By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
At a press conference in Rome yesterday, the Vatican Publishing House officially released a book based on personal interviews with Pope Benedict XVI that has already made international headlines.
The book, entitled Light of the World. The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times. A conversation of Benedict XVI with Peter Seewald was presented by Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelisation, journalist Luigi Accattoli and Fr. Giuseppe Costa S.D.B., director of the Vatican Publishing House. Also on hand was Peter Seewald, the German journalist who interviewed the Pope.
Archbishop Fisichella says the Holy Father addresses many questions in the book, from current political events to the great questions facing modern theology. “We have a Pope who does not evade any question, who wishes to clarify everything using a language that is simple but not for that reason less profound, and who benevolently accepts the provocations inherent in so many questions,” he said.
The contents of the book “in many ways, provokes us to undertake a serious examination of conscience, both inside and outside the Church, in order to achieve true conversion of heart and mind,” the archbishop continued. “The conditions of life in society, sexuality, economy and finance, the Church herself; all these questions require special dedication in order to verify the cultural drift of today’s world and the possibilities for the future. Benedict XVI does not allow himself to be alarmed by the figures emerging from opinion polls because the truth has completely different criteria: ‘statistics are not the measure of morality’.”
Commenting on the controversy that has been raging for days over the Pope’s comments regarding the use of condoms by people afflicted with AIDS, the archbishop said that “reducing the entire interview to one phrase removed from its context and from the entirety of Benedict XVI’s thought would be an offence to the Pope’s intelligence and a gratuitous manipulation of his words,” the archbishop said. “What emerges from these pages overall is, in fact, the vision of a Church called to be ‘Light of the world’, a sign of unity for the whole human race.”
The book also contains many of the Pope’s ideas, concerns, sufferings and hopes for the future. He chose this more relaxed format “as a way of making the public at large more familiar with his ideas, his way of being and his way of understanding the mission with which he has been entrusted,” the archbishop said.
Luigi Accattoli suggested his journalist colleagues should “read this book as a guided visit to the papal workshop of Benedict XVI and to the world of Joseph Ratzinger. … Above all we will see this man who was called to become Pope in the same perspective as when he published the two volumes on Jesus of Nazareth, which he presents not as documents of the Magisterium, but as testimony of his own search for the face of the Lord.”
He goes on to say that “From the beginning of the book [Benedict] warns us that ‘the Pope can have erroneous personal opinions’; he certainly does have ‘the power of final decision’ in matters of faith but this ‘does not mean that he can continuously produce infallibility.’ It is perhaps in this statement that we must seek the original roots of this book of interviews,” Accattoli said.
In various places in the book Benedict reviews his eighty-three years of life, “and reflects on the suitability of resigning should he find himself in a position where he cannot carry out his mission. On the same page he denies he ever thought of resigning over the paedophile scandal: ‘We cannot run away in the moment of greatest danger’, he says. We all know that modern Popes – from Pius XII on – have considered the problem of resigning, but prior to this interview none of them had done so in public.”
In this book, the Pope “is not afraid to use such expressions as ‘the sinfulness of the Church’; … while the term ‘dirt’ to indicate the sin that exists in the Church … is used at least three times to refer to paedophilia among the clergy and to the ‘enormous shock’ it aroused,” Accattoli said.
In this context the Pontiff also “repeatedly recognises the positive role played by the communications media, something he has expressed on various occasions in the past but never so explicitly: ‘As long as they seek to bring the truth to light, we must be grateful’, he says. On this subject he also gives us one of the book’s most effective aphorisms: ‘Only because evil was within the Church were others able to use it against her’.”
Regarding the section in the book that caused so much controversy, Accattoli says the Pope was cautious and courageous as he sought “a pragmatic way in which missionaries and other ecclesial workers can help to defeat the AIDS pandemic, without approving – but also without excluding, in particular cases – the use of the condom. He likewise reaffirms the ‘prophetic’ nature of Paul VI’s ‘Humanae vitae’, though without concealing the existence of real difficulties in ‘finding paths that can be followed in a human way’… and recognising that ‘in this field many things must be rethought and expressed in new terms’.”
The Pope “declares himself to be optimistic concerning the fact that Christianity is facing new dynamics’ which will perhaps bring it ‘to assume a different cultural appearance’; yet also ‘disillusioned’ because ‘the general tendency of our time is one of hostility to the Church’.”
Accattoli concluded by saying that the Pope “dreams that people will rediscover the ‘simplicity’ and ‘radicalism’ of the Gospel and Christianity.” This involves “understanding the drama of our times, remaining firmly rooted in the Word of God as the decisive word, and at the same time giving Christianity that simplicity and profundity without which it cannot function.”
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