Speaking at the Vatican to a group of diplomats, the pontiff said that: “the cultural roots that constitute the identity of many peoples” were being undermined by historical revisionism. His speech was in Italian but he used the English phrase “cancel culture” – the concept is in its infancy in Italy and has barely entered public discourse, unlike countries such as Britain and the US.
Cancel culture “leaves no space for freedom of expression,” the Pope told the gathering of ambassadors.
The recent phenomenon of denying or trying to rewrite history “is invading many circles and public institutions,” said the head of the Catholic church.
Discussing how modern society should consider the past, history should be interpreted by the standards of the time, not by the standards of today, he said.
It should not be rewritten according to contemporary values. Cancel culture was leading to “one-track thinking,” he said.
The Pope did not cite any specific examples of cancel culture.
But his message will strike a chord in Britain with anyone who has questioned the decision of public institutions to cover up or reinterpret the sins and failings of historical figures, from Joseph Banks to Winston Churchill.
It is the second time in a month that the Pope has cited “ideological colonisation” and the culture wars.
In early December, he compared the EU to a dictatorship in its attempt to impose “woke” rules on language.
The Pope was commenting on an EU draft guide to inclusive language which advised policy makers in Brussels to say “human-induced” instead of “man-made” and to avoid references to Christmas during the holiday season.
The sentiment was reflected by French President Emmanuel Macron who questioned the use of pronouns in the EU, again, questioning the notion of woke culture in the process.
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Trying to ban Christian terms amounted to “a fad, watered-down secularism,” Francis said.
The pontiff added: “It is something that throughout history has not worked. In history, many dictatorships have tried to do these things. I’m thinking of Napoleon, the Nazi dictatorship, the Communist one.”
He said the EU risked “failing” if it became a vehicle for “ideological colonisation”.
The Vatican had been critical of the European Commission draft document.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who as Secretary of State is the Vatican’s de facto prime minister, condemned any attempt to cancel “our roots, the Christian dimension of our Europe, especially with regard to Christian festivals.”
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Last week, the Pope caused fury over another public statement.
Talking about couples who choose pets over children, the Pope labelled the couples as “selfish”, suggesting that they should adopt children instead of pets.
The statement saw commentators react angrily, with many suggesting that the Pope himself has no children, and hence should not comment.
There has been further critique of the popes public diplomacy.
Most of the people who are uneasy with the direction of the papacy are conservative Catholics who believe he is alienating older followers in favour of younger members of the Church.
But some are liberals, like the former Irish president, Mary McAleese, who declared earlier this year that she was unimpressed by the Pope whose “chummy words to the press often quite reasonably raise hopes of church reform which are subsequently almost invariably dashed by firm restatements of unchanged church teaching”.
He raises hopes, but “he is the Pope who toes the old hard line”.
The pontiff has also used his position to send important messages.
As head of the 1.3 billion followers of the Catholic church, the Pope recently condemned “baseless” ideological misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, backing national immunisation campaigns and calling health care a moral obligation.
His words to diplomats from nearly 200 countries marked the closest he has ever come to a de facto backing of vaccine mandates, which have become controversial in Italy and other European countries.
“We have realised that in those places where an effective vaccination campaign has taken place, the risk of severe repercussions of the disease has decreased,” he said.