By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
ROME -- Pope Benedict XVI's book-length interview is certain to spark global attention, and not only for his comments suggesting that condom use might be acceptable in some circumstances.
In the 219-page book, "Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times," the German pontiff spoke candidly on the clerical sex abuse scandal, relations with Islam, papal resignation and the "threatening catastrophe" facing humanity.
The wide-ranging interview was conducted by German writer Peter Seewald, who posed questions in six one-hour sessions last summer. The book was to be released Nov. 23 at the Vatican, but ample excerpts were published three days earlier by the Vatican newspaper.
The book reveals a less formal side of the pope, as he responds simply and directly on topics as diverse as the joy of sex and the ban on burqas. Much of the conversation focuses on the pope's call for a global "examination of conscience" in the face of economic disparity, environmental disasters and moral slippage.
The pope repeatedly emphasized that the church's role in a largely broken world is not to impose a "burden" of moral rules but to open the doors to God.
Even before the book's release, media attention centered on the pope's remarks on condoms in AIDS prevention. While repeating his view that condoms cannot be the only answer to the AIDS epidemic, the pope allowed that in some specific cases -- for example, that of male prostitutes -- use of a condom could be a step toward taking moral responsibility for one's actions.
An entire chapter and parts of others were dedicated to the clerical sex abuse scandal. The pope called it "a great crisis" that left him "stunned by how wretched the church is, by how much her members fail to follow Christ."
"It was really almost like the crater of a volcano, out of which suddenly a tremendous cloud of filth came, darkening and soiling everything, so that above all the priesthood suddenly seemed to be a place of shame," he said.
He expressed optimism about the church's recovery from the scandal, saying God continues to raise up Catholic saints. But he also said he understands why some Catholics, particularly victims, have responded by leaving the church in protest.
"It is difficult for them to keep believing that the church is a source of good, that she communicates the light of Christ, that she helps people in life -- I can understand that," he said.
The pope said media coverage of the abuse scandal was partly motivated by a desire to discredit the church. But he added that the church must be "grateful for every disclosure" and said the media could not have reported in this way "had there not been evil in the church."
The pope pointed to the church's new rules and policies on sex abuse, but he appeared to acknowledge that more might have been done. He noted that in 2002, the Vatican and U.S. bishops established strict norms to curb sex abuse in U.S. dioceses.
"Would it have been Rome's duty, then, to say to all the countries expressly: Find out whether you are in the same situation? Maybe we should have done that," he said.
The pope said that in responding to sex abuse allegations against the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the late Mexican Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, "unfortunately we addressed these things very slowly and late." The allegations were eventually substantiated and the order has been placed under Vatican leadership for a period of reform.
Pope Benedict said Father Maciel remains for him "a mysterious figure," one who lived an immoral and twisted life but who built up his religious order with dynamism -- a "false prophet" who nevertheless had a "positive effect." As for the future of the Legionaries, the pope said it was basically sound but needed corrections that do not destroy the enthusiasm of its members.
The pope was asked if he considered resigning in the face of such burdens as the sex abuse crisis. He responded: "When the danger is great one must not run away. For that reason, now is certainly not the time to resign." But he added that if a pope is no longer physically, psychologically and spiritually capable of handling the duties of the papacy, he has a right and perhaps an obligation to resign.
The pope spoke candidly of his age and health, saying his schedule of meetings and trips "really overtaxes an 83-year-old man."
"I trust that our dear Lord will give me as much strength as I need to be able to do what is necessary. But I also notice that my forces are diminishing," he said.
The pope laughed when Seewald suggested that he looked good enough to be a fitness trainer, and said he has to conserve energy during his busy days. Asked whether he uses an exercise bicycle a doctor had given him, the pope replied: "No, I don't get to it at all -- and don't need it at the moment, thank God."
He said he spends his free time reading, praying and sometimes watching DVDs -- typically with religious themes -- with members of the papal household.
Much of the book dealt with the pope's strategy for presenting the church's message in a largely skeptical world. The essential problem today, he said, is that the prevailing model of economic and social progress that leaves out God, and thus omits the ethical aspect.
Impending climactic disaster actually provides an opportunity to evangelize and promote moral decisions, he said. The problem, though, is that populations and countries seem unwilling to make sacrifices -- which is where the church can make a difference, he said.
It is urgent to "bring the question about God back into the center," he said. "The important thing today is to see that God exists, that God matters to us and that he answers us."
He said the church can do this only if its own members live the faith in their daily lives. He said that simple task should be the priority today, rather than embarking on major initiatives like a third Vatican Council.
The pope said the church's task is threatened by a "new intolerance" that would limit religious expression in the name of non-discrimination, for example in banning the display of crucifixes in public schools, or in condemning specific church teachings.
"When, for example, in the name of non-discrimination, people try to force the Catholic Church to change her position on homosexuality or the ordination of women, then that means she is no longer allowed to live out her own identity," he said.
In that regard, the pope said other religions face similar pressures. He said, for example, that he saw no reason for Western countries to ban the burqa, the Islamic veil, as long as it is worn voluntarily.
On other topics, Pope Benedict had this to say:
-- He defended the encyclical defended the 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae," which taught that artificial contraception in marriage is morally wrong, but said the church needs to find ways to help people live the teaching and show tolerance to those who have problems with it.
The pope noted that the church accepts natural regulation of conception. He said that method presupposes that couples take time for each other, and is far different from taking a pill "so that I can jump into bed with a random acquaintance." In general, he said, the church has to return to the "genuinely Christian attitude" of joy, as well as discipline and responsibility, in sexuality.
-- He said dialogue with Muslims has improved during his pontificate, in part because Muslim scholars accept that Islam needs to clarify its relation to violence and its relation to reason.
-- The pope took issue with critics of the wartime policies of Pope Pius XII, saying that he "saved more Jews than anyone else" by quietly opening doors to church institutions.
-- He said he began distributing Communion on the tongue during papal Masses not because he was opposed to Communion in the hand, but to "send a signal" about respect for the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
By Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI
For 40 years across the United States, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has put into practice Catholic teaching on the life and dignity of every human person, the Gospel command to care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25), and the Church’s call to practice “solidarity” in helping poor people help themselves escape poverty. In this article I share with you some of the major points of the recent Review and Renewal of CCHD conducted by the U.S. Catholic Bishops.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. CCHD works to break the cycle of poverty by helping low-income people participate in decisions that affect their lives, families and communities. CCHD offers a hand up, not a hand out. CCHD has a complimentary mission of educating on poverty and its causes. This dual pastoral strategy of education for justice and helping people who are poor speak and act for themselves reflects the mandate of the Scriptures and the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
CCHD also provides the Catholic faithful with concrete opportunities to live out the love of God and neighbor in ways that express our baptismal call and continuing Eucharistic transformation. Pope Benedict XVI has taught that “restoration of justice, reconciliation and forgiveness” requires determination to transform unjust structures and to restore respect for the
dignity of all men and women, created in God’s image and likeness. Through the concrete fulfillment of this responsibility, the Eucharist becomes in life what it signifies in its celebration. (Sacramentum Caritatis, #89. 2007)
CCHD is made possible by the generous support of Catholics in the United States, especially through an annual parish collection. CCHD’s grants to local anti-poverty efforts are screened, awarded and monitored in close partnership with local Catholic dioceses. CCHD grants to groups in a local community require the explicit approval of the bishop of that diocese.
CCHD is a unique and essential part of the Catholic community’s broad commitment to assist low-income people, families and communities. This commitment also includes our Catholic parishes, schools, charities, health ministries, and countless other examples of service to “the least of these.” (Matt. 25) Like many other Catholic ministries, CCHD helps people overcome poverty without regard to their race, ethnicity or religion. As a national initiative of the Bishops’ Conference, CCHD is an essential and complementary part of the Catholic social mission proclaimed by Jesus Christ and taught by His Church. CCHD does not replace, nor can it be replaced by, other expressions of the Church’s essential social mission.
CCHD is one of the most widely supported collections and initiatives of our Bishops’ Conference, raising more than $10 million every year. CCHD helps our Church in the United States practice what we preach about human life and dignity, social and economic justice, solidarity and the common good in local communities across our country.
From its first days, there have been some criticisms about CCHD’s goals, guidelines and grantees. This criticism has become more visible with the wider use of internet communication and as polarization has increased in society and in the Church. CCHD takes any alleged violation of Catholic principles and CCHD policies very seriously. This past year for example, as a result of monitoring and review of allegations, five groups (out of 270) lost all CCHD funding because they acted in conflict with Catholic teaching. We deeply regret and apologize for the violations of CCHD policies by these groups and for the damage and confusion they have caused. The recent Review and Renewal of the whole CCHD program is putting in place stronger policies and clearer mechanisms to screen and monitor grants and groups to ensure that these past violations, though very limited, are not repeated. CCHD will do all it can to ensure that groups abide by these strengthened requirements and will act immediately and decisively if it is discovered that any group is violating these essential conditions for CCHD support.
Other questions concern CCHD funding for some groups that abide by CCHD policies, but are also part of coalitions focused on worthy issues (e.g. immigration, health or housing) in cases where those coalitions or other members are accused of taking positions contrary to Catholic teaching. CCHD is developing additional structures and guidance to address in greater detail the ethical implications of these relationships and what is morally acceptable and what is not for CCHD funded groups.
Among the Catholic and moral foundations that guide the Catholic Campaign for Human Development are Gospel Mission and Catholic Identity.
4 Gospel Mission: CCHD continues the mission of Jesus and His Church “to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, new sight to the blind and set the downtrodden free…” (Luke 4:18)
4Catholic Identity: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is a work of the Catholic Church in the United States. It is a way to live out love of God and neighbor in ways that express our baptismal call and our continuing transformation through the Eucharist. CCHD draws its directions, policies and practices from Catholic social and moral teaching and prohibits funding groups that violate fundamental Catholic teaching.
For 40 years, the Catholic bishops and the Catholic community in the United States have carried out a serious and sustained commitment to help low-income people and poor communities improve their lives and address the causes and costs of poverty. Many things have changed in those four decades…in our country, our Church and in the realities of poverty. One thing has not changed – the Gospel call to hunger and thirst for justice. In fact, Pope Benedict has placed concern for the poor at the very center of the Church’s life. The current economic distress and widespread poverty that comes with it have made the mission and message of CCHD more urgent, timely and important.
Please be generous in giving to the annual Catholic Campaign for Human Development Collection that will be taken on the weekend of November 20-21. Remember, a portion of this national collection remains within our diocese to support many human development projects. Thank you for your past generous support, and especially offer prayers for the success of this campaign and for the many poor and needy who benefit from your generosity. God bless you
By Jimmy Patterson
Editor / West Texas Angelus
HOUSTON -- The Most Rev. Joseph Fiorenza was involved in many things that set forward the progress of the Diocese of San Angelo: the establishment of Christ the King Retreat Center and the adjacent Chancery; the settlement of many religious orders in the diocese, and the beginnings of two of the diocese’s largest parishes: St. Stephen’s in Midland and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Odessa.
There were other physical accomplishments, to be sure, but in the brief five years he spent as Bishop of the Diocese of San Angelo, Fiorenza, currently Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, feels that perhaps his greatest accomplishment while here was something more intangible.
“I think you would have to ask the priests, but I think the thing I hope I achieved that was most important was to help the people in West Texas feel they were a part of the larger church, a diocesan family; that they were not separate and individual congregations with no relationship with other churches; that they were part of a larger family over which there was a chief shepherd, the bishop,” Fiorenza said earlier this week from his chancery in Houston. “If that idea was successful then I think that would be my best achievement. They were beginning to understand it when I left, and Bishop Pfeifer, who is a great bishop, and a wonderful holy man, has pushed that same idea.”
Fiorenza said it was not uncommon to find congregationalism in many of the parishes when he began his tenure in San Angelo in September 1979.
“When I went to San Angelo that was the mentality,” he remembered. “it was more congregationalist. The people knew there was a bishop but they weren’t quite sure who he was or what he was supposed to do. A lot of the small towns of West Texas are far removed from the bishop and they didn’t quite understand that they were part of a larger church. They thought the congregation was the congregation and that was not unusual for a small diocese.”
Fiorenza is Houston through and through and in fact with the exception of the five years he served in San Angelo, spent his entire life in and around Houston and the Coastal Bend region. When he was appointed bishop in West Texas, he knew he was in for something far different than what he was used to.
“I was going to San Angelo without great knowledge or experience of West Texas whatsoever. I quickly came to like it very much. San Angelo is a very nice city but compared to Houston it was very, very small. It was a different experience for me, and an enjoyable one. The Church and diocese were just getting started. As a newly-ordained bishop with a lot of enthusiasm I was very anxious to be able to serve that Church very well.
The hardest part of being Bishop of San Angelo in the 1970s and ‘80s? The long drives and constant concern that his car would break down at night in those great wide open spaces that he otherwise grew to love.
Editor’s Note: A more complete profile of Fiorenza and his time as Bishop of San Angelo will be included in “The First 50 Years of the Diocese of San Angelo,” which will be published in October 2011 on the occasion of the golden anniversary of the diocese.