Tuesday, 5 March 2013

"There is sin in the curia, but majority are men of prayer"

Full transcript of interview with father John Wauck, professor at Santa Croce, in Rome.
See news story here (in Portuguese).

Transcrição completa, e no inglês original, da entrevista ao padre John Wauck, professor na Universidade de Santa Croce, em Roma. Ver a notícia aqui.

The Pope just last Ash Wednesday spoke of the sins against the unity of the church. This is a recurrent subject for Benedict XVI. Is there somebody in particular he is trying to reach?
I think that you can see almost all of Cardinal Ratzinger’s work at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and then as Pope as a response to divisions in the Church that sprang up after the Second Vatican Council. His whole project has been overcoming what he refers to as the hermeneutics of rupture, the idea that the Council constituted a break with the past.

The Pope has been arguing, since 1985, when he published a book of interviews with Vittorio Messore, called the “Ratzinger Reports”, that this hermeneutic of rupture has to be replaced by a hermeneutic of continuity. So instead of saying that the past is separate and now we are in the future, he says that the life of the church is a continuum and that the council is part of that continuum.

What happened though is that the interpretation as a break between past and future created a division within the church, from both directions. There were those who saw it as a good break with the past, who saw the past as something negative, and others saw it as a bad break.

Those two ways of looking at the Council, which in some ways are opposites, are united in seeing the Council as a break. But Ratzinger, and later Benedict XVI, stressed that no, the Council was not a break, nor a rupture with Tradition.

One of his criticisms deals explicitly with the Lefebvrists, and the possibility of bringing them back into the Church, and how there are people in the church today who vilify the lefebvrists in the same way as they vilify the ones they call modernists.

The Pope is really trying to bring them all together. It’s been a great project of unity, trying to bring the Church together, instead of divided into opposing camps.

So you’re seeing this through the lens of the dialogue with the Society of Saint Pius X, but many people also read this as a criticism of infighting in the curia… Is that correct?
There are really two dimensions. One is this ecclesiastical division which has been going on since the times of the Council. Another is this paradox which is part of Christian life and always has been, the Church is something holy, but we are sinners. The beauty of the mystical body of Christ is something sacred, but is always being stained by the sins of the people within the church. So some of the comments are really about moral failures, not theological interpretations.

In some ways that is a perennial paradox in the life of the Church. St. Peter himself denied Our Lord, and the apostles ran away. When the Pope spoke in the Via Crucis in 2005, about how much filth there is in the Church, even among priests, he goes on to say that “the soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them!”

He is not pointing a finger at others, he is saying we, it is we Christians, because we are all sinners. He was obviously referring, at the time, to the abuse scandals among priests. But it is really a perennial problem.

We hear about intrigue and power struggles in Rome. How true is that?
The image of the Curia as rife with corruption and greed and power hungry cardinals is very exaggerated. In the Curia, as in any place, there are human defects, weaknesses and sins, but the vast majority of the people in Rome are extremely humble, dedicated workers, really giving their lives, and are not receiving any attention at all. They are genuine men of prayer.

Now, are there some people who allow pride and greed to get in the way of their decisions? Of course, that has always happened, but it is not a majority by any standards. The curia is largely populated by people chosen by the Pope himself, and he is somebody everyone recognises as a serious man of prayer who is seeking holiness, who wants to see holiness thrive in the church and he is the one who has picked many of those working around him.

It should always be shocking, and is lamentable, to discover that people whose lives are meant to be dedicated to the service of Christ and saving souls, are concerned with power and things like that. But that is human nature, and it is less common here than in other places in the world.

Has all this contributed in any way to the Pope’s exhaustion? Or is it just that he is old?
When one looks at the Pope’s decision to resign it is always important to keep in mind that he was elected when he was already over retirement age. When he was a cardinal he had already asked twice to be dismissed, but both times John Paul II said no. He even had a place bought in Bavaria, which he was going to retire to study and write.

He was elected after he was supposed to have retired and he has been Pope for 8 years and if you think of all his travelling, his writing, all his speeches, he has been incredibly productive for a man who was almost 78 years old when he took office.

So in some ways the amazing thing is that he has lasted this long. Part of the exhaustion of the Pope, or the sense that he is no longer up to the task, surely is due to the experience he has had over the past 8 years, which includes handling the aftermath of the sexual abuse crisis, the Williamson affair, the Vatileaks crisis, the personal betrayal by his butler Paolo Gabriele. That cannot help but contribute to his decision.

But he is clearly still totally lucid. I was present on Thursday when he spoke to the pastors of Rome and he gave an off the cuff brilliant lecture, without notes, remembering facts from over 50 years ago, and in a very ordered and lucid form. It is astounding, for a person of his age.

Intellectually he is still present, but that also means that he is able to see clearly the needs of the church and to evaluate how much he can do. His decision says: “I see what needs to be done, but I also see that I don’t have the energy to do it”. The discrepancy between his intellectual vigour and his physical state is the cause of this decision, I suspect.

Can you recall any other Pope been this adamant in speaking to the internal divisions of the Church?
I am not old enough to have a memory of anybody before John Paul II. I barely recall Paul VI. But John Paul II spoke very sharply at times, specifically to members of the clergy or of religious life. He was not afraid of rebuking people, he did so in public, in the USA and in Nicaragua.

I think it is important to remember that prior to the Second Vatican Council the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the enforcer of orthodoxy, was the Pope himself. So things like the Syllabus of Error, or condemnation of heresies, were always coming from the Pope himself. In that sense, concern for unity, especially at the level of doctrine was actually a common part of the activity of the papacy and was frequently expressed in very strong terms.

So I don’t think it’s a radical change on the part of Benedict.

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