The Pope on the Pope. A Preview
The most piquant passages of the latest book-interview of Benedict XVI. On condoms, sexual abuse, female priesthood, Jews, the burqa… But above all on the future of Christianity, which he sees as being full of light
by Sandro Magister
ROME, November 22, 2010 – The anticipated book-length interview of Benedict XVI, “Light of the World,” will be in bookstores on the five continents, in various languages, beginning on Tuesday, November 23.
On Sunday the 21st, various newspapers previewed some passages from it, provided for them by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, owner of the publishing rights.
But already on the afternoon of Saturday the 20th, a different preview of the book – with much more provocative passages – had been published by “L’Osservatore Romano.” With an immediate splash in the global media.
Saturday and Sunday were the days of the consistory, with the creation of 24 new cardinals and with the homilies of the pope dedicated to explaining that authority in the Church is modeled on the kingdom of Christ: a kingdom of which an ancient liturgical hymn chants with the words: “Regnavit a ligno Deus,” a kingdom exercised by the crucified God who says to the good thief: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
But the consistory was swept aside from the news reports. Defeated and invaded by the passages of the book previewed by “L’Osservatore Romano.”
One of them above all: the one in which Benedict XVI justifies the use of a condom by a prostitute (in the masculine form in the original German of the book: “ein Prostituierter”). A use that Catholic moral doctrine already acknowledges – on a par with recourse to condoms by spouses when one of them is infected with HIV – but is publicly approved of by a pope for the first time here.
And then there is more: the passages on sexual abuse by the clergy, on the encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” on Pius XII and the Jews, on women priests, on the burqa . . .
Peter Seewald, the interviewer, recorded the interview in a series of six meetings with Benedict XVI, lasting one hour each, last summer in Castel Gandolfo (see photo).
Seewald presented an outline to the pope in advance, but the conversation took place freely, and Benedict XVI did not dodge any of the questions. The pope made only small stylistic corrections to the final transcript, in German.
The following are the passages previewed by “L’Osservatore Romano.” The titles of the paragraphs are also from the Vatican newspaper.
“LIGHT OF THE WORLD” / AN ANTHOLOGY
by Benedict XVI
The joy of Christianity
My whole life has always been bound by a common thread, which is this: Christianity brings joy, it widens horizons. Without a doubt, an existence lived always and only “against” would be unbearable.
As for the pope, he too is a poor beggar before God, even more so than other men. Naturally I pray above all to the Lord, to whom I am bound, so to speak, by old friendship. But I also invoke the saints. I am great friends with Augustine, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas. So I say to them: “Help me!” The Mother of God, also, is always and no matter what a great point of reference. In this sense, I take my place in the communion of saints. Together with them, strengthened by them, I also speak with the good God, above all begging, but also thanking; or simply content.
I had counted on it. But above all one must be very careful in evaluating a pope, whether he is significant or not, while he is still alive. Only afterward can one recognize what place, in history as a whole, a certain thing or person has. But that the atmosphere would not always be joyful was evident in consideration of the current global configuration, with all of the forces of destruction that are out there, with all of the contradictions that exist in it, with all the dangers and errors. If I had continued to receive nothing but agreement, I would have had to have asked myself if I were truly proclaiming all of the Gospel.
The shock of the abuse
The facts did not take me entirely by surprise. At the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, I had worked on the American cases; I had also seen the situation escalate in Ireland. But the dimensions were still an enormous shock. Ever since my election to the see of Peter, I had repeatedly met with victims of sexual abuse. Three and a half years ago, in October of 2006, in a speech to the Irish bishops I had asked them to “establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes.” To see the priesthood suddenly tarnished in this way, and with it the Catholic Church itself, was difficult to bear. At that moment, however, it was important not to look away from the fact that good exists in the Church, and not only these terrible things.
The media and abuse
It was evident that the action of the media was not guided solely by the pure search for the truth, but that there was also enjoyment in putting the Church in the pillory, and, if possible, in discrediting it. And nonetheless it was necessary that this be clear: as long as efforts are being made to bring the truth to light, we must be appreciative. Truth, united with love when understood correctly, is the number one value. And the media would not have been able to give those accounts if the evil had not been there in the Church itself. It is only because the evil was inside the Church that the others were able to hold it against her.
The problem of the term “progress” emerges. Modernity has sought its own way guided by the ideas of progress and freedom. But what is progress? Today we see that progress can also be destructive. So we must reflect on the criteria to adopt so that progress may truly be progress.
An examination of conscience
Beyond individual financial plans, an overall examination of conscience is absolutely unavoidable. And the Church tried to contribute to this with the encyclical “Caritas in Veritate.” It does not give answers to all the problems. It is intended to be a step forward to look at things from another point of view, which is not only that of feasibility and success, but from the point of view according to which there exists a standard of love of neighbor that is oriented to the will of God and not only to our desires. In this sense, encouragement should be given for a real transformation of consciences.
The real intolerance
The real threat that we are facing is that tolerance may be abolished in the name of tolerance itself. There is the danger that reason, so-called Western reason, may maintain that it has finally recognized what is right, and in this way make a claim of totality that is the enemy of freedom. I believe that it is necessary to denounce this threat forcefully. No one is forced to be Christian. But no one must be forced to live according to the “new religion,” as if it were the only and true religion binding for all humanity.
Mosques and burqas
Christians are tolerant, and as such they also permit others their unique understanding of themselves. We rejoice in the fact that in the Arab Gulf countries (Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait) there are churches in which Christians can celebrate the Mass, and we hope that this may happen everywhere. For this reason, it is natural that among us as well, Muslims may gather to pray in mosques.
As for the burqa, I do not see the reason for a generalized prohibition. It is said that some women do not wear it voluntarily, but that in reality it is a sort of violence imposed on them. It is clear that one cannot agree with this. But if they want to wear it voluntarily, I do not see why they should be prevented from doing so.
Christianity and modernity
Being Christian is itself something alive, modern, which crosses, forming and shaping it, all of modernity, and which therefore in a certain sense truly embraces it. Here a great spiritual struggle is necessary, as I wanted to demonstrate with the recent institution of a “pontifical Council for the new evangelization.” It is important that we seek to live and to think of Christianity in such a way that it takes on the good and right form of modernity, and therefore at the same time distances and distinguishes itself from that which is becoming an anti-religion.
If one looks more attentively – and this is what I am able to do thanks to the visits from the bishops of the whole world, and also many other encounters – one sees that Christianity at this moment is also developing an entirely new creativity [. . .] Bureaucracy is tired and worn out. There are initiatives that are being born from within, from the joy of young people. It may be that Christianity will take on a new face, perhaps even a different cultural appearance. Christianity does not determine world public opinion, others are at the forefront of this. And nonetheless Christianity is the vital force without which the other things as well could not continue to exist. Therefore, on the basis of what I see and what I am able to experience personally, I am very optimistic about the fact that Christianity finds itself facing a new dynamic.
So many bishops, above all those of Latin America, tell me that wherever the road of drug cultivation and trafficking passes – and this happens in many of those countries – it is as if a monstrous and evil animal were stretching out its hand over that country to destroy people. I believe that this serpent of the trafficking and consumption of drugs that encircles the world is a force that we are not always able to comprehend adequately. It destroys young people, it destroys families, it leads to violence and threatens the future of entire nations. This is also a terrible responsibility of the West: it needs drugs, and so it creates countries that provide it with what will end up consuming and destroying them. It is a sort of hunger for happiness that is not able to satisfy itself with what is there; and that takes refuge in the devil’s paradise, so to speak, and completely destroys man.
In the vineyard of the Lord
In effect, I had a managerial office, but I never did anything on my own, and I always worked on a team; just like one of the many workers in the vineyard of the Lord who probably did preparatory work, but at the same time is someone who is not made to be first and to take responsibility for everything. I understood that along with the great popes, there must also be little pontiffs who make their own contribution. So at that moment, I said what I was really feeling [. . .] Vatican Council II taught us, rightly, that an essential part of Church structure is collegiality, or the fact that the pope is the first in sharing, and not an absolute monarch who makes decisions in solitude and does everything himself.
I must say that from the first day of my theological studies, the profound unity between the Old and New Testament, between the two parts of our Sacred Scripture, was somehow clear to me. I had realized that we could read the New Testament only together with what had preceded it, otherwise we would not understand it. Then naturally what happened in the Third Reich struck us as Germans, and drove us all the more to look at the people of Israel with humility, shame, and love.
In my theological formation, these things were interwoven, and marked the pathway of my theological thought. So it was clear to me – and here again in absolute continuity with John Paul II – that in my proclamation of the Christian faith there had to be a central place for this new interweaving, with love and understanding, of Israel and the Church, based on respect for each one’s way of being and respective mission [. . .]
A change also seemed necessary to me in the ancient liturgy. In fact, the formula was such as to truly wound the Jews, and it certainly did not express in a positive way the great, profound unity between Old and New Testament. For this reason, I thought that a modification was necessary in the ancient liturgy, in particular in reference to our relationship with our Jewish friends. I modified it in such a way that it contained our faith, that Christ is salvation for all. That there do not exist two ways of salvation, and that therefore Christ is also the savior of the Jews, and not only of the pagans. But also in such a way that one did not pray directly for the conversion of the Jews in a missionary sense, but that the Lord might hasten the historic hour in which we will all be united. For this reason, the arguments used polemically against me by a series of theologians are rash, and do not do justice to what was done.
Pius XII did everything he could to save people. Naturally we can always ask ourselves: “Why did he not protest in a more explicit manner?” I believe that he understood what the consequences of a public protest would have been. We know that he suffered a great deal personally because of the situation. He knew that he should speak out, but the situation prevented him from doing so. Now, more reasonable people admit that Pius XII saved many lives, but they maintain that he had antiquated ideas about the Jews, and that he was not as advanced as Vatican Council II. Nevertheless, this is not the problem. The important thing is what he did and what he tried to do, and I believe that it must truly be recognized that he was one of the great just men and that, like no other, he saved many, many Jews.
Concentrating only on the condom means trivializing sexuality, and this trivialization represents precisely the dangerous reason why so many people no longer see sexuality as an expression of their love, but only as a sort of drug, which one administers on one’s own. This is why the struggle against the trivialization of sexuality is also part of the great effort so that sexuality may be valued positively, and may exercise its positive effect on the human being in his totality. There can be individual cases that are justified, for example when a [male] prostitute [ein Prostituierter] uses a condom, and this can be the first step toward a moral sensitization, a first act of responsibility to develop once again the understanding of the fact that not everything is permitted, and that one cannot do whatever one wishes. Nonetheless, this is not the real and proper way to overcome HIV infection. What is truly needed is a humanization of sexuality.
So Paul did not see the Church as an institution, as organization, but as a living organism, in which everyone works for the other and with the other, being united on the basis of Christ. It is an image, but an image that has profound repercussions and is very realistic if only for the fact that we believe that in the Eucharist, we truly receive Christ, the Risen One. And if each one receives the same Christ, then we are truly all united in this new risen body as the great space of a new humanity. It is important to understand this, and therefore to see the Church not as an apparatus that must do everything – the apparatus also has its place, but within limits – but as a living organism that comes from Christ himself.
The encyclical “Humanae Vitae”
The perspectives of “Humanae Vitae” remain valid, but it is another thing to find humanly accessible paths. I believe that there will always be minorities that are deeply persuaded of the correctness of those perspectives and that, in living them, will be so fully rewarded that they will become for others a fascinating model to follow. We are sinners. But we should not take this fact as evidence against the truth, when that high moral standard is not met. We should seek to do all the good possible, and sustain and support one another. To express all of this from the pastoral, theological, and conceptual point of view as well in the context of current sexology and anthropological research is a great task to which we must be more and better dedicated.
The formulation of John Paul II is very important: “The Church does not have in any way the faculty to confer priestly ordination on women.” It is not a matter of not wanting, but of not being able. The Lord has given a form to the Church with the Twelve and then with their succession, with the bishops and the presbyters (the priests). We were not the ones who created this form of the Church, but rather its essentiality comes from him. Following it is an act of obedience, and in the contemporary situation perhaps one of the most burdensome acts of obedience. But precisely this is important, that the Church show that it is not an arbitrary regime. We cannot do what we want. There is instead the Lord’s will for us, to which we adhere, even if this is wearisome and difficult in the culture and civilization of today. Besides, the functions entrusted to women in the Church are so great and significant that one cannot speak of discrimination. This would be the case if the priesthood were a sort of dominion, while on the contrary it must be complete service. If one looks at the history of the Church, one realizes that the significance of women – from Mary to Monica all the way to Mother Teresa – is so eminent that in many ways women define the face of the Church more than men do.
The last things
This is a very serious question. Our preaching, our proclamation is in effect widely oriented, in a unilateral way, to the creation of a better world, while the really better world is almost not mentioned any more. Here we must make an examination of conscience. Of course, one tries to connect with the audience, to talk to them about what is on their horizon. But at the same time, our task is to break through this horizon, to broaden it, and to look at the last things. The last things are like stale bread to the men of today. They seem unreal to them. Instead, they would like concrete answers for today, solutions for everyday tribulations. But these are answers that go only halfway if they do not also permit me to sense and to acknowledge that I extend beyond this material life, that there is judgment, and that there is grace and eternity. In this sense, we must also find new words and ways to permit man to break down the wall of sound of the finite.
The coming of Christ
It is important that in every age the Lord is near. That we also, here and now, are under the judgment of the Lord and we allow ourselves to be judged by his tribunal. It was said that there was a twofold coming of Christ, one in Bethlehem and one at the end of time, until St. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of an “Adventus medius,” an intermediary coming, through which he constantly reenters history. I think that he struck the right tone. We cannot establish when the world will end. Christ himself says that no one knows it, not even the Son. But we must remain so to speak always near his coming, and above all be certain that, in suffering, he is near. At the same time, we should know that we are under his judgment for our actions.
Benedict XVI, “Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times”, Ignatius Press, 2010.
The original German of the passage on HIV and condoms:
“Die bloße Fixierung auf das Kondom bedeutet eine Banalisierung der Sexualität, und die ist ja gerade die gefährliche Quelle dafür, dass die Menschen in der Sexualität nicht mehr den Ausdruck ihrer Liebe finden, sondern nur noch eine Art von Droge, die sie sich selbst verabreichen. Deshalb ist auch der Kampf gegen die Banalisierung der Sexualität ein Teil des Ringens darum, dass Sexualität positiv gewertet wird und ihre positive Wirkung im Ganzen des Menschseins entfalten kann. Ich würde sagen, wenn ein Prostituierter ein Kondom verwendet, kann das ein erster Akt zu einer Moralisierung sein, ein erstes Stück Verantwortung, um wieder ein Bewusstsein dafür zu entwickeln, dass nicht alles gestattet ist und man nicht alles tun kann, was man will. Aber es ist nicht die eigentliche Art, dem Übel beizukommen. Diese muss wirklich in der Vermenschlichung der Sexualität liegen”.
And the clarification made in connection with this on November 21 by Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the press office of the Holy See:
> “At the end of chapter 11 of the book…”
The interesting profile of the pope’s interviewer, Peter Seewald, published in “Il Foglio” on November 14, 2010:
The two homilies by Benedetto XVI on the days of the consistory, obscured in the media by the scoop from “L’Osservatore Romano”:
On the consistory, on http://www.chiesa:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.