Centering Catholic Theology on the Person of Christ



Courtesy of Father Réal TremblayVATICAN CITY — Pope Francis last month named Redemptorist Father Réal Tremblay president of the Pontifical Academy of Theology. He is professor emeritus of fundamental moral theology at the Alphonsian Academy.

Born in Metabetchouan, Quebec, Canada, Father Tremblay was a student of Joseph Ratzinger in the 1970s and earned his doctorate in dogmatic theology in 1975 from the University of Regensburg, Germany.

The Pontifical Academy of Theology was founded in Rome and received its first statutes from Pope Clement XI in 1718. Its mission is to promote dialogue between faith and reason and deepen Christian doctrine, following the indications of the Holy Father. It also aims to better understand revealed truth and its presentation to men and women of today, so they might receive the message of Christ and incarnate it in their own lives and their own cultures.

In this email interview with the Register, Father Tremblay discusses the challenges of theology today, recalls his memories of studying under Joseph Ratzinger and shares his thoughts on the upcoming Synod on the Family.


Father Tremblay, how do you see your main tasks as president of the Pontifical Academy of Theology?

While the “tasks” are defined by the statutes of the academy, the program (which corresponds more, I think, to the meaning of the question) concerns the way in which one responds to “tasks.”

For the moment, I do not have a clearly defined program for the next five years of my mandate. This will be done (in continuity with the work done in the past) in the fall with the help of the Council of the Academy.

But I have in mind certain ideas which I would like to mention now. For example: to promote a theology that is capable of helping people to rediscover the greatness and beauty of a Christianity centered on the person of Jesus and help to live in joy. So, not a speculative theology for the sake of speculation, but a demanding theology, always in contact with the life of people and the questions that it poses. This naturally implies a good knowledge of the world today in its most characteristic features and, therefore, a careful study of this context. You cannot talk to people without knowing them well.


Could you tell us about your theological formation and the challenges you faced in an increasingly post-Christian province like Quebec?

In Quebec, I made ​​my first theological studies. It was a kind of baccalaureate (five years of theology and three of philosophy). After two years of parish ministry, I left Quebec for Germany (University of Tübingen first and then Regensburg) to devote myself to my doctoral research under the leadership of professor Joseph Ratzinger. At the end of my Ph.D., my superiors called me to Rome to teach at the Alfonsiana Academy in the company of Bernard Haring and others, and I’ve remained in Rome since that time (1975).

So, I’ve never returned to my country as a theologian proper. Noting well the plight of Quebec from a post-Christian point of view, I almost never had the opportunity to reflect deeply and publicly about the huge challenges that this country has recently gone through and is still going through.


Who do you view today as leaders in the study/elucidation of Catholic theology?

It is difficult to answer this question taking into account the pluralism of theology today. Before Vatican II, the situation was different. There was a diversified consensus, yes, but it didn’t lessen the unity of thought between the different theological schools (they were then crystallized in the doctrine of the Council), with great theological figures, we can say, as Rahner, Ratzinger, Congar, de Lubac and many others.

Today, the situation is very different. We are no longer in the time of recollection, but the time of sowing in many different fields. This means there are still no “masters” of the stature of those of the recent past to emerge, which does not mean that they don’t exist. The future of the Church’s life will reveal them to us. For the moment, it is still too early to indicate that or the other.


Many are concerned about the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family, especially with regard to the reception of holy Communion by divorced-and-remarried Catholics. Could you explain how Catholic theology can be developed in the context of the magisterium?

The development of the doctrine, even in very complex areas, such as the one mentioned, has a necessary condition: the quality of theological reflection. Development of doctrine (if one needs any development) is not done through slogans, but very often through much suffering and full accountability, both on the side of those who believe it and on the side of those who experience it.

In the mentioned case, it seems to me that the question raised shows the need more for a theology of marriage (in its human and divine dimensions), conceived in the light of the Christ-Church relationship and ordered to show (not impose) the meaning of the serious needs of the “great mystery” that is Christian marriage. The mens (mindset) today around sexuality in general does not help to harmonize the “mystery” in question. But a real, livable and salvific solution is, in my view, the price of the respect of the “mystery.”


How much have you been influenced by the thought of Joseph Ratzinger-Pope Benedict?

Meeting with Joseph Ratzinger and his theology was great for me. I read Ratzinger for years. I wrote about some of the key points of his thought. I have moderated many scientific papers on his thinking. The penultimate one in this regard was a doctoral dissertation of 941 pages, entitled “Communion and Person: The Perspective of Joseph Ratzinger,” written by Don Claudio Bertero and awarded the best work of the academic year 2012-2013 at the Pontifical Lateran University.

In addition to meeting on the academic level, there are personal relationships that have never been lacking in the later years and which have continued to inspire me in my research.


Do you have any personal memories of studying under his direction in the 1970s? Have you ever participated in the annual Schülerkreis?

So many memories. The most important one was the strength of his sharp and illuminating intelligence that connects readily with the disarming simplicity of his person. Since then, I realized that greatness of mind and sincerity of heart can and should go together.

I participated profitably in some important meetings of the Schülerkreis.


What are your thoughts on Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), from a doctrinal point of view? And what impact does an apostolic exhortation or a papal interview with a newspaper have on the magisterium?

The apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium is a doctrinally rich text and not always easy to understand as a whole, given the nature of the text. To savor and collect all the richness of it, we still need a lot of time. I note that the second issue of the journal of the academy, PATH, will offer a set of theological opinions about some of the doctrinal elements of the papal document.

Secondly, there are different types of papal interventions. Not all are of equal scope, in the strict magisterial sense. For example, an interview, a sermon, an apostolic exhortation, an encyclical are, from this point of view, very different. But respect for the “ordinary” magisterium of the first Pastor of the Church is always required.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Benedict XVI and Francis Both Decline Castel Gandolfo


EPDespite a reigning and retired pope at the Vatican, the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo will again be bereft of a pontiff this year now that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reportedly let it be known he won’t be vacationing there.

According to Corriere della Sera Vaticanist Gian Guido Vecchi, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein said some time ago that, at one of the most recent meetings between the Pope and the former Pope, Benedict XVI asked Francis if he would at least be taking a small vacation this year having not had one in 2013.

“It was one of those conversations which, in their simplicity, they cover everything,” the prefect of the Pontifical Household said. “The Pope smiled and said no, he will remain in his place at the Vatican – also in Buenos Aires he never took holidays,” Archbishop Gaenswein recounted. “The Pope Emeritus smiled back and said, ‘Okay, then I also won’t do it.’”

This is somewhat surprising as Benedict XVI has always been very partial to the summer residence, set among the Albano hills and overlooking a volcanic lake. The cooler weather and serenity of the surroundings helped him to rest, and after he took a fall on holiday in northern Italy in 2009, he spent his annual summer vacation in the town. He also lived his first three months of retirement there last year until his new home, the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican Gardens, was renovated.

The town also won’t benefit from the customary papal Mass on the Feast of the Assumption. Unlike last year Francis won’t be leading the celebration on August 15th as he will be visiting South Korea.

To help offset the certain fall in tourism to the town, the Vatican has opened up the residence’s Bernini-landscaped gardens to the public, but for many of the townspeople who rely on the tourist trade, it will be a disappointing substitute for a papal visitor.

Benedict XVI may, however, escape for a day trip to the summer residence as he did last year. And given the advice from his aides to take a break after an intense year and concerns that might be having on his health, Pope Francis may also decide that a quick trip to the Castelli Romani is in order. So far, he will remain in the St. Martha residence where he will take a “working holiday”. Like last year, he has scaled back for the summer: his daily public Masses in the St. Martha residence have been suspended until the end of August, and his weekly general audiences have been put on hold until August 6th.

One other revealing comment by Archbishop Gaenswein, also reported by Guido Vecchi, is the frequency with which the Pope and Pope Emeritus are in touch – possibly more than most people think. “They write, telephone, listen and invite one another,” he said. “Francis has been to the Mater Ecclesiae monastery at different times, and also Benedict has been to St. Martha.”

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Vatican Laicizes Archbishop Josef Wesolowski for Sex Abuse of Minors


VATICAN CITY — A former papal diplomat has been convicted of sexually abusing minors and has been laicized, the Vatican announced today.

The news comes ahead of an expected meeting between Pope Francis and victims of clerical sex abuse at the Vatican next week.

In a statement, the Vatican said the first stage in the canonical trial against Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a former apostolic nuncio to the Dominican Republic, “has been concluded with the laicization of the prelate” and that he has “two months in which to make an eventual appeal.”

It added that the penal trial before the Vatican judicial authorities, following today’s ruling by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “will continue as soon as the canonical sentence has been made definitive.”

This further trial is necessary since, as a papal diplomat, he is a citizen of Vatican City.

Wesolowski, 66, is the most senior Vatican official to be investigated for alleged sex abuse. Until now, the Vatican has refrained from commenting on the charges against him, and the exact nature of his offenses is not yet known.

Responding to media reports, the Vatican stressed that Wesolowski has until now been granted “relative freedom of movement, as he awaits the verification by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith of the basis of these accusations made against him.”

The Vatican added that, considering the CDF’s ruling, “all the necessary procedures will be adopted in relation to the former nuncio, in conformity with the gravity of the case.”

The Holy See recalled the Polish-born Wesolowski on Aug. 21, 2013, after Pope Francis was informed of rumors that the nuncio had sexually abused teenage boys in the Dominican Republic.

Following the publication of the initial accusations, a 13-year-old boy from the country said in a television interview that the Polish former archbishop had solicited him for sexual favors in exchange for money.

Pope Benedict XVI appointed Wesolowski to the Dominican Republic in 2008. He had previously served as papal nuncio in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and before that, he was in Bolivia.

He was ordained a priest in 1972 and entered into the Vatican’s diplomatic service in 1980, serving in Vatican embassies in Africa, Costa Rica, Japan, Switzerland, India and Denmark.

In addition to being the Vatican’s ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Wesolowski was also apostolic delegate to Puerto Rico.

Pope Francis has promised that the Church will take immediate action in response to allegations of clerical sex abuse, and he obliquely referred to Wesolowski during a papal press conference on his way back from the Holy Land.

“We must go ahead with zero tolerance,” the Holy Father told reporters, adding that three bishops were currently under investigation, one of whom was considered to be Wesolowski.

“Sexual abuse is such an ugly crime,” he added, “because a priest who does this betrays the body of the Lord. It is like a satanic mass.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis established a committee to improve the Church’s handling of clerical sex abuse. The eight-member panel, headed by the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, said it would develop “best practices” for Catholic parishes to combat the crime. It also includes Marie Collins, an Irish abuse victim and campaigner.

Next week, the Holy Father is expected to meet with a group of victims of sex abuse by clergy for the first time and celebrate a Mass for them. The victims come from a number of countries, including the U.S., Britain, Ireland and Poland.

The Vatican has also indicated Pope Francis is establishing a commission under the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to examine the appeals of priests punished for sexual abuse of minors and other very serious crimes.

In a brief note May 19, the Vatican Press Office said the Pope had nominated Argentinian Archbishop Jose Luis Mollaghan of Rosario to lead the commission to examine the appeals of clergy for delicta graviora, the Vatican term for sexual abuse of minors and serious sins against the sacraments.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Catholic News Agency contributed to this report

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Argentina Presses Pope Over Falklands Dispute


Vatican officials are becoming increasingly irritated with the Argentine government after its ambassador to Britain — a vocal critic of the U.K.’s sovereignty over the Falkland Islands — sought a private audience with the pontiff.

Ambassador Alicia Castro was scheduled to meet the Pope on Monday of last week, but the audience was canceled at the last minute due to Francis having a “mild indisposition.” The Pope took off most of Monday and all of Tuesday last week to rest.

It is highly unusual for an ambassador accredited to another nation to have such an audience with a Pope.

The Vatican won’t comment on the nature of Castro’s visit, but sources said the audience was most likely part of an overall Argentine strategy to use the Pope’s nationality, and his willingness to see a wide range of his compatriots, including those Popes don’t normally see, to try to keep up pressure on the Falklands issue.

Argentina has long disputed Britain’s sovereignty over the South Atlantic islands and tried to take the territory by force in 1982. Since coming to power in 2007, the government of President Cristina Kirchner has reasserted the country’s claims to the islands, accusing Britain of maintaining “colonial enclaves.”

The British government is unconcerned by the latest possible attempt to manipulate the Pope. “The Vatican has been clear with us at a very senior level, including quite recently, that their long-standing position of neutrality on the Falklands remains in force, whatever Argentinean efforts to misrepresent the established position of the Holy See on this issue,” Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Nigel Baker, told me.

Castro, appointed ambassador to Britain to help with Kirchner’s diplomatic offensive, has been a key figure in pushing Argentina’s territorial claim. She publicly ambushed Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague over the matter in 2012, asking at a London meeting on human rights if there was a chance for dialogue.

The Falkland Islands, called the Malvinas in Argentina, is said to be one of two populist issues that unite almost all Argentines, the other being soccer. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio joined his fellow Argentines in calling Britain “usurpers” of the islands.

British Prime Minister David Cameron simply said Francis was wrong on the issue and referred to a referendum that had just unanimously voted in favor of retaining British sovereignty. “The white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear,” Cameron said, a comment Castro criticized as “dumb” and which betrayed a “foolish” attitude on the part of the prime minister.

Although Francis will probably continue to see a wide range of his compatriots in the future, like previous Popes he will continue to take the Holy See’s neutral line on such sensitive political issues.

He did, however, speak highly of Margaret Thatcher, who ordered British troops to retake the territory in 1982. In a message of condolence on her death last year, he recalled “with appreciation the Christian values which underpinned her commitment to public service and to the promotion of freedom among the family of nations.

“Entrusting her soul to the mercy of God, and assuring her family and the British people of a remembrance in his prayers, the Holy Father invokes upon all whose lives she touched, God’s abundant blessings,” he said.

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Article on French Protests Helps Register Win Journalist Excellence Award


This article I filed in January 2013 helped the National Catholic Register win a Catholic Press Association journalist excellence award at the CPA annual convention held this year in Charlotte, NC. Read more.


In Paris, an Uplifting Show of Support for Marriage

Hundreds of thousands march on behalf of one-man, one-woman marriage, as a national protest engulfs France in opposition to the government’s ‘Marriage for All’ legislation.
Reuters/Charles PlatiauPARIS — A march in Paris Jan. 13 against proposed marriage and adoption legislation for same-sex couples was the largest public demonstration France has witnessed since then-President Francois Mitterand tried to make all schools public in 1984, observers say.

Estimates vary on the size of the crowd, with police saying 340,000 attended the march that ended at the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. The organizers, however, put the figure at over a million.

Gen. Bruno Dary, a former military governor of Paris with technical expertise in estimating crowd flows, took issue with the police estimate, saying about 800,000 demonstrators took part, according to Le Figaro newspaper.

The protesters, in what were effectively three separate marches in the city, included not only faith and pro-family groups and people of all ages and backgrounds, but also atheists and homosexuals.

The demonstration, called a “Demo for All,” was held to protest against a bill titled “Marriage for All,” which would allow same-sex “marriage” and adoption by homosexual couples, that is being introduced by the administration of President Francois Hollande. Media coverage of the march was extensive in France, with television news bulletins and the press giving it plenty of attention, although much of it was eclipsed by the French military intervention in Mali.

Some even saw the Mali operation as a cynical attempt by Hollande to take public attention away from the issue in a bid to smooth its passage through the French parliament.


France’s Bishops Speak Out

“For many months, we have alerted the government and the public about the risk of a profound cleavage within French society posed by the bill allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples,” a Jan. 16 statement from the French bishops’ conference said. “This cleavage is even more unfortunate as our country is experiencing a period of severe economic and social problems which should, on the contrary, persuade political leaders to unite the country.”

The bishops, headed by the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, added that the “exceptional size of the manifestation [shows], if proof were needed, that this warning was well founded. In the three processions converging towards the Champ de Mars, people from all parts of France, young and old, families with children or alone, people of all opinions, of all religions or no religion marched with conviction, in good humor and were not aggressive towards anyone.”

A common feature, the bishops added, was the “recognition of the family, the children’s best interests and respect of parentage.”

The Catholic Church teaches that authentic marriage involves only one man and one woman. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution, despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures and spiritual attitudes” (1603).

In an address in June 2009, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “The different present forms of the dissolution of marriage, as well as free unions and ‘trial marriage,’ including the pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are … contrary expressions of an anarchic freedom that appears erroneously as man’s authentic liberation.”


Eradicating ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’

The protesters were not all opposed to same-sex unions, however. “French people want homosexuals to be treated as equals, and most of us agree on that,” Berenice Girardeau, a Parisian resident, told the Register. “But if you want to give them the same rights, you have to modify the law, the Civil Code, and that’s what’s frightening people.”

Many French citizens, including homosexuals, are reluctant to have the terms “mother” and “father” eradicated from the statute books by the proposed legislation and have issues with same-sex adoption. They argue that artificial procreation and proxy parenting by same-sex couples is simply a way of treating children as consumer products.

“The rights of children trump the right to children,” said Jean Marc, a French mayor, who is also homosexual and lived with a man for 20 years. He said the homosexual-rights “LGBT” movement does not speak for him and that “as a society we should not be encouraging this; it’s not biologically natural.”

During a heated Jan. 16-17 debate in the National Assembly, the French parliament’s lower house, opponents of the bill pointed out that 150 references to “mother” and “father” in the Civil Code would have to be erased.

Philippe Gosselin of the center-right UMP party noted that, in personnel forms for SNCF, the state rail carrier, the terms “father” and “mother” had already been replaced by the label “Parents 1 and 2.”

“We want to stop this!” he declared.

Xavier Bongibault, a prominent atheist homosexual, is also opposed to the bill. “In France, marriage is not designed to protect the love between two people. French marriage is specifically designed to provide children with families,” he said in an interview, according to C-FAM. “[T]he most serious study done so far … demonstrates quite clearly that a child has trouble being raised by gay parents.”


Voice of Experience

Meanwhile, Jean-Dominique Bunel, a specialist in humanitarian law, told Le Figaro he “was raised by two women” and that he “suffered from the lack of a father, a daily presence, a character and a properly masculine example, some counterweight to the relationship of my mother to her lover. I was aware of it at a very early age. I lived that absence of a father, experienced it as an amputation.”

“As soon as I learned that the government was going to officialize marriage between two people of the same sex, I was thrown into disarray,” he explained. It would be “institutionalizing a situation that had scarred me considerably. In that there is an injustice that I can in no way allow.”

If the women who raised him had been married, Bunel added, “I would have jumped into the fray and would have brought a complaint before the French state and before the European Court of Human Rights for the violation of my right to a mom and a dad.”

One of the most prominent campaigners against the bill, who was also one of the chief organizers of the march, is “Frigide Barjot,” a famous Catholic comedian in France. “To make a child, you need a man and a woman,” Barjot said ahead of the march, adding that a same-sex couple becoming the legal parents of a child “is totally contrary to reality.”

But like many French citizens, she does not object to official status and legal protections for same-sex couples. “The problem is not homosexuality, but human filiation,” she argued, stressing children’s need to have legal affiliation and access to their biological parents.


Referendum Request

Barjot and many other French citizens would prefer to see a referendum on the issue.

“A referendum would be the easiest and most sensible thing to do,” said Girardeau. “Let’s see what people think — this is a huge issue for us.”

But, so far, the Elysee Palace has ruled that out. The march expressed “a sensibility that must be respected,” a government spokesman said, “but it does not change the government’s desire to have a debate in parliament to allow passage of the law.”

The bill will be presented to France’s National Assembly on Jan. 29.

The expectation is that homosexual marriage will be separated from same-sex adoptions and surrogacy parenting, with such issues dealt with individually, but that same-sex “marriage” will definitely be passed by the parliament. Many same-sex couples in France already go abroad to countries where such legislation already exists, such as Belgium or Spain.

Such an outcome would not be acceptable, France’s Catholic hierarchy has stressed. In their statement, the French bishops called on politicians to offer policy solutions and formulations during the parliamentary debate “that are respectful of the heterosexual nature of marriage, parentage and homosexuals.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

He filed this report from Paris.

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