you show this? You show this by identifying with (and being in solidarity with) the people who are most "other" to your own society. Hence the liberal cult of the other.
So can you be a good Catholic and also a good liberal? Not really, given that liberals don't generally believe in objective forms of morality and, as Pope Benedict pointed out, the liberal pursuit of autonomous freedom is incompatible with the Christian tradition. But those Catholics who want to approach liberal modernity can do so by emphasising the idea of "solidarity with the other". That's where a point of crossover can be constructed.
Further reading on this issue:
Upholding the four relationships
Losing the particular