15 apr 20
Celibacy, Amazon, Germany. Cardinal Sarah Returns To the Field
On the mornings of Easter Sunday and Monday, the French magazine “Valeurs actuelles” posted an extensive two-part interview with Cardinal Robert Sarah, conducted by Charlotte d’Ornellas:
In the first part of the interview, Sarah revisits the book he wrote and published together with pope emeritus Benedict XVI with the title “From the Depths of Our Hearts,” in strenuous defense of the celibacy of the clergy.
The cardinal denounces the opportunism of the invectives against the book and its two authors. He reiterates that its publication, last January, was done “in a spirit of profound filial obedience to the Holy Father.” And he expresses the hope that finally it will be discussed for what it really says and what Pope Francis himself has shown he shares, when he said – echoing Paul VI – that “I prefer to give my life before changing the law on celibacy.”
But in the interview, Cardinal Sarah also talks about other things: the synod for the Amazon, the synod of Germany, the conflicts in the Church, sexual abuse, as well as the “crisis of civilization” laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic.
Here is a short excerpt from his interview, on the points most germane to the life of the Church.
THE BOOK ON CELIBACY
Benedict XVI and I wanted to open a fundamental debate, a serene, objective and theological reflection on the priesthood and celibacy, basing ourselves on revelation and the historical facts. […] I have read a lot of invectives and insults but too little theological and pastoral reflection, and above all too little of Christian conduct.
And yet Benedict XVI and I made bold proposals to reform the way of life of priests. No one has pointed out or commented on what I believe to be the most important pages of our reflection, those concerning the necessary renunciation of material goods by priests, those that appeal for a reform based on the search for holiness and on the life of prayer, those that invite “to stand before you and to serve you.” […] Added to all this is the need to serve God and men. Our book was intended to be spiritual, theological and pastoral, while the media and some self-proclaimed experts have made it a political and dialectical reading. Now that the sterile controversies have dissolved, perhaps it can finally be read in earnest? Perhaps it can be discussed peacefully?
THE SYNOD FOR THE AMAZON
Following the publication of the apostolic exhortation “Querida Amazonia” by Pope Francis, some prelates expressed disillusionment and disappointment. They were not troubled for peoples of the Amazon, but disappointed because the Church, in their view, should have taken advantage of that opportunity to get in tune with the modern world. It was clearly seen at this juncture that the Amazonian question had been exploited. The misery of the poor had been used to promote ideological projects.
I must confess that such cynicism deeply saddens me. Instead of working to convey to the the peoples of the Amazon the unique depth and richness of the person of Jesus Christ and his message of salvation, the desire was to “Amazonize” Jesus Christ and have him espouse the beliefs and practices of the indigenous Amazonian people, proposing for them a human-sized priesthood adapted to their situation. The peoples of the Amazon, like those of Africa, need Christ crucified, scandal for the Jews, madness for the pagans, true God and true man, who came to save men marked by sin, to give his life for them and reconcile them with each other and with God, making peace with the blood of his cross.
THE CONFLICTS IN THE CHURCH
The unity of Catholics is not a simple sentimental affection. It is based on what we have in common: the revelation that Christ has left for us. If everyone defends his own opinion, his own innovation, then division will spread everywhere. The source of our unity precedes us. The faith is one, it is she who unites us. Heresy is the true enemy of unity. I am struck by the extent to which subjectivism makes discussions hysterical. If there is belief in the truth, it can be sought together, there can even be frank confrontations among theologians, but hearts remain at peace. It is well known that in the end the truth will appear. On the contrary, when the intangible objectivity of faith is called into question, then everything turns into rivalry among people fighting for power. The dictatorship of relativism, since it destroys peaceful trust in revealed truth, prevents an atmosphere of serene charity among men. […]
The unity of the faith presupposes the unity of the magisterium in space and time. When a new teaching is given to us, it must always be interpreted in consistency with the teaching that comes before. If we introduce ruptures and revolutions, we shatter the unity that governs the holy Church through the centuries. This does not mean that we are condemned to stagnation. But every evolution must be a better understanding and an exploration of the past. The hermeneutic of reform in continuity that Benedict XVI has so clearly taught is a condition sine qua non of unity.
THE SYNOD OF GERMANY
What is happening in Germany is terrible. One gets the impression that the truths of the faith and the commandments of the Gospel are being put to the vote. By what right can we decide to renounce part of the teaching of Christ? I know that many German Catholics are suffering on account of this situation. As Benedict XVI has often said, the Church of Germany is too rich. With money one is tempted to do everything: change revelation, create another magisterium, a Church no longer one, holy, catholic and apostolic, but German. The risk for such a Church is to think of itself as one of the institutions of the world. But then how would it not end up thinking of itself as the world does?
This crisis is above all a crisis of faith and a profound crisis of the priesthood. The discovery of the abominable crimes of priests is its most terrifying symptom. When God is not at the center, when faith no longer determines action, when it no longer directs and enriches the life of men, then even such crimes become possible. We must begin again, Benedict XVI has said, to live on the basis of God and in view of God. Before all else, priests must learn to recognize God as the foundation of their life and not leave him aside as if this were a matter of a formula with no real content. When a priestly life is not centered on God, it risks being carried away by a form of power drunkenness. As Benedict XVI again said: “Why has pedophilia reached such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God.”