Pope Francis’s January “state of the world” address to foreign diplomats was a powerful, if mostly unsurprising speech, enumerating his global political priorities for the coming year. Mostly unsurprising, except for the part that raised eyebrows and made headlines, when he took aim at “cancel culture” (emerging from Italian to say it in English). First he blamed it for hindering the work of international aid organizations and diplomacy. Then he broadened the critique, lamenting its prevalence in the wider culture: “Agendas are increasingly dictated by a mindset that rejects the natural foundations of humanity and the cultural roots that constitute the identity of many peoples.... I consider this a form of ideological colonization, one that leaves no room for freedom of expression and is now taking the form of the ‘cancel culture’ invading many circles and public institutions.” The irony of this “one-track thinking,” the pope went on to say, is that “under the guise of defending diversity, it ends up canceling all sense of identity.”
The extent of creeping illiberalism on college campuses and in the media can be debated, and it’s not entirely clear just which “circles and institutions” Pope Francis had in mind. But what most people seem to agree on is that Francis wasn’t talking about the deplatforming of politicians and celebrities on social media. Rather, he was directing his ire at the way rich nations tend to impose their values on poorer ones.