VATICAN CITY 20/12/13 — Pope Francis is to assemble diplomats and experts next month for a surprise meeting on how to resolve the conflict in Syria, the Register has learned.
The meeting, to be hosted at the Vatican by Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, will take place Jan. 13, just a few days before UN-backed peace talks begin on ending the conflict.
The Geneva II Middle East peace conference, to take place Jan. 22, will bring together the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition to discuss a possible transitional government with full executive powers.
The Vatican meeting is aimed at “influencing” the peace talks so that the most just and lasting solution can be achieved, according to a diplomatic source. The Pontifical Academy of Sciences confirmed the meeting to the Register but was unable to give further details, saying it was still making preparations for the seminar. However, other sources have said the planning is already well advanced.
On Sept. 7 this year, Pope Francis led a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. The initiative, which attracted participation across the world, is credited by many for helping to avert a U.S. military strike on Syria after a chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb in August.
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, said the vigil produced a “miracle” by helping to prevent what many viewed was an imminent escalation of the conflict. Shortly before the vigil, the Holy See also took the rare step of assembling diplomats accredited to the Holy See, during which officials presented them with a detailed peace plan for the country. Not since the Iraq War of 2003 has the Holy See been so active in trying to broker peace.
Pope’s Personal Initiative
The impetus comes from the Pope himself, who is known to be deeply concerned about the Syrian conflict, particularly the Christians living there. He has frequently appealed for peace since September, most recently calling for the release of 12 Orthodox nuns abducted by armed Islamist rebels in Maaloula, a predominantly Christian city north of Damascus.
On Jan. 13, the same day as the Vatican meeting on Syria, the Pope is expected to make further appeals for peace when he delivers his annual address to diplomats accredited to the Holy See. Observers say the conflict will also rank highly in his list of concerns to be mentioned during his urbi et orbi address on Christmas Day.
The Geneva II peace talks, led by Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. peace envoy to Syria, in close cooperation with the U.S. and Russia, have frequently run in to trouble. Initially proposed for the end of May this year, the talks have been postponed several times. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced at the end of November that the conference would be held on Jan. 22.
The Vatican has announced it will be hiring large American consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. to advise it on modernizing its communications operations.
It will also be bringing in Netherlands-based auditors KPMG to study the Vatican’s internal accounting.
In a statement issued this morning, the Vatican said management consultants McKinsey & Co. was chosen to “provide advice contributing to the development – in close collaboration with the heads of the relevant departments – an integrated plan to make the organization of the means of communication of the Holy See more functional, efficient and modern.”
The decision was made on Wednesday by the commission of inquiry into the Vatican’s overall financial health created by Pope Francis as part of his reform of the Roman Curia.
The Vatican said the consultancy project, which will involve integrating the curia’s communications operations, aims to “provide the commission with the information needed to make appropriate recommendations to the Holy Father.”
Today’s statement said the commission of enquiry into APSA – the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See – chose McKinsey & Co. after a bidding process.
For some years, officials have argued for a better communications system in the Vatican, especially after a string of perceived media gaffes and the Vatileaks scandal. Observers have criticised the curia for lacking a centralized office of communications, leading to unnecessary duplication in various Vatican media outlets. Other observers have also proposed having a coordinated network of media spokesmen in some or all of the dicasteries (Vatican departments), overseen by the Holy See’s Press Office director.
At the same time, the Vatican said today that auditors KPMG will “study and address” the economic and administrative affairs of the Holy See in collaboration with the commission, taking “whatever steps are necessary to align the accounting procedures of all agencies of the Holy See with international standards.”
The Vatican has already hired regulatory compliance firm Promontory Financial Group to assess Vatican finances, review accounts and make sure it conforms to international norms to fight money-laundering and terror financing. Promontory is also advising the APSA.
Meanwhile Vatican City State, which oversees the running of the Vatican Museums, has appointed Ernst and Young, an auditing and consultancy firm, to check its books.
INTERVIEW WITH FR. SYLVESTER HEEREMAN
NATIONAL CATHOLIC REGISTER – Nov. 13, 2013, Rome
This is the full, unedited version of an interview that appeared in the Register 19 December 2013
Fr. Sylvester Heereman, L.C. was born on September 10, 1974 in Bad Neustadt an der Saale, Germany. He joined the novitiate of the Legion of Christ in Germany in 1994; made his first religious vows in 1996 and his perpetual profession in 1999. Was territorial secretary of Italy from 2001 to 2003; member of the formation staff of the Center for Higher Studies in Rome while studying theology. Ordained a priest on December 23, 2006. In 2007 he was named territorial director for Germany. He was appointed vicar general of the Congregation on February 16, 2012 by Card. Velasio De Paolis. From October 15, 2012 he is the acting general director of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi Movement.
What is the current situation in the Legionaries of Christ and how are you planning for the General Chapter in January?
The General Chapter has three main tasks which can only be finished at the Chapter. First, it will have to elect a new government. Secondly, we’ll have to discuss and present to the Holy See the new constitutions and that’s after a three year process which involved the participation of all legionaries in the revision process. Lastly, we’ll have to sum up the experience of the last eight years, the whole crisis with the founder and how we’ve been living it and overcoming it and where we stand now with regards the whole institutional experience. So those will be the three main topics of the Chapter. Right now, the Provincials are preparing their reports to submit to the Chapter containing how those different issues impact their areas of responsibility. We are doing the same thing here: trying to sum up the main events of the last years and the things that have already been changed through the interventions of the Apostolic Delegate: We intend to make visible to everybody what has already been changed and decisions that still need to be taken.
So the general situation among the Legionaries is one of expectation, both in the sense of joyful expectation and also in a “let’s get this over with” sort of way. This will surely be a fruitful and blessed moment, but like all things in life, there’s apprehension about what’s going to happen. So there are mixed feelings.
What is it about the Legionary ethos of the past that has brought about so many problems concerning communication, clarity and truthfulness?
The first answer to that concerns the founder. The vast majority of Legionaries really was unaware of his misdeeds and so when they came to light, the shock was very big for all of us. And when you’re still trying to digest the truth, it’s very hard to be communicating it, right? That’s kind of what happened, in very few words.
Some argue that, in view of the extent of his misdeeds, those closest to him must have known.
Personally I’m too young to have really lived those years. When I joined, he was already 74. But certainly that was the mistake of an institution; because an institution needs to control their leaders, There was really no institutional control of his whereabouts because of naïve trust all those years.
How much was due to the constitution and ethos of the Legion, that you weren’t allowed to criticise the head, and he had an authoritarian streak about him that prevented legitimate criticism?
That’s probably part of the mix. There was a very strong deference towards the superiors in general, much more so to the founder. And we always trusted, thinking that an aspect of charity is to not speak badly of people and that was applied also very much to the superiors. That’s probably part of it. But I don’t think that’s the main cause. Then there’s the question of knowing about something but which you’re not responsible for. What do you do with that knowledge when you’re not above that person? That’s a very difficult thing. I’m sure some knew some aspects and just didn’t know what to do about it.
The old constitutions had over 800 elements and the new one will have approximately 200. What would you point to as key changes that illustrate the significance of these changes?
The basic principle of the constitutions’ revision was to leave in only the essential elements, the major principles, but allow for adaptation, flexibility and creativity in the living of it. The old constitutions were in the spirit of the old canon law and maybe also influenced by the founder’s mentality of tending to be too controlling, to kind of impose a certain way of sanctity. The old constitutions were very detailed so the Holy See said: “Identify what are the essential principles and take out everything that maybe licit and valid but should be in secondary codes or books, or shouldn’t even be regulated.” So the new constitutions have principles of formation but not concrete methods. They have the principles of administration but not the concrete processes and methods. They have the general duties of the superior but not the way he should implement them.
So all this should allow for more flexibility and being stronger on what’s essential, to become more human in a sense, on things that are secondary. That’s the main change in the constitution. On the content side, the new constitution is updated in the whole area of exercise of authority which was one of the big areas that the Holy Father, after the apostolic visitation, indicated. Those elements were present in the old constitution but kind of tangled up with things that were an obstacle. So what are those elements? The importance of the councils, the general council needs to be very close to the general director and have a strong role in decision making. The same is true on a territorial and local levels for the respective councils. Then there’s the principle of participation of the whole congregation in making decisions. So now, for example, when we nominate superiors, the people who will be governed by him are consulted. Now we consult people about their own nominations, not because there’s no obedience anymore, but really to seek together with the member what’s best for him and for the congregation. As you mentioned, there was a strong authoritarian element in our vision which is one of the things that has changed the most.
Having had the founder of the congregation come into such disrepute, why not just re-found it, change the name and start over, but keep the structures?
In the end, refounding is just a word. You might say we’re refounding. Personally, I think the whole challenge is between continuity and newness. If we were to start from scratch, I would have left. I’m not here to build something that’s my idea, as if it were a democratic process in which “we agree to something and we do it.” We’re building on something that in a mysterious way has been very damaged by the flaws of the founder and human nature, but we stay because we believe there’s more to it than that. We are seeking to give continuity to the good given in the charism. That’s the only reason that Pope Benedict XVI asked us to continue on. He didn’t say: “Continue if you come up with something that’s worth continuing.” The challenge, and it’s the challenge of the constitution, is to identify those valid principles that help us to live the Gospel and that help us in our own mission which we see has done good, that has brought the Gospel to people’s lives and had a positive impact on many people’s lives, and at the same time take responsibility for the weaknesses of the institution, identify them and overcome them. That’s the task. It’s not to cut 100% and start something completely, but to make that discernment.
But refounding completely would be more straight-forward?
Marketing-wise it would be easier. I just think the important principle is to say, for me personally but also for all legionaries who have stayed – luckily the vast majority – that we stay not just because we believe in ourselves, but we believe in God’s fidelity and God’s action in our history. Even in his providence, he knew what was going to happen and there was good here. It’s not just about the bad things that have happened – the terrible things that have happened to people. We need to recognise that, make up for it, and prepare to face that. But at the same time, we need to discover what the message is here. We live in a world that’s full of broken lives, drama, suffering, sin and failure. So we have that in our own history, mixed with good things, like all human beings. That’s the message we need to learn, assimilate deeper, and that’s how we go on.
What do you say to the argument that this is such a unique case in that this is a congregation solely founded by Fr Maciel, and so closely tied to him, that it needs to start from scratch?
In the end, whether there is a real charism is not our call but the Church’s call, and that’s been yes, there is a charism. Benedict XVI, when he named the Apostolic Delegate in 2010 and spoke about the real call that is there, the authentic core of the charism that needs to be preserved, that’s the Church’s call. It’s also my experience that there’s something real here, and that’s what we’re trying to build on while at the same time having to face up to that contradiction. Precisely in that contradiction there’s also a message that maybe we haven’t fully understood and maybe we never will. Certainly it’s helped us to grow in humility. For me, it has meant not putting trust in myself, my perfection, or in presenting a perfect way of being Christian, but to know that human life is extremely contradictory, that there’s so much brokenness in this world. We’re called to bring the Gospel right there, kind of what Pope Francis has been saying: that there’s no life so destroyed that God would be separated from it.
Another point about this founder problem: in the end, everything that is authentic in the Church, if it is authentic, is rooted in the Gospel and, in the end, a fruit of God’s grace. So that may also be part of that message: that God’s grace is stronger and more merciful, beyond human understanding.
Will you be keeping the same name?
That question has come up, but it’s never been addressed specifically, institutionally. Certainly, if it’s brought up in the chapter, only the chapter can decide that.
Have you implemented the new Safe Environment guidelines?
Oh yes. We certainly feel that as a congregation, because of our history, we have a very special responsibility in that area. From 2002 onwards, even before the crisis resulting from the discoveries about our founder, we had made a great effort to live up to the Dallas Charter in the US, but also in countries where those topics aren’t so strongly on the bishops’ conferences’ agenda yet, so we were even ahead of the culture. I’m confident to say we’re in control of our situation in that area. There isn’t a concrete danger to anybody. We investigate any concrete allegation against the Legionaries that come up, cases from the past. We follow the procedures. We put great effort in getting the provinces, the territories, ready to have the structures needed implement that. And then to implement prevention having a stricter screening process ourselves, in admissions and in the process of formation, in those early stages.
A 2010 communique from the Holy See’s press office mentioned three main elements should be looked at, one of which was clarification of the charism. Some say they’re not sure what the charism has been, others have said it just seems to be fundraising. What is your response to that accusation?
[Laughs] We haven’t been doing very well have we?!
Let me just say one thing about the theory of charisms. One of the fruits of this experience is that we’ve all had to go deeper into what the nature of a charism is in a congregation, or in a group of people. Pope John Paul II in Vita consecrata says that at the core of a charism there is a certain aspect of the Gospel. Obviously we’re all called to live the whole Gospel but the different charisms of the Church live and show the Gospel from one aspect of Christ’s mystery. That aspect of the mystery of Christ inspires a spirituality, a way of relating to God; a mission, a way of relating to the world and what you’re called to do; and inspires a type of community, You need all four aspects to understand the charism.
In the case of Mother Teresa, she had an aspect of the Gospel, I’m not sure how she phrased it, but her charism was to serve Christ present in the poorest of the poor. And that’s the way their spirituality is, that’s the way they live among the poorest of the poor. In our case, at the core of the charism is the Christ of public life who says the Kingdom of God is at hand, the message that the love of God has come into the world and is about to reign because it has power over death, sin, and is stronger than anything else. Perhaps we can phrase that message of the Kingdom of Christ by saying the victory of God’s love is at hand, that’s what inspired hope in the people and that’s what he preached. That’s what he showed in his words, miracles and charity in forgiving sins, that power of the love of God. He used that image of the Kingdom of God. And then at his death and resurrection he made that happen.
So we look at Christ and our spirituality as a relationship with that living Christ, who teaches that message, shows it, and from that perspective we strive to live the whole Gospel, love the Church as he did, love Mary as he did, but with that perspective that the power of the love of God is the Kingdom and that that love of God is witnessed by giving our life. The spirituality part is very simple – it’s about a relationship with Christ.
The mission is to let us draw ourselves to the mission of proclaiming that truth, very specifically trying to do something Christ did, involving other people in the mission of Christ. By calling and forming apostles, in our apostolic mission we do many things. We work with youth, families and schools, but the common idea in all of them is to awaken in Christians the call to the apostolate, to let themselves be involved in Christ’ mission.
And then the community, and that’s a very important aspect that may not be well known in public opinion. Our charism is not just the Legion of Christ, but there’s a wider spiritual family, Regnum Christi. So that charism inspires a type of community that has different families in it, the Legionaries Christ, consecrated men and women of Regnum Christi, laypeople who live in the world, that together try to serve the Church from where they are, to serve that charism to proclaim the Kingdom of Christ, the victory of God’s love, through their testimony but also through concrete apostolic action, by becoming apostles themselves together. And that togetherness of the community is one of the aspects that puts us in continuity with this whole development of the Church in the last 100 years – the lay apostolate of the truth that we’re forming in the Church. It’s not just the clergy but we’re all the people of God and trying to fulfil His mission.
This all sounds very good but also a little vague and general.
Yes, you’re right. We do many different things like the Jesuits, the Franciscans, etc. They all do many things, but it’s more about the way you live the Gospel and what you do, the vision, the perspective on Christ that you offer the Church and others. Concretely, what we do changes very much from country to country, but the spirit is the same. We want to awaken in lay people the call to the apostolate. In Mexico, it’s very strong in education, schools and universities, and in the U.S. it’s more about trying to work together with the local Church, working together with the pastors in forming people to run youth groups, spiritual exercises, giving spiritual formation ourselves. So if we say our mission is just part of our charism is to form apostles, that’s quite concrete. It always has this formative aspect: youth work, family work, but always trying to help people grow in their Christian vocation, not staying on the sanctity level but moving towards commitment to society and the local Church level.
How many priestly ordinations have you had in the midst of these challenges and how many priests have you lost?
The number of legionary priests who have left the Congregation from 2010 to November 14th, 2013 is 84 – 33 in 2010, 18 in 2011, 9 in 2012, and 24 so far this year. The number of priests ordained those same years up: 60, 62, 49, and around 30 expected for this year. Figures for religious in formation – those who are not yet priests – who left the Legion, are: 147, 169, 123. Data for 2013 is not yet available, but my guess is that it is about 100. Most of these requests to leave the Legion are a consequence of the natural process of discernment of a vocation. Some had to do with the crisis and the renewal process.
Our latest stats sent to the Holy See correspond to December 31, 2012: Bishops 3, Priests 953, Religious and novices 932, Students in minor seminary 945. At that moment we have 109 houses in 22 countries. Members include 38 different nationalities.
Regarding ordinations for next year, there should be a bigger group. Reasons for leaving the Congregation are different. Some take a year’s leave and come back, and there are the ones who are exclaustrated. Technically and canonically really they are still members, they just have permission to be outside. But it’s not that frequent they come back. And then there are those who have already left. Those who are exclaustrated – realistically, many of them will leave.
Fr De Guedes, a general counsellor and senior figure in the Legion left recently. It seemed he wanted to leave completely but was persuaded not to. What were the reasons behind this?
He was very specific in saying he wasn’t leaving definitively. He asked for exclaustration but not incardination in the diocese. I myself was surprised. He was a friend and I would have preferred him to stay. He’s been a good element, very active and passionate about the renewal. He was clear in his letter and when he spoke to the brothers here, he said that he’s leaving because he’s tired. Why is he tired? Because he feels it’s not going fast enough. But he’s not leaving because he doesn’t have hope for the reform, but because he doesn’t’ have the strength to be living under the pressure of seeing things that maybe he would like to do and the time has not yet come.
Was he prevented from doing them?
He’s just a counsellor, we came to many decisions together and many times we were all in agreement but also some in minority and he felt more frequently in a minority.
Some suggested it was because he had witnessed disturbing things within the Legion?
I don’t think so – he has concerns about things but more in that aspect of “Are we moving fast enough, assimilating fast enough the different lessons of the past?” Sometimes we get messages from Legionaries who want to go back to the past, or are very hurt if the founder’s role is relativised. So those things happen because we’re a big group and maybe he would read those things in a more radical way than I would. We need to accept there’s a wide variety of sensitivities here. I certainly hope he comes back and I pray for it every day.
Is there going to be a clear break from Maciel’s past, what will be the new vision?
Generally, I repeat here what I said before about continuity and newness. The newness will be very evident in the constitution because it’s much more essential. The way authority is exercised today is very different from the way it was. The whole role of the founder is now very different. Already in 2010, the general director made a clear statement that he is not a model, and that even as a founder, whatever he proposed as a founder, is under the Church’s discernment. So we will not be referring to him as the infallible source of our charism. All those elements change what we understand of ourselves, also the fact we understand now much better than before that the charism is the property of the Church, not the founder. But every generation of Legionaries is the bearer of that charism and it’s the current generation who need to understand how it is to be lived today and to live that in constant dialogue with the Church.
As the reality of the founder’s past will always be present, how will future generations of Legionaries view that do you think?
Those who join today know that perfectly and they still want to join. They don’t join because in two years we get the founder back. It’s not that. They like what they see and feel called to this place. We will always be the congregation who has had that founder, a congregation with a broken father, like so many people, or a father who has hurt. Maybe that is part of the calling, to a life that that helps others to live it. So I don’t think there’s a technical answer to your question. Maybe in the future God will send us great saints, but we can’t produce them and they won’t be the founders. This whole experience is, in a sense, a founding experience again. But we’re now walking under the Church’s guidance, always in continuity with something we’ve received and lived, just trying to purify it and renew all that is authentic in it.
Because Fr Maciel went on for so many years deceiving people, does that imply incompetence, and if so, what mechanisms have been put in place to stop that happening again? You’ve spoken already about authority but is there going to be some other mechanism which can prevent this?
More than incompetence it was probably naivety and that is hard to imagine if you’ve not lived it. It doesn’t come naturally to question and control your general superior, and much less your founder. The concrete mechanism is to control the personal spending of the general director, transparency of his agenda, where does he go, what does he do, and then the constant cooperation with the Council. We’ve woken up from the view that just because he’s a superior, he’s a holy man. Nobody thinks like that anymore.
Some say you haven’t really acknowledged the suffering caused in the past. How true is this?
I don’t think it’s true. Father Corcuera apologised several times and then on 25 March 2010 there was a statement signed by the general director, counsellors and all the provincials, recognising the basic elements. At the same time, I agree that it is probably not enough. The Chapter will have to go back over that and reaffirm, maybe in a clearer and stronger way, those issues. I think we also need to accept the fact that you never do enough to reach out to the people who suffered. We need to be grateful for the ones who have spoken up, who for many years we didn’t believe – we just didn’t believe them. They insisted and we insisted back, and surely we added suffering to their suffering with that. And so we need to recognise that and be grateful for their courage to speak up.
As far as recognising the founder’s sins and misdeeds, I would also say that among Legionaries and Regnum Christi members in the whole world, this is not a taboo at all. Everyone is aware of the essential elements. To write an independent institutional history of that will have to happen, and we will cooperate with that when the time comes. For now, our responsibility is to secure the archives and create a system, making sure history can be written when the time comes. In these last years, our focus has been getting the renewal process going, being as close as we can to the people who suffered and to work on prevention of all those things happening again. We haven’t been so focused on writing the history.
When people come to join the Legion, will you be completely open about the past?
They all know what they’re getting into. When I was still in Germany I worked with the people who came to the candidacy programme before joining and we would make a point, when the whole news was still new in 2009-10, of making sure they knew what they were getting into. Now it’s probably not that necessary but it’s a part of what they learn.
Will there be a policy of simple transparency about all that went on?
Yes, but as far as history is concerned, you can only be transparent about what you really know. We haven’t yet been able, and I don’t think we ever will be, to write a comprehensive history of the founder’s life, because he had different lives and took lots of information to the grave with him.
Those who were closest to him – Fr Garza, Fr Corcuera, Fr Bannon – have they been fully questioned about how much they knew?
We know their testimonies but they’re from recent history. Our founder began the congregation in 1941. They come into the picture with responsibilities after he was in his 60s and 70s. In our culture he was the founder, a holy man, and obviously they’re older than me, but when they started to take responsibility as formators or working with him, like Fr Garza, he was already the unquestionable founder. And they say, and I believe them absolutely because of the way the founder lived, that they did not know. More so, Fr Garza was instrumental in bringing things to light in the years after the new governing council came in 2005. I know there’s lots distrust towards them, but personally I believe what they say. They didn’t know about the double life.
Has the Apostolic Delegate been given access to everything?
He’s had all access. We meet almost twice a week, he comes to every general council meeting, and at all important decisions he’s there with us, and that’s been helpful. He questions us, teaches us. He always said from the beginning that the Holy Father has not asked him to do another investigation. There have been two investigations, and of course we need to remember that. There was the investigation done by the CDF before 2006, and they came to conclusions about Fr Maciel but not about others and they listened to 30-40 people. Then we had the visitation of five bishops to all our houses. So there has been a very thorough, external investigation, and the result was that the delegate was named and the indication was that we should review the constitution, authority, formation, the charism, reach out the victims, and review management. That was the delegate’s task, not to write a history.
Are any of these people who were closest to Maciel still in positions of leadership?
Fr Garza is territorial director of the United States – so yes, because no one has ever accused him of anything concrete. One of the important principles in this is also that Cardinal De Paolis made it clear from the beginning: “Any allegation I will investigate, but I can’t go about investigating people just like that.” It’s both against canon and civil law. So they have never been accused of any misdeeds.
Did Fr. Maciel die in communion with the Church?
I wasn’t there but I’ve heard many different testimonies that he died and confessed with the sacraments.
He had last rites?
Yes. In the last months he suffered from strong dementia, so maybe all the horror stories that are out there come from the fact that you have an old man who is confused. I wasn’t there, but I’m aware of some of what was happening. He was on his death bed, recognising and not recognising things, he was just too confused to express himself in his last year, but I know he died with the sacraments. Beyond that, it is in God’s hands.
Looking to the future, you’re optimistic and hopeful?
Yes, the Chapter’s just another step. This whole process of purification and changing the mentality in areas where it is necessary is not done pushing a button. It’s a process. I think in general the vast majority of Legionaries have been able to get into this whole process of opening our minds, of accepting criticism, but there’s obviously still tension about those things, about the founder, what should change or not change. I’m very confident that in general we’re walking together and precisely learning to live that tension is a new thing for us. The founder seemed strong and kind of infallible. We’re not used to seeing that this wasn’t true, so you can see that as a positive thing. But still it’s not easy. We have struggles agreeing on the essentials, but this is normal. Having said that, I think we’re moving forward and I trust that especially a Chapter where you bring priests from all over the world, all kinds of generations, experiences, also a prayerful atmosphere, will certainly be a blessed moment. We will also be able to give a strong message of identity and also of renewal to the whole congregation and that will help us. We will make sure everyone’s read up on the founder and all of that, but also be able to turn the page.
Many people would like to see the Legion become more human, less removed and open and transparent and honest with others. Will that be a fruit of all this?
Regarding the honesty part, I think we’ve come a long way in that. Also what happens to all the young congregations, even with holy founders, is that they tend to idealise their own thing very much. It happens to the movements. They’re very proud of their own thing which can be very good, so we’ve been schooled in humility and a healthy relativism. We’re just another player in the Church, we’re a valid player, we have something to offer to give to the Church, but in communion with others and very much aware of the fact that we’re not better than anyone. We still like what we have and want to be as authentic and Christ-like as possible.
(Terrasanta, Rome) – “Make no mistake”, said Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, “a Middle East without Christians would be just like the Taliban.”
Addressing a Dec. 13-14 conference in Rome organized by the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University, part of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Patriarch Sako warned that war “remains one of the greatest challenges of the Middle East” and that “some powers are pushing for tensions.”
Moreover, he said some countries in the West are encouraging emigration of Christians. He stressed that further emigration would have “great historical significance” for Muslims, as Christians would take with them their “openness, their culture, their qualifications, and their commitment to religious freedom.”
Many Muslims respect Christians but attempts to repress them are “a great crime against them” and a “blow to national unity,” he said. A Middle East without Christians “loses its beautiful multi-identity.”
He urged Muslims to “get involved in dialogue” and said that countries of the region need a cultural and social model that promotes unity through pluralism, religious freedom and harmonious coexistence among various religious and ethnic groups.
He concluded by recommending that the international community increase their efforts to assist Muslim nations of the Middle East in modernizing Islam’s approach to religious freedom, and try to convince them that repression and persecution of Christians not only harms Christians but Muslim societies themselves. “All should work to stop the mortal exodus,” he implored.
The conference itself, which marked 1,700 years since the Edict of Milan ushered in the concept of religious freedom, reflected on Christianity’s contribution to liberty over two millennia. In doing so, experts touched on the current situation in the Middle East.
Todd Johnson, director and associate professor of global Christianity at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, said that persecution of Christians, though currently proportionately less than when communism was still in force in 1970, is now on the rise again.
Mariz Tadros, a political specialist on politics and human development in the Middle East and a researcher at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, dispelled several prevailing myths concerning Coptic Christians.
She said it is a myth that Copts are “one of the happiest” religious minorities in the world (sectarian violence against Christians in Egypt has increased); that Copts have contributed to their own predicament by calling upon Western intervention (she blamed Islamization of society, discrimination, and poor security); that Copts’ exposure to rights infringements is part of a broader phenomenon not related to religion (Tadros said Christians are being targeted on the basis of their religion); that Christians tend to be economically privileged and this has provoked animosity among the wider poorer population (she said this is “questionable” in the light of the widespread disenfranchisement of millions of Copts who have had to internally migrate); that Islamist movements endorse a kind of “home-grown democracy” (she noted a correlation between rising Islamism and increasing sectarian violence against Christians).
Tadros argued that since 2010, Egypt has witnessed the formation of several Coptic movements. She warned that if Coptic emigration continues, the loss to civil and political society will be immense, and those wishing to homogenize Egypt’s religious identity would be “deeply strengthened.” This would undermine the “culture of tolerance and respect” in the longer term.
Former professor of history at the University of Virginia, Robert Louis Wilken, spoke about the Christian roots of religious freedom as understood in the west. He recalled that it was the early Church father Tertullian who was the first to use the term” religious freedom” and that it was he and Lactantius, who advised the Emperor Constantine, who made the case that religion, because it springs from inner conviction, cannot be coerced. Their thinking later formed the basis of some Protestant thinkers.
Although many think religious freedom as understood in the West was the product of the 18th century Englightenment, Wilken said most original thinking on the subject took place in the early 17th century by those who were persecuted.
He said it wasn’t not possible to “draw a straight line” from the 18th century back to the early Church and the Scriptures. Wilken said “the breakup of the medieval order as the result of the Reformation, the proliferation of religious communities, were powerful factors in shaping thinking on religious freedom.”
Even so, he said ideas about a freedom of religion as a natural right, and the non-coercion of religious conviction “have their ultimate roots in Christian tradition.”
Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s constitution on “The Sacred Liturgy,” turns 50 on Dec. 4. The main aim of the document was to achieve greater lay participation in the Catholic Church’s liturgy.
In this exclusive interview with the Register on Oct. 30, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, discusses the significance of the constitution, its fruits after half a century and how to address some of the problems that followed its promulgation.
What did Sacrosanctum Concilium set out to achieve? Why was it needed?
Sacrosanctum Concilium was the first document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council on Dec. 4, 1963. It was the fruit of a long process of growing thought from the early 1800s which is generally known as the “Liturgical Movement.” This document, of course, calls upon sources further back than this.
For more than 100 years prior to this moment, however, there was a desire to enrich people’s appreciation and experience of the liturgy of the Roman rite. Both St. Pope Pius X and Pope Pius XII played a great part in this. They sought to help people understand the liturgy and to participate in it better, so that the liturgy might bear even greater fruit in their souls. In response to this growing movement, the constitution on “The Sacred Liturgy” wanted, above all, to put the Church’s liturgy on solid theological foundations, based on the exercise of the priesthood of Christ in the mystical body, which is the Church.
The Council Fathers wished to deepen the Christian life of the faithful and to strengthen the ecclesiological significance of worship with the understanding that, in the words of the document itself, “the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2). In the liturgy, it is Christ himself who is at work. It is where he manifests, makes present and communicates his work of salvation. The renewal of the liturgy wanted, above all, to provide a fresh understanding of this — not least, the meaning of the rites, a deeper theological grasp of what the words and the signs mean, which ultimately is about what God does, what God accomplishes when the sacred liturgy is celebrated.
One particular phrase, which is often associated with this renewal, is that of “active participation.” In fact, this wasn’t something that was first expressed in this document. It had its origins in St. Pope Pius X’s teaching on the liturgy from 1903. This does not mean that everybody needs to be running around doing things.
No, participation happens, first of all, at a much deeper level, in the mind and the heart, and this is greatly assisted when a person understands what is happening in the sacred liturgy. Why was this needed? Well, it is clear that not everyone understood what was going on when they went to church. Not everyone was aware of the part they were playing as a “priestly people.” That is not to say that they weren’t praying, but just that, in the main, they would have found it very difficult to pray along with the priest or to understand why various things were done in the liturgy.
What would you say have been the fruits of the constitution?
Sacrosanctum Concilium was the first document and, therefore, a highly significant signal to the Church and the world from the Second Vatican Council. It was a clear reminder that all things begin in and through the Lord in worship and in prayer. There is no substitute for this. What God does in the liturgy is what we have to do in the world beyond it — the manifesting of the mystery of Christ to others. This is very succinctly expressed today when the deacon says at the dismissal at Mass, “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord!” It has to be said that, for many, the message of the Second Vatican Council is seen through the liturgical renewal that took place in the 1960s. Some say that the success of the liturgical reform is to be found in the fact that it has brought the liturgy closer to the people. Another way of perceiving that, however, is to understand that it was seeking to bring the people closer to the liturgy. I believe that it did.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church paints a wonderful picture of what happens when we celebrate the liturgy — and strikingly begins with the mystery of Pentecost, the significance of which should not be overlooked.
Pentecost is the culmination of Jesus’ paschal mystery, where the crucified and now risen and ascended Lord lavishes on the world the Spirit with which he himself was anointed. What Jesus did in one time and place, therefore, is extended to every time and place through his Holy Spirit.
Indeed, this extension is the Church, that is, the assembly of all whom Jesus draws to himself when he is lifted up. This understanding is greatly assisted by good catechesis at every level. Within the English-speaking world, for example, the recent publication of the third edition of the Roman Missal in English offered a great opportunity for dioceses to revisit this. Many catechetical resources were produced then which are excellent educational tools still. Much of the faith is communicated through the liturgy, so a deeper understanding of what is going on there is an enrichment of one’s faith.
The vast majority of practicing Catholics are very grateful to be able to pray the Mass in their own language, to understand easily what is said and to appreciate the gestures. There is no doubt that it has greatly assisted people’s growth in the spiritual life.
One of the great desires of the Council, for example, was to make the Scriptures more prominent in the life of the Church. Well, the concepts within the prayers of the Missal are taken from sacred Scripture. It could, therefore, be said that in teaching people to pray in this way, you are bringing them closer to the word of God. What an immense gift that is!
I also think that the liturgical reforms are of great assistance to people who are seeking faith. Many people are spiritually adrift and seeking something more in life. Having a liturgy that is sacred yet comprehensible helps them to find a home in the Catholic Church.
This will become increasingly more important in the future, especially if our culture in the West continues its move away from its Christian foundations.
Some argue that, although it has borne fruit, the constitution on “The Sacred Liturgy” has been “instrumentalized and subjectified.” If this is true, why did this happen, and what is being done to restore the exact interpretation of this document and to advance the mission it set out to accomplish?
Pope Benedict XVI liked to point out that the liturgical reforms needed to be understood ever more deeply “on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relation to daily life” (Sacrosanctum Caritatis, 52).
The liturgy not only helps form Catholics in their prayer; it also imparts the faith, gives a deeper appreciation of the exercise of the priesthood of the baptized and helps to refocus the Church’s missionary outreach — all of which are themes central to the teaching of the Council.
It is true to say, however, that, in some places, due to a lack of understanding of what the constitution of the liturgy was really saying, that some unfortunate developments during these years have led, in some instances, more to a spirit of entertaining people than leading them in prayer and a profound understanding of God’s salvific action in the liturgy.
The liturgy is more about what God does than what we do! We are taking part in something very sacred. However, in some places, changes to the celebration of the liturgy were made that were neither authorized by Sacrosanctum Concilium, nor by the pope, nor by the bishops. In that sense, therefore, one can see that the liturgy was, in certain parts of the world, “instrumentalized” and “subjectified,” in that some people took this moment of change as an opportunity to try and modify the liturgy into whatever they wanted it to be. That is not what liturgy is.
We must always remember the cautionary words of St. Paul to the Church in Corinth, whose liturgical practices had become utterly bizarre. He reminded them, when talking about the Eucharist, that what he had passed on to them in faithfulness had, in fact, been received by him directly from the Lord himself. It was not of his own making. It came directly from Christ.
The liturgy is not only a sacred, but also a Divine, institution — and something that is not fanciful or of our making or which suits our moods. Also, there is never a good reason for poor liturgy or liturgical performance. This is a moment of serious encounter with God, above all else.
C.S. Lewis once noted: “The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather, it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual.” As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this document, I think it is true to say that there is a greater understanding today of what this constitution was all about. A new generation that did not live through the changes that immediately followed the Council has arrived, and there is much less interest in liturgical experimentation and novelty.
Given the difficulties of living the faith in modern times, I think many people are not interested in seeing the liturgy as entertainment or as something that needs to be constantly changed. They just want to draw close to God and to pray; they want to be nourished by the sacraments and to be strengthened, so that they can live their lives as faithful disciples of Jesus. This is a special moment that is bearing a rich harvest.
Is a further document needed to redress and remove the abuses that took place after the Council?
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in assisting the Holy Father and in cooperation with the world’s bishops, has a unique perspective on the celebration of the liturgy throughout the world.
Sacrosanctun Concilium is a Council document, so will stand without alteration.
In recent years, however, and in response to questions and concerns, our congregation has already done a great deal to respond to evident abuses and to clarify certain issues. Two documents are particularly significant.
First, the long-titled “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest,” which was jointly issued by eight Vatican offices in 1997. And second, the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, which was published by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2004.
In short, I would say that there is not a pressing need at the moment for a further document to address liturgical abuses. It is to be remembered that the local bishops are responsible for the moderation of the liturgy in their dioceses and ensuring that good catechetical programs for liturgical formation are available to priests and laity alike.
VATICAN CITY — The likelihood of a 2014 papal visit to the Holy Land increased today, when Pope Francis met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the apostolic palace.
The Holy See confirmed that “plans for a pilgrimage” were discussed at this morning’s meeting, following unconfirmed reports in Israeli media last week that a visit will take place at the end of May next year.
In a statement, the Vatican said the 25-minute meeting focused on the “complex political and social situation in the Middle East, with particular reference to the reinstatement of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.”
The two parties expressed the hope that “a just and lasting solution respecting the rights of both parties may be reached as soon as possible,” the statement said.
It added that, “aside from indicating the Holy Father’s plans for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, various questions were considered regarding the relations between the state authorities and the local Catholic communities, as well as between the state of Israel and the Holy See, in the hope that the agreement which has been in preparation for some time may be concluded forthwith.”
Optimism has grown over the past year that a final agreement on tax and property rights for Catholic institutions in Israel was imminent, but a conclusion remains elusive. Talks have been continuing for well over a decade.
The Vatican said the two leaders held “colloquial discussions” at this morning’s meeting. Reporters noted how friendly the rapport was between the Pope and Netanyahu.
In the exchange of gifts that followed, Netanyahu presented the Pope with a book written by his father on the Spanish Inquisition. Entitled The Origins of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century and published in 1995, the work also contained a dedication that read: “To His Holiness Pope Francis, the great guardian and pastor of our common heritage.”
According to the publisher’s notes, the volume denies the claims of historians that the Spanish Inquisition targeted Jews and says instead that Catholics protected Jewish people during this period.
“My Spanish is practically zero, but my father, who died last year, was a historian and knew the language,” Netanyahu said on presenting the gift to the Pope.
He also gave the Holy Father a silver menorah used in the annual Jewish celebration of Hanukkah that continues until Thursday.
Pope Francis presented the Israeli leader with a large bronze bas-relief featuring an image of St. Paul the Apostle.
This is Netanyahu’s third meeting with a pope: He met Pope Benedict XVI in Nazareth in 2009 and Pope John Paul II in 1997.
After meeting the Holy Father, the Israeli prime minister and his 13-member delegation met with Secretary of State Archbishop Pietro Parolin, accompanied by the undersecretary for relations with states, Msgr. Antoine Camilleri.
Holy Land Visit
In April this year, the Holy Father met Israeli President Shimon Peres, and in October, he met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, during which Abbas invited the Pope to visit the Holy Land. Netanyahu was hoping to meet the Pope last month, but a lapse in communications between the Holy See and Israel prevented it from taking place then.
The Vatican has yet to confirm the discussed papal trip. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters after today’s meeting that the Vatican would not announce a visit until an advance team of officials had visited the possible sites. Any visit next year would coincide with the 50th anniversary of the historic embrace in the Holy Land between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras.
Despite the lack of official confirmation, all indications point toward a visit. The Pope, who fostered particularly good relations with Judaism as archbishop of Buenos Aires, is known to be very enthusiastic; and Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was overheard saying to the Pope, “We are looking forward to this [visit].”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Exclusive to the Register, we publish below the first English translation of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s letter to the militant Italian atheist, Piergiorgio Odifreddi.
In September, the Italian newspaper La Repubblica printed extracts of the letter whose full contents were published in Italian on Nov. 23 by the German-language agency Kath.net.
The Pope Emeritus sent the letter in response to a book Odifreddi wrote in 2011 entitled Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You. The work was a critique of certain arguments and lines of thought found in Benedict’s theological writings, beginning with his 1967 volume Introduction to Christianity, and including his book Jesus of Nazareth, which he wrote as pope.
Distinguished Professor Odifreddi,
First, I must apologize for the fact that I am only thanking you today for sending me your book, Caro Papa, ti scrivo, and for the kind words which you addressed to me at the time through Archbishop Gänswein. However I did not wish to write before having read your book, and since various tasks still weigh upon me, I have finished reading it only now.
Today, therefore, I would at last like to thank you for having sought in great detail to confront my book, and thus also my faith. This in large part was precisely what I intended in my address to the Roman Curia at Christmas 2009. I must also thank you for the faithful manner in which you dealt with my text, earnestly seeking to do it justice.
My opinion of your book as a whole, however, is rather mixed. I read some parts of it with enjoyment and profit. In other parts, however, I was surprised by a certain aggressiveness and rashness of argumentation.
I would like to respond chapter by chapter, but unfortunately I do not have sufficient strength for this. I shall therefore choose a few points that I think are particularly important.
First, I marvel that on pages 25 and following you interpret my choice to go beyond the perception of the senses in order to perceive reality in its grandeur as “an explicit denial of the principle of reality” or as “mystical psychosis.” In fact, I intended to maintain precisely the position you yourself expound on page 29 and following concerning the method of the natural sciences “which transcends the limitations of the human senses.”
Thus I fully agree with what you write on page 40: “…mathematics has a deep affinity with religion.” On this point, then, I see no real contrast between your approach and mine. If on page 49 you explain that “true religiosity … today is to be found more in science than in philosophy,” you are making a statement which is certainly open to discussion; however, I am glad that you intend to present your work here as “true religiosity.” Here, as again on page 65, and then again in the chapter entitled “His Creed and mine,” you emphasize that true religiosity would be constituted by the renunciation of the “anthropomorphism” of a God understood as a person, and by the veneration of rationality. Accordingly, on page 182 of your book, you quite drastically say that “math and science are the only true religion, the rest is superstition.”
Now, I can certainly understand that you consider the conception of the primordial and creative Reason as a Person with its own “I” to be an anthropomorphism; this seems to be a reduction of the grandeur, for us inconceivable, of the Logos. The Trinitarian faith of the Church whose presentation in my book you recount objectively, to some extent also expresses the totally different, mysterious aspect of God, that which we may intuit only from afar. Here I would like to recall the statement of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, as he is called, who once said that philosophical minds certainly experience a kind of revulsion before biblical anthropomorphisms since they consider them inadequate.
However, these enlightened persons run the risk of taking their own philosophical conceptions of God as adequate and of forgetting that their own philosophical ideas are also infinitely far from the reality of the “totally Other.” Thus these anthropomorphisms are needed in order to overcome the arrogance of thought; indeed, it must be said that, in some respects, anthropomorphism more closely approaches the reality of God than mere concepts. Moreover, what the Fourth Lateran Council said in 1215 still applies, i.e. that every concept of God can only be analogical and that dissimilarity with the true God is always infinitely greater than likeness.
That said, it must still be maintained that a divine Logos also must be conscious and, in this sense, a Subject and a Person. An objective reason always presupposes a subject, a reason which is conscious of itself.
On page 53 of your book you say that this distinction, which in 1968 could still seem justified, is no longer tenable faced with today’s reality of artificial intelligence. On this point you do not convince me at all. Artificial intelligence, in fact, is obviously an intelligence transmitted by conscious subjects, an intelligence placed in equipment. It has a clear origin, in fact, in the intelligence of the human creators of such equipment.
Lastly, I cannot follow you at all, if from the start you do not write Logos with a capital ‘L’ but rather the mathematical logos in lower case (page 85). The Logos that stands at the beginning of all things is a Logos above all logoi.
Of course, the transition from the logoi to the Logos made by the Christian faith together with the great Greek philosophers is a leap that cannot be simply demonstrated: It leads from empiricism to metaphysics and with this to another level of thought and reality. But this leap is at least as logical as your dispute against it. I also think that whoever cannot make this leap should yet regard it as a serious question. This is the crucial point in my conversation with you, a point to which I will return again at the end. In any case, I expect someone who seriously wonders to acknowledge that “perhaps” which, following Martin Buber, I spoke about at the beginning of my book. Both parties to the discussion should continue their search. It seems to me, however, that you interrupt the quest in a dogmatic way and no longer ask, but rather claim to teach me.
The point just set forth constitutes for me the central point of a true dialogue between your “scientific” faith and the faith of Christians. All the rest is secondary by comparison. So you will allow me to be more concise with regard to evolution. First I would like to point out that no serious theologian will dispute that the entire “tree of life” is in a living internal relationship, which the word evolution fittingly describes. Likewise, no serious theologian will be of the opinion that God, the Creator, repeatedly at intermediate levels had to intervene almost manually in the process of development. In this sense, many attacks on theology regarding evolution are unfounded. However, it would be useful for the advancement of knowledge if those who represent the natural sciences would also show themselves more openly aware of the issues and if they would say more clearly what questions still remain open.
In this regard, I have always considered exemplary the work of Jacques Monod, who clearly recognizes that, ultimately, we do not know the ways by which new DNA full of meaning is formed time and time again. I contest your thesis on page 129 according to which the four typologies developed by Darwin would perfectly explain all that regards the evolution of plants and animals, including man. On the other hand, I would not omit the fact that in this field there is a lot of science fiction, I will speak of it elsewhere. Moreover, in his book Prinzip Menschlichkeit (Hamburg 2007), the medical scientist Joachim Bauer of Freiburg impressively illustrated the problems of social Darwinism; this too should not be passed over in silence.
The result of the “Longterm-evolution experiment” of which you speak on page 121 is by no means comprehensive. The attempted contraction of time in the final analysis is fictitious, and mutations achieved are of a modest scope. But most of all, man as the demiurge must constantly intervene with his contribution — precisely what evolution seeks to exclude. Furthermore, I find it very important that you still, even in your “religion,” recognize three “mysteries”: the question regarding the origin of the universe, that regarding the emergence of life and that regarding the origin of consciousness of the most highly developed living beings. Of course, also here you see man as one of the species of ape and thereby substantively cast doubt on the dignity of man; however, the emergence of consciousness remains an open question for you (page 182).
You pointed out to me several times that theology would be science fiction. In this respect, I marvel that you still consider my book worthy of such detailed discussion. Allow me to propose four points on the issue:
It is correct to say that only mathematics is “science” in the strictest sense of the word, though I learned from you that here, too, it is necessary to make a further distinction between arithmetic and geometry. In all the specific areas, the scientific credentials of the discipline has its own form according to the particularity of its object. What is essential is that you apply a verifiable method, that you exclude arbitrariness and that you ensure rationality in their respective and various modalities.
You should at least recognize that, within the context of history and philosophical thought, theology has produced lasting results.
An important function of theology is to keep religion tied to reason and reason to religion. Both roles are of essential importance for humanity. In my dialogue with Habermas, I have shown that there are pathologies of religion and — no less dangerous — pathologies of reason. They both need each other, and keeping them constantly connected is an important task of theology.
Science fiction exists, however, in the context of many sciences. What you set forth on the theories about the beginning and the end of the world in Heisenberg, Schrödinger, etc. I would designate as science fiction in the best sense: they are visions and anticipations, by which we seek to attain a true knowledge, but in fact, they are only imaginations whereby we seek to draw near to the reality. Even within the theory of evolution, a great style of science fiction exists. Richard Dawkins’ selfish gene is a classic example of science fiction. The great Jacques Monod wrote sentences that he himself would certainly have inserted in his work just as science fiction. I quote: “The emergence of tetrapod vertebrates … derives its origin from the fact that a primitive fish ‘chose’ to go and explore the land, on which, however, he was unable to move except by hopping awkwardly and thus creating, as a result of behavioral modification, the selective pressure thanks to which the sturdy limbs of tetrapods would have developed. Among the descendants of this daring explorer, of this Magellan of evolution, some can run at a speed of more than 70 miles per hour …” (quoted according to the Italian edition Chance and Necessity, Milan 2001, p. 117ff) .
All the issues I have discussed thus far have been part of a serious dialogue, for which, as I’ve said repeatedly, I am grateful. The situation is quite different in the chapter on the priest and on Catholic morality, and even more different in the chapter on Jesus. As for what you say about the moral abuse of minors by priests, I can, as you know, only note it with deep dismay. I have never tried to hide these things. That the power of evil penetrates even to this point in the interior life of the faith is, for us, a suffering which, on the one hand, we must endure, while on the other hand, we must at the same time do everything possible so that cases such as these never occur again. Nor is it a reason for comfort to know that, according to the research of sociologists, the percentage of priests guilty of these crimes is not higher than in those found in other similar professions. In any case, this deviant behaviour should not be ostensibly presented as a filthy crime which only exists in the Catholic Church.
If we may not remain silent about evil in the Church, then neither should we keep silent about the great shining path of goodness and purity which the Christian faith has traced out over the course of the centuries. We need to remember the great and pure figures which the faith has produced — from Benedict of Nursia and his sister Scholastica, to Francis and Claire of Assisi, to Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, to the great saints of charity like Vincent de Paul and Camillo de Lellis, to Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the great and noble figures of nineteenth century Turin. It is also true today that faith moves many people to selfless love, to service to others, to sincerity and to justice. You cannot know how many forms of selfless assistance to the suffering are realized through the service of the Church and its faithful. If you were to take away everything that is done from these motives, it would cause a far-reaching social collapse. Lastly, neither should one keep silent regarding the artistic beauty which the faith has given to the world: nowhere is it better seen than in Italy. Think also of the music which has been inspired by faith, from Gregorian chant to Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms, and so on.
What you say about the person of Jesus is not worthy of your scientific standing. If you are posing the question as if, in the end you knew nothing about Jesus and as though nothing were ascertainable about Him as a historic figure, then I could only firmly invite you to become a little more competent from an historical point of view. For this, I recommend especially the four volumes which Martin Hengel (an exegete of the Protestant Theological Faculty of Tübingen) published together with Maria Schwemer: it is an excellent example of historical precision and of the broadest historical knowledge. Compared with this, what you say about Jesus is rash talk that should not be repeated.
It is an incontestable fact that many things of little seriousness have been written within the field of exegesis. The American seminar on Jesus you cite on pages 105 and following only confirms again what Albert Schweitzer had noted about the “Leben-Jesu-Forschung” (Research on the life of Jesus), i.e. that the so-called “historical Jesus” is for the most part a reflection of the authors’ ideas. These botched forms of historical work, however, do not compromise at all the importance of serious historical research, which has brought us true and certain knowledge about the proclamation [of the Gospel] and the figure of Jesus.
On page 104 you go so far as to ask the question if Jesus was perhaps even one of the many charlatans who seduced innocent people with spells and tricks. And even if this is only expressed in the form of a question and, thank God, does not appear as a thesis, respect for what others hold as a sacred reality should restrain you from such insults (cf. the expression “silly charlatanism” on page 104).
I must also forcefully reject your assertion (p. 126) that I have portrayed historical-critical exegesis as an instrument of the Antichrist. Treating the account of Jesus’ temptations, I have only taken up Soloviev’s thesis that historical-critical exegesis can also be used by the antichrist — which is an incontestable fact. At the same time, however — and especially in the preface to the first volume of my book on Jesus of Nazareth — I have always explained clearly that historical-critical exegesis is necessary for a faith that does not propose myths with historical images, but that it demands genuine historicity and therefore must present the historical reality of its claims in a scientific manner. For this reason, neither is it correct for you to tell me that I would be interested only in meta-history: On the contrary, all my efforts are aimed at showing that the Jesus described in the Gospels is also the real historical Jesus, that it is history which actually occurred.
At this point, I would also like to note that your exposition of the crede ut intellegas does not agree with the Augustinian mode of thinking which guides me: for Augustine crede ut intellegas and intellege ut credas, in their own specific ways, are inseparably joined. In this regard, I would refer you to the article crede ut intellegas by Eugene TeSelle in the “Augustinus-Lexikon” (ed. C. Mayer, vol. 2 Basel from 1996 to 2002, coll. 116-119).
Allow me then to observe that, regarding the scientific nature of theology and its sources, you should move more cautiously when it comes to historical statements. I shall mention just one example. On page 109, you tell us that the changing of water into wine at the Wedding at Cana in John’s Gospel corresponds to the account of the changing of the Nile into blood (Exodus 7:17ff). This, of course, is nonsense. The transformation of the Nile into blood was a scourge that, for some time, took the vital resource of water from men in order to soften Pharaoh’s heart. The changing of water into wine at Cana, however, is the gift of nuptial joy which God offers in abundance to men. It is a reference to the changing of the water of the Torah into the exquisite wine of the Gospel. In John’s Gospel, yes, the typology of Moses is present, but not in this passage.
In Chapter 19 of your book, we return to the positive aspects of your dialogue with my book. First, however, allow me to correct another small mistake on your part. In my book I did not base myself on the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the text of which, to your praise, you communicate to the reader, but rather on the “Apostle’s Creed” as it is called. Its core is founded on the City of Rome’s profession of faith and then, beginning from the third century, it increasingly spread in the West with several slight variations. Since the fourth century, it has been considered as compiled by the Apostles themselves. In the East, however, it has remained
But now let us turn to chapter 19 of your book: Even if your interpretation of John 1:1 is very far from what the evangelist intended, there is still an important convergence. If, however, you wish to replace God with “Nature,” the question remains as to who or what this nature is. Nowhere do you define it and it therefore appears to be an irrational divinity which explains nothing. However, I would like especially to note that in your religion of mathematics three fundamental themes of human existence are not considered: freedom, love and evil. I am surprised that with a nod you set aside freedom which has been and still remains a fundamental value of the modern age. Love does not appear in your book, nor does the question of evil. Whatever neurobiology says or does not say about freedom, in the real drama of our history it is present as a crucial reality and it must be taken into account. However, your mathematical religion knows of no answer to the question of freedom, it ignores love and it does not give us any information on evil. A religion that neglects these fundamental questions is empty.
Distinguished Professor, my critique of your book is, in part, tough. However, frankness is a part of dialogue. Only thus can knowledge grow. You have been very frank and so you will accept that I am, too. In any case, however, I consider it very positive that you, in confronting my Introduction to Christianity, have sought such an open dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church and that, despite its contrasts, at the centre of it all, convergences are not completely lacking.
With cordial greetings and every best wish in your work,
Register translation by Diane Montagna.