Benedict XVI Recalls Blessed John Paul II’s Sanctity in New Interview


jpiib16Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has shared some personal recollections of Blessed John Paul II in a new interview that appears in a book of tributes to the soon-to-be canonized Polish Pontiff.

In extracts of the interview, published today by ZENIT, Benedict XVI says it became “ever clearer” to him that John Paul II was a saint. He recalls his first meeting with Karol Wojtyla, their working relationship, and how – contrary to what some theologians thought at the time – John Paul II firmly backed the former prefect at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the blowback that followed publication of the 2000 declaration, Dominus Iesus.

The interview, which runs to 12 pages under the heading “It Became Ever More Clear to Me that John Paul II Was a Saint”, is one of 21 that appear in “Beside John Paul II – Friends and Collaborators Speak”. The book is so far only available in Italian.

Here below is a key extract in answer to a question on John Paul II’s sanctity :

BENEDICT XVI: [The idea] that John Paul II was a saint came to me from time to time, in the years of my collaboration with him, ever clearer. Naturally, one must first of all keep in mind his intense relationship with God, his being immersed in communion with the Lord, of which he hardly spoke. From here came his happiness in the midst of the great labors he had to sustain, and the courage with which he fulfilled his task at a truly difficult time.

John Paul II did not ask for applause, nor did he ever look around, concerned about how his decisions were received. He acted from his faith and his convictions and he was ready also to suffer the blows.

The courage of the truth is in my [judgment] the criterion of the first order of sanctity.

Only from his relation with God is it possible to understand his indefatigable pastoral commitment. He gave himself with a radicalism which cannot be explained otherwise.

His commitment was tireless, and not only in the great trips, whose programs were dense with appointments from beginning to end, but also day after day, beginning with the morning Mass until late at night. During his first visit to Germany (1980), for the first time I had a very concrete experience of this enormous commitment. So during his stay in Munich, I decided he should take a longer break at midday. During that interval he called me to his room. I found him reciting the Breviary and I said to him: “Holy Father, you should rest”, and he said: “I can do so in Heaven.”

Only one who is profoundly filled with the urgency of his mission can act like this.

[…] But I must render honor also to his extraordinary kindness and understanding. Often I had sufficient reasons to blame myself or to put an end to my job of Prefect. And yet he supported me with absolutely incomprehensible fidelity and kindness.

Here, too, I would like to give an example. In face of the turmoil that developed around the Declaration Dominus Iesus, he told me that he intendedto defend the document unequivocally at the Angelus. He invited me to write a text for the Angelus which should be, so to speak, watertight and not consent to any different interpretation. It should emerge, in an altogether unequivocal way, that he approved the document unconditionally.

Therefore, I prepared a brief address. I did not intend, however, to be too brusque and so I sought to express myself with clarity and without harshness. After having read it, the Pope asked once again: “Is it really sufficiently clear?” I answered yes.

Those who know theologians will not be astonished by the fact that, this notwithstanding, afterwards there were those who held that the Pope had prudently distanced himself from that text.

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Benedict XVI’s Decision to Step Down ‘an Act of Great Courage’


VATICAN CITY — “Let’s just say there was a fair amount of surprise,” said a senior Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, about the shock of Pope Benedict XVI announcing his intent to resign.

Like the rest of the world, the official, who works in the heart of the apostolic palace, never saw the announcement coming last year.

“Just a handful of people knew,” he said. “The person who told me the news didn’t even believe it.”

It was a Vatican holiday that day, and officials required to work expected a light workload, but that’s not how it turned out. “It was crazy — I was taking phone calls nonstop for the next three days,” the official recalled.

Benedict XVI made the nearly unprecedented announcement at 11:41am local time on Feb. 11, 2013, in the consistory hall of the apostolic palace. Speaking in Latin, he told the small gathering of cardinals who were present to hear the announcement of three new saints that he would resign the Petrine ministry on Feb. 28 due to declining health.

“I have convoked you to this consistory not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church,” Benedict declared. “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.”

He added that, “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith,” both strength of mind and body are necessary to proclaim the Gospel, “strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

“For this reason,” he continued, “and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom, I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on April 19, 2005, in such a way, that, as from Feb. 28, 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of St. Peter will be vacant, and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”


‘Act of Love for the Lord’

Not since Pope St. Celestine V in 1294 had a reigning pope chosen on his own initiative to resign the papacy rather than die in office.

“It was an act of great courage, even a revolutionary act, which opened up possibilities that no one at that moment could see,” said Archbishop Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, in an interview with Vatican television released today. The resignation was a “very special day,” he continued, adding that Benedict had told him about his decision shortly before the announcement, but gave him strict orders not to tell anyone.

But even though Archbishop Gänswein had advance knowledge, he was still “shocked.” The German archbishop believes it was “an act of love for the Lord, for the Church and for the faithful, to step aside, to open up the possibility to a person who has more strength, who can continue his work.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Vatican Radio on Feb. 10 that Pope Benedict’s decision was “a great act of government,” made with “great spiritual depth.”

For most people, it was an “unusual and surprising gesture,” he said, but for those closest to him, it was a decision he had “prayed about, reflected and evaluated with spiritual discernment.” Father Lombardi pointed to the fact that Benedict had hinted at the possibility in Light of the World, his 2010 book-length conversation with the German journalist Peter Seewald.


‘Adequate and Clear’ Reasons

The reasons Benedict gave for his decision were also “absolutely adequate and clear,” Father Lombardi added, despite speculation that he resigned for ulterior reasons, possibly connected to the Vatileaks scandal or the sexual-abuse crisis.

It is now widely known that Pope Emeritus Benedict first took the possibility of resigning seriously when he suffered a small fall during the night on his papal visit to Mexico in March 2012. He was further convinced when doctors advised him to no longer go on lengthy trips, ruling out World Youth Day in Rio last July.

Father Lombardi said the decision to resign required “great courage,” because taking such an unusual decision can lead to “problems or doubts about ‘what’ it would mean” and unknown “consequences for the future, as regards the people of God or the general public.”

“The clarity and, I would say, faith with which Benedict XVI prepared this gesture gave him the serenity and strength required to implement it,” Father Lombardi said, “proceeding with courage and serenity, with a true vision of faith and of waiting for the Lord, who continually accompanies his Church.”

The Vatican spokesman said it was quite clear to Benedict that there was “absolutely no need to fear. Why? Because the fact is: The papacy is a service and not a power. If power is what motivates, then it is clear that two people may find it difficult to coexist in the same role, because it could be difficult to renounce power and live with one’s successor.”

“But if service is what motivates,” Father Lombardi continued, “then a person who has done his duty before God and in full consciousness of this service passes on the testimony to another person with that attitude of service and full freedom of conscience.”

If this happens, “there is absolutely no problem,” the papal spokesman said. “There is a deep spiritual solidarity among the servants of God who seek the good of the people of God in the service of the Lord.”


Reaction to Pope Francis

Archbishop Gänswein said he “strongly” believes that Benedict’s gesture had a great impact on the faithful’s emotional reaction to Pope Francis, saying that it “is an aspect that should not be underestimated.”

Francis’ impact on the world was also “facilitated” by Pope Benedict in his resignation. “He opened up a possibility that, until then, was not there, and we see that Pope Francis has taken up this situation, and we are pleased that today it is so,” he said.

Reflecting on the life of Benedict XVI today, Father Lombardi said he “lives discreetly, without a public dimension, but this does not mean that he is isolated, closed, as if in a strict cloister.”

His activities “are normal for an older person,” he said. As well as reading, praying, studying and answering correspondence, the Vatican spokesman said Benedict also meets people “who are close to him, whom he willingly meets, with whom he believes it is useful to have a dialogue, who ask for advice or spiritual closeness.”

He is, therefore, a person “who is spiritually rich” and living in a “discreet relationship with others.” Gone is the public dimension, he said, but in its place is “a normal life of relationships.”

One of those, of course, is with Pope Francis. Both are regularly in contact with each other. It’s a “completely normal relationship,” he said, “and, I would add, one of solidarity.”

“I believe those rare images of the two popes together and praying together — the current Pope and the pope emeritus — is a truly beautiful and encouraging sign, the continuity of the Petrine ministry in the service of the Church,” he concluded.

To mark the anniversary, Pope Francis sent out a tweet today, calling on the faithful to “join me in prayer for His Holiness Benedict XVI, a man of great courage and humility.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Vatican Hires Large U.S. Consultancy Firm to Advise on Media


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.

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Full Interview with Head of Legionaries of Christ




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.




































Rome Conference Examines Christianity and Freedom


(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.”

Full Text of Benedict XVI’s Letter to Atheist



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

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,

Benedict XVI

Register translation by Diane Montagna.

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Secretary Recalls Final Months of Benedict XVI’s Pontificate


VATICAN CITY — In a revealing new interview, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein has recalled the final tumultuous months of Benedict XVI’s pontificate and shared his views on the new style of papacy under Pope Francis.

In the interview, published in the Italian daily Il Messaggero Oct. 22, the German archbishop said that working as prefect of the pontifical household, as well as continuing to assist Benedict XVI, is “quite a challenge, regardless of the amount of things to do.”

“I would seek the advice of my predecessor, except there isn’t one, because no one before me has ever had this double task,” he said. “But using common sense, I do my best.”

Archbishop Gänswein, 57, served as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s private secretary from 2003, a role he maintained until Benedict XVI promoted him to prefect of the pontifical household last year. He continues to assist the pope emeritus and lives with him in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens. As prefect, he takes care of the internal organization of Francis’ papal household and supervises the conduct and service of all who make up the papal chapel and family.

The German prelate, who has previously described his role as being a “bridge” between the two popes, said he puts into practice “the words of Pope Francis: Never turn in on oneself, and do not be afraid; that way, I pursue a serene path every day.” In the end, he added, “the service is done for the Lord and for the Church.”

He said he initially had some struggles taking up the position. “I confess to having some difficulty, some unpleasant experiences regarding misunderstandings and envy, but these ripples have since calmed down.”

Reporting on Benedict XVI, the archbishop said: “He’s fine; he prays, reads, listens to music. He devotes himself to correspondence which is immense, and there are also visits.” He added that he and the former pope also take daily walks in the grove behind the monastery and pray the Rosary. “The day is well planned,” he said.

Recalling the final days of Benedict XVI’s papacy, he said his resignation was “not entirely” a surprise. “I had known of his decision for some time, but I never spoke with anyone about it. The moment of the announcement, on Feb. 11, remains indelible.”

“Difficult days” followed Benedict’s departure on Feb. 28, he said. “I will never forget when I turned off the lights of the papal apartments with tears in my eyes,” he said. “Then the car ride to the heliport, the flight to Castel Gandolfo, the arrival, the final farewell of Pope Benedict XVI on the balcony. Finally, the closing of the door of the palazzo.”

He said the whole of March was difficult due to the uncertainty of who would be elected. “Fortunately, with the new pope, there was a relationship of affection and esteem, even if Benedict and Francis are people with different styles and personalities,” the archbishop said. “Some have wanted to interpret such differences as being opposite directions, but it is not so.”

Going back farther, Archbishop Gänswein also recalled the nadir of the “Vatileaks” affair, when Benedict XVI’s former butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested for leaking documents from the papal apartments, and the then-president of the IOR (Vatican Bank) Ettore Gotti Tedeschi resigned.

“I remember that moment well,” he recalled, but added that, “contrary to what many people think, there is no connection between the two events; it was, rather, just an unfortunate coincidence, even diabolical.”

Gotti Tedeschi was ousted by the board of the IOR on grounds of alleged negligence. Some speculated he was involved in leaking papal documents to the press, but this has always been denied, a view backed up by Archbishop Gänswein.

“Benedict XVI, who appointed Gotti as head of the IOR to continue the [Vatican’s] transparency policy, was surprised, very surprised at the no-confidence vote against the professor,” he said. “The Pope held him in high esteem and was fond of him, but he chose not to interfere at the time, out of respect for those who were responsible for dealing with such matters. After the no-confidence vote, even though he was not able to meet with Gotti, the Pope kept in touch with him in a discreet and appropriate way.”

Regarding Pope Francis, Archbishop Gänswein said he was “trying to understand more and more what [the poor Church of Francis] means,” stressing it is a “common thread” in the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis. “It is not a sociological, but a theological, expression,” he said. “At the center is the poor Christ, and from there, everything follows.”

He said the Pope’s approach is consistent with the one he pursued in Buenos Aires. His personal example is a pastoral one, he said, and “a precious witness.”

But he was skeptical about the term “revolution,” saying it seems “a facile slogan” put about in some of the mass media. “Sure, some gestures and initiatives of Papa Francesco surprised and still surprise,” he said. “But it is normal that a change of pontificate brings with it changes on different levels.” The Pope, he said, must build a team of trustworthy people, “but this is not a revolution; it is simply an act of governance and accountability.”

He said the establishment of a commission of eight cardinals to advise the Pope on Curial reform was a “big surprise,” adding that it was too early to predict definitive results but that he was “curious” what those will be.

Archbishop Gänswein also firmly rejected the possibility of having a “pope and anti-pope.”

“There is a reigning pope and a pope emeritus,” he said. “Whoever knows Benedict XVI knows that this danger does not exist. He has never interfered and does not interfere in the governance of the Church; it is not part of his style. The theologian Ratzinger also knows that his every word could attract the public’s attention and whatever he said would be read as being for or against his successor.”

“So he will not intervene publicly,” he added. “Luckily, between him and Francis, there is a relationship of sincere esteem and brotherly affection.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Benedict XVI Publicly Responds to Atheist’s Critique


NEWS ANALYSIS: The pope emeritus’ 11-page letter was published in the same newspaper that printed Pope Francis’ recent responses about atheism and the Church.

by EDWARD PENTIN 09/24/2013

Papa_Benedetto-255x297VATICAN CITY — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has joined Pope Francis in writing a letter to a prominent Italian atheist in an attempt to engage nonbelievers in a dialogue about the faith.

The 11-page letter, extracts of which were published in Monday’s edition of the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, is addressed to professor Piergiorgio Odifreddi, an Italian mathematician, popular science writer and a member of the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

The Pope Emeritus was responding to a book Odifreddi wrote in 2011 titled Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You. The book 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 Nazarethwhich he wrote as pope. Benedict’s letter, even though published after Francis’, was written prior.

Earlier this month, Pope Francis surprised the world by responding to three questions put to him by the Italian atheist and founder of La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari, concerning Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith).


Clerical Sex Abuse

Much of the mainstream media has picked out passages of Benedict XVI’s response relating to clerical sex abuse. Benedict writes that he “never tried to cover up these things,” and “the power of evil [that] penetrates to such a point in the interior world of the faith is, for us, a source of suffering.”

“On the one hand, we must accept that suffering, and on the other, at the same time, we must do everything possible so that such cases aren’t repeated,” he says. “It’s also not a motive for comfort to know that, according to sociological research, the percentage of priests guilty of these crimes is no higher than in other comparable professional categories.”

“In any event,” he continues, “one must not stubbornly present this deviance as if it were a nastiness specific to Catholicism.”

But many other areas of interest are also covered in the letter. The extracts show Benedict to be his usual gentlemanly, unfailingly polite and frank self, unafraid to speak his mind with respect to atheism and the arguments put forward by Odifreddi.

He begins by thanking the Italian author for the critiques of his writings, and he explains that such a dialogue is “in large part” what he was alluding to in his address to the Roman Curia in 2009 that ultimately led to the creation of the Courtyard of the Gentiles.

That initiative, a structure for permanent dialogue between believers and nonbelievers run by the Pontifical Council for Culture, has led to several encounters with atheists in European capitals since 2010. Ironically, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi told the Register shortly before its launch that the Vatican was only interested in engaging with a “noble atheism or agnosticism, not the polemical kind — so not those atheists such as [Piergiorgio] Odifreddi in Italy, [Michel] Onfray in France, [Christopher] Hitchens and [Richard] Dawkins.”


Benedict’s Four Points

But that hasn’t stopped Benedict XVI, who doesn’t hold back in revealing what he thinks of Odifreddi’s work. “My opinion about your book is, as a whole, rather mixed,” he says. “I profited from some parts, which I read with enjoyment, but in other parts I was astonished at a certain aggressiveness and thoughtless argumentation.”

He notes that, several times, Odifreddi refers to theology as science fiction, and he says that, in this respect, he is “surprised that you feel my book is worthy of discussion.” He responds by making the case for theology with four points.

First, Benedict asks: “Is it fair to say that ‘science’ in the strictest sense of the word is just math? I learned from you that, even here, the distinction should be made between arithmetic and geometry. In all specific scientific subjects, each has its own form, according to the particularity of its object. What is essential is that a verifiable method is applied, excluding arbitrariness and ensuring rationality in their different ways.”

Second, he says that Odifreddi should “at least recognize that, in history and in philosophical thought, theology has produced lasting results.”

Third, he explains that an important function of theology is “to keep religion tied to reason and reason to religion.” Both functions, he adds, “are of paramount importance for humanity.” He then refers to his famous dialogue with the atheist and sociologist Jurgen Habermas, in which he showed 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,” he adds.

Fourth, Benedict says that science fiction exists in the context of many sciences. He explains that he sees science fiction in a good sense when it shows vision and anticipates “true knowledge.” This is “only imagination,” he says, “with which we search to get closer to reality,” and he adds that a “science fiction [exists] in a big way just even within the theory of evolution.”


Dawkins Dismissed

Benedict then refers to the work of the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins. “The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins is a classic example of science fiction,” he says, and he recalls how the French Nobel Prize winner and molecular biologist Jacques Monod inserted sentences into his work that, in Benedict’s view, could only have been science fiction.

After addressing clerical sex abuse, he asks Odifreddi to remember the great figures the Church has produced, such as Sts. Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila. “It is also true today that the faith leads many people to selfless love, to the service of others, to sincerity and justice,” he says.

He then rebukes Odifreddi for his words about Jesus, saying, “They are not worthy of your scientific rank.” He invites him to become more competent in history and recommends some authors known for their historical accuracy. “That there has been too much exegesis written that has lacked seriousness is, unfortunately, an indisputable fact,” he says, but adds they have “no influence on the importance of serious historical research” that has led to a true knowledge of Jesus.

He then refers to areas of convergence in Odifreddi’s book with his own thinking. “Even if your interpretation of John 1:1 [In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God] is very far from what the Evangelist meant, there is a convergence that is important,” Benedict says. “However, if you want to replace God with ‘Nature,’ it begs the question: Who or what is this nature? Nowhere do you define it, and so it appears as an irrational divinity that explains nothing.”

He adds, “But I want to especially note that in your religion of mathematics three themes fundamental to human existence are not considered: freedom, love and evil.”

“I’m astonished that you just give a nod to freedom that has been and is the core value of modern times,” Benedict says. “Love in this book doesn’t appear, and there’s no information about evil.

“Whatever neurobiology says or doesn’t say about freedom, in the real drama of our history, it is a present reality and must be taken into account. But your religion of mathematics doesn’t recognize any knowledge of evil. A religion that ignores these fundamental questions is empty.”

The pope emeritus concludes: “Dear professor, my criticism of your book is in part harsh. Frankness, however, is part of dialogue: Only in this way can understanding grow. You were quite frank, and so you will accept that I should also be so. In any case, however, I very much appreciate that you, through your confrontation with my Introduction to Christianity, have sought to open a dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church and that, notwithstanding all the contrasts in the central area, points of convergence are nevertheless not lacking.”


Odifreddi’s Response

Writing in Monday’s La Repubblica, Odifreddi said few people “can understand the surprise and excitement” you feel on receiving “an unexpected letter from a pope.” He said the letter was delivered on Sept. 3, and he waited to publish it to make sure he had Benedict XVI’s permission. The depth of his answer was “beyond reasonable hopes,” Odifreddi said, and he was particularly surprised that Benedict read his book from cover to cover and wanted to discuss it, as it had been billed as a “luciferian introduction to atheism.”

Odifreddi said the entire 11-page letter will be included in a new edition of his book. He said that he and Benedict may disagree on almost everything, but they have “united in at least one common goal: the search for the Truth, with a capital ‘T.’”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

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From the Archive: Stasi Surveillance of Joseph Ratzinger


East German Stasi Considered Ratzinger a Fierce Foe:

By Edward Pentin

ROME, SEPT. 15, 2011 ( In 1974, a Trabant — an old East German car — was chugging through the Thuringian countryside, a province in the communist German Democratic Republic.

In its passenger seat sat Professor Joseph Ratzinger and at the wheel was Father Joachim Wanke, then an assistant at a local seminary — the only one in the GDR.

The two priests, writes Rainer Erice, a journalist for the German radio station Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk Thüringen (MDR), were on a harmless sightseeing tour, taking in the historic cities of Jena and Weimar. It was a moment of relaxation during Father Ratzinger’s short visit to East Germany, the purpose of which was to give several lectures to students and theologians in Erfurt, Thuringia’s capital.

SimonMenner_Stasi_12What gave this visit added significance, however, was that it marked the beginning of covert surveillance of Father Ratzinger by the East German “Stasi”, or secret police.

That Professor Ratzinger was spied upon by Stasi informants is already known. In 2005, it was revealed that the East German agents had had files on the newly elected Pope. But now new files, uncovered this week by MDR, add more light on how the secret police viewed the future Pontiff, and who was employed to inform on him.

The documents reveal that in 1974, the Stasi were well aware that Father Ratzinger was a rising star in the Church, but they lacked suitable spooks to track him. All they knew at that stage (from an unofficial informant called Birke, an employee of the bishop of Meissen) was that Professor Ratzinger had given lectures on modern theology to students and academics during his visit.

Intensified efforts

As the theology professor’s role in the Church grew, however, so the East German secret police began to take more of an interest in his activities and stepped up their efforts, according Erice’s report. By the time Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger of Munich visited Berlin in 1978 for a meeting with Cardinal Alfred Bengsch, chairman of the Berlin Bishops’ Conference, the foreign section of East Germany’s homeland security had taken over the task of spying on him and had assigned numerous unofficial informants in both East and West Germany.

The GDR secret service viewed Professor Ratzinger as “conservative, reactionary and authoritarian,” Erice writes, and contended that John Paul II had appointed the then-Cardinal Ratzinger as organizer for “counter-revolutionary development in Poland.” More Stasi notes reveal they considered him as “one of the fiercest opponents of communism”; they believed he supported nuclear deterrence between the East and West military blocs, and that he considered pacifism “unrealistic.”

But Erice adds that despite “several hundred pages” of information on Joseph Ratzinger, there was “little that was meaningful,” and individual reports of foreign espionage had been “almost completely deleted.” The discovered documents related only to “basic information about the author and the occasion of when the information was gathered.”

Yet the documents reveal some interesting facts, namely details about the Stasi agents employed to inform on Joseph Ratzinger. Erice writes that “at least a dozen unofficial employees” were assigned to the task. These included two East German university professors known to the Stasi as “reliable”: Agent “Aurora” was a professor of scientific atheism in Jena and Warnemünde, while Agent “Lorac” worked undercover as a theology professor in Leipzig. Agent “Georg” was in the executive committee of the Berlin Bishops’ Conference and was apparently well versed on the internal workings of the Church.

In West Germany, the Stasi’s network included a Benedictine monk in Trier known by the codename “Lichtblick” (Ray of Hope). Lichtblick spied for the Stasi for decades and, according to Erice, “shared very extensive and reliable reports about Vatican events.” Another unofficial agent, known as “Antonius” was a journalist with the German Catholic news agency KNA and provided “masses” of information about the Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger and the Vatican.

Another journalist was hired in Munich under the alias “Chamois”, while a particularly prominent spy was a politician belonging to the Christian Social Union party and a former confidant of Franz Josef Strauss, once a leader of the party. The agent was known by the codenames “Lion” and “Trustworthy”. Their network also went beyond the borders of Germany. In Italy, the Stasi employed Agent “Bernd” who provided information on the Holy See’s foreign policy.

Shy, but charming

With all these informants in place, Erice writes that the Stasi were well prepared when Joseph Ratzinger travelled to Dresden in 1987 to meet a group of Catholics. “The Stasi mounted a huge effort in monitoring the meeting,” Erice says, and they strove to avoid drawing attention to any surveillance that was taking place, especially when passing through the border. “The security forces were instructed to give him preferential and polite treatment at the border crossing,” say the reports, and that “worldly evils such as customs inspections” usually applied to Western visitors “had to be omitted.”

But despite their great efforts, Erice says the Stasi made some basic mistakes. They incorrectly spelled Cardinal Ratzinger’s native town Merkl instead of Marktl. And although they wanted to portray him negatively, they couldn’t help but make the occasional positive observation. In addition to praising his high intelligence, they noted: “Although he would be shy at first with an interlocutor, he possesses a winning charm.”

Benedict XVI is, of course, not the first Pontiff to have had much of his life closely monitored by secret agents. Blessed Pope John Paul II was heavily spied upon by the KGB and the SB (Poland’s secret police).  According to research revealed by George Weigel in his recent book “The End and the Beginning,” the agencies began taking a keen interest in Karol Wojtyla’s activities after he was made auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958.

Weigel recalls that between 1973 and 1974, Polish authorities considered arresting Karol Wojtyla and charging him with sedition. Secret police stalked him on kayaking trips and tried to compromise his closest associates, occasionally bungling their operations. And it wasn’t just the Pope who was in their sights; the Vatican was, too.

“What most surprised me was the sheer magnitude of the effort, which involved millions of man-hours and billions of dollars,” Weigel said in an interview with the National Catholic Register last year. “I was also unaware of the degree to which Soviet-bloc intelligence agencies attempted to manipulate the Second Vatican Council for their purposes — and how unaware of this assault the Vatican seemed to be (and continued to be until 1978).”

This week’s disclosures come just days before Benedict XVI makes a Sept. 22-25 state visit to Germany, which will include a stop in Erfurt.

He will be welcomed to the city by the current bishop of the diocese, his driver on that 1974 visit, Joachim Wanke.

Benedict XVI Makes Brief Trip to Castel Gandolfo


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI briefly returned to the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo on Sunday, where he spent time in prayer and attended a small concert in his honor.

He was accompanied by four ‘memores domini’, consecrated women belonging to the Communion and Liberation movement. When he was Pope, they looked after him in the apostolic palace, and continue to do so now as Pope Emeritus, in his new residence in the Vatican Gardens.

Assumption2013 165

Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at Castel Gandolfo, Aug. 15, 2013.

During his three hour visit, Benedict XVI recited the Rosary while taking a stroll in the villa gardens, just as he used to do when he was Roman Pontiff. He also attended a short piano recital of classical music performed in his honor before returning to the Vatican in the evening.

Benedict XVI spent his first three months in retirement at the papal villas in the town, 20 miles outside Rome. The residence, on a hilltop overlooking a volcanic lake and with its own farm, has always been dear to him. But despite there being a Pope and a Pope Emeritus, neither is living there this summer, the traditional residence for popes from July until October.

Pope Francis is spending all season at the Domus Sanctae Marthae residence at the Vatican, partly to give an example of austerity, but also so that he can take a “working vacation” and prepare his reforms of the Roman Curia and the Vatican Bank. It is the longest time the papal villas have remained vacant over the summer since the papal transitions during the summer months of 1978.

Italian media have been reporting that the absence of Pope Francis and Benedict XVI is taking its toll on businesses in the town. Most traders there make most of their living in the summer months, and are reported to be disappointed and saddened by the lack of the town’s greatest draw. During Benedict XVI’s pontificate, his Sunday and Wednesday addresses would bring thousands to the hilltop town, but this season numbers have dwindled to a trickle. One businessman, quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA, said business was “collapsing” while another said she thought it was “a joke” when she found out Pope Francis would not be staying there.

But when I visited the town on the Feast of the Assumption, traders seemed more upbeat, helped by the influx of a crowd of pilgrims numbering over 10,000. “We have a high regard for Pope Francis,” said Diana, owner of an art shop on the central piazza. “He has chosen not to take a vacation, to keep working and maybe that is a good thing.” But she said “we want him here and hopefully he’ll come next year.”

Carla, owner of a souvenir shop, also seemed hardly perturbed, saying that although the absence of a pope has caused some hardship, she liked Pope Francis’ “austere approach to things”. She was confident he would be staying next year.

Castel Gandolfo’s mayor, Milvia Monachesi, has suggested the town perhaps needs to find a new economic model, one not based solely on religious tourism. She argued the town in itself has a lot to offer on account of its history and beautiful location. Some have proposed asking the Vatican to open up the gardens of the papal villas to the public as a way of attracting more tourists.

Monachesi, however, is confident this is just a short-term problem, and took comfort in the fact that Pope John XXIII also didn’t visit the town during the early years of his pontificate. “I’m sure the Pope will come to Castel Gandolfo in the coming years,” she said.

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