Friday, July 9, 2010

For Pope Benedict, the Horrible 2010 Is a Year of Grace. Penance, Forgiveness and New Evangelization

Like in the Jubilee of 2000, and more so. A surprising comparison. With an interview with Cardinal Ruini

by Sandro Magister

The via dolorosa of the Church today stands in cruel contrast with the glorious triumph of the Jubilee of 2000, the apogee of John Paul II's pontificate.

And yet, as soon as one digs down into what that year of grace really was, one discovers that the Church of Benedict XVI is simply bringing about what it announced.

The Jubilee was a year of repentance and forgiveness. Of forgiveness given and received, for the many sins of the Church's children throughout history. On the first Sunday of Lent that year, March 12, pope Karol Wojtyla, before the eyes of the world, presided over an unprecedented penitential liturgy. Seven times, like the seven deadly sins, he confessed the wrongs committed by Christians century after century, and asked God's forgiveness for all of them. Extermination of heretics, persecutions of the Jews, wars of religion, humiliation of women . . .

The pope's anguished face, marked by illness, was the icon of this act of repentance. The world looked at him with respect. With smugness, too. Sometimes pressing the claim that the pope should have done much more.

And in effect, in the global media, this was the popular tune. John Paul II was right to humiliate himself for certain black pages of Christian history, but every time there was someone demanding that he beat his breast even more, and for something else. The list was never long enough. Reviewing all of the times that pope Wojtyla asked forgiveness for something, before and after the Jubilee of 2000, one finds that he did so for crusades, dictatorships, schisms, heresies, women, Jews, Galileo, wars of religion, Luther, Calvin, Native Americans, injustices, the Inquisition, fundamentalism, Islam, the mafia, racism, Rwanda, slavery. And there may be a few entries missing. But he certainly never asked publicly for forgiveness for the sexual abuse of children. Nor is there any record of anyone having stood up to rebuke him for this silence, much less to demand that the pope add pedophilia to the list.

It was only ten years ago. But this was the spirit of the times, inside and outside of the Church. A spirit little attentive to the scandal of the terribly young victims of abuse, despite the explosion in Austria of the Groër case, the accusations against the archbishop of Vienna that were never verified, in the United States of the Bernardin case, the false accusations against the archbishop of Chicago, who forgave his accuser, and everywhere of the Maciel case, involving the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, who was eventually proven guilty.

But there was one cardinal in Rome who could see into the distance, named Joseph Ratzinger.

More than the sins of the Christians of the past, the historical judgment of which is always problematic, he was looking at the sins of the present. And among these he saw some that defiled the face of the "holy" Church more than others, all the more so when committed by the clergy.

In 2001, as prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, he introduced more rigorous procedures for addressing cases of pedophilia among the clergy.

In 2002, when the scandal broke in staggering proportions in the United States, he held the hard line.

For Good Friday of 2005, in writing the text of the last Way of the Cross of John Paul II's pontificate, he denounced the "filth" in the Church with the accents of a prophetic lamentation.

A few weeks after he was elected pope and five years later, one decade after the Jubilee of 2000, the scandal of pedophilia engulfed the Church and him with unprecedented harshness.

And so, under the relentless wave of accusations, Benedict XVI did for the faults of the Christians of today what the Jubilee of 2000 did for the faults of the Christians of the past.

He preached that the greatest tribulation for the Church does not come from the outside, but from the sins committed inside of her.

He put the Church in a condition of penance, he asked all Christians indeed to purify "memory," but even more so their present lives.

He ordered the Catholics of Ireland, more infected than others by the scandal, to undertake a complete purification, to go to confession frequently, to do penance every Friday for an entire year, and he ordered their bishops and priests to undergo special spiritual exercises.

He has dedicated the most painstaking care to priests. Even before the controversy reached its height, Benedict XVI proclaimed a Year for Priests to revive in the clergy love for their mission and fidelity to their duties, including chastity. As a model of life, he offered them the example of the holy Curé of Ars, a humble country priest in anticlerical nineteenth-century France, who spent the entire day in the confessional, receiving sinners and granting forgiveness.


But forgiveness was not the only element that characterized the Jubilee of 2000. John Paul II wanted that holy year above all to restore vigor to the evangelization of the world.

And also here, once again, the pontificate of Benedict XVI is nothing other than the systematic implementation of that project.

It is, in effect, no mystery what the "priority" is that pope Ratzinger has assigned himself as successor of Peter. He himself reiterated it in these words in the letter to the bishops of the whole world dated March 10, 2009:

"In our days, when in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel, the overriding priority is to make God present in this world and to show men and women the way to God. Not just any god, but the God who spoke on Sinai; to that God whose face we recognize in a love which presses to the end, in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen."

Benedict XVI is so convinced that leading men to God is "the supreme and fundamental priority" of the Church and of the successor of Peter, that not only has he made it the center of his preaching, he has also drawn from it the decision to create in the Roman curia a dicastery expressly dedicated to the "new evangelization" of the countries where the modern eclipse of God is most pronounced.

He instituted the new office last June 30, and on that same day he called to Rome, to be in charge of the selection of future bishops all over the world, Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, a theologian very much in agreement with him, but above all a man with direct knowledge of Québec, one of the places in the West where dechristianization has taken place in the most dramatic and sudden fashion.

Returning last autumn from a trip to another of the most dechristianized regions, Prague and Bohemia, Benedict XVI developed another idea: that of instituting a symbolic "court of the gentiles," like the court open to the pagans in the ancient temple of Jerusalem, in which a dialogue could be opened with the men farthest from God.

This project is also taking shape. The pope has entrusted it to his culture minister, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi. The "court of the gentiles" will be inaugurated in Paris in March of 2011, in three locations intentionally chosen for their complete lack of religious affiliation: the Sorbonne, UNESCO, and the Académie Française. The initiative already has the support of important agnostics and nonbelievers, starting with the psychoanalyst and semiologist Julia Kristeva.

As for the young generations, the predilection of John Paul II, who for their sake instituted the World Youth Days, the most grandiose of which was held during the Jubilee, Benedict XVI knows well that the future of faith in the West is to a large extent at stake here.

In Italy as well, the country in Europe in which the Church continues to have a solid and widespread presence, the signs of collapse can already be glimpsed. A survey for "Il Regno" by Professor Paolo Segatti of the University of Milan has demonstrated the sharp break, among those born after 1981, from prayer, from faith in God, from trust in the Church.

When these young people have children of their own, the transmission of the Catholic faith to the future generations will undergo a dramatic decline. The "court of the gentiles" will have to make room for them as well.



Interview with Camillo Ruini

In 2000, Camillo Ruini was cardinal vicar for John Paul II. He was his foremost collaborator in Rome and Italy. Nothing of that Holy Year was lost, he says: "The pontifical council for the new evangelization, instituted in these days by Benedict XVI, is its latest grand representation."

Q: Cardinal Ruini, what was the Jubilee of 2000 for the Church?

A: It was for the Catholic Church a time of extraordinary intensity, strongly desired and carefully prepared by John Paul II, in particular through the apostolic letter "Tertio Millennio Adveniente," which specified the meaning of the Jubilee and outlined the itinerary of its preparation. In the spirit of Vatican Council II, it was a matter of a return to the origins, which meant putting at the center Jesus Christ, the heart and perennial source of the Christian life, in order to propose this same Christ to the men of our time. So this was that new evangelization which is the soul of John Paul II's pontificate, as of Paul VI before him, and above all of Vatican Council II. For example, the event in which I was most involved, the World Youth Day at Tor Vergata, was the height of the attempt to evangelize and bring to Christ the young people, or the new world that is being born. But many other events that characterized the great Jubilee, from the request for forgiveness for the sins of the Church's members to the commemoration of the martyrs of the twentieth century, are inscribed in the same perspective of evangelization through the return to the sources of Christianity.

Q: And what remains of all of this, ten years later?

A: All of the substance remains: staying anchored to Christ and proclaiming faith in him to all men, proposing it in its entirety, without fear and without omissions. Of course, the impression is that the conditions are less favorable today, and in effect back then a few great difficulties were still not on our horizon, or in any case did not appear central as they do today. It should suffice to think of September 11, 2001, or to the eruption of what I like to call the new anthropological question, meaning the great question, and the great challenge, of who man is: a simple epiphenomenon of nature or the being that, although belonging to nature, infinitely surpasses it, with all the consequences that stem from one or the other alternative. Besides, it is normal that the future should be unpredictable: by definition, it is hidden from us, but it is also always open, it is the field of man's freedom, and before this of God's freedom, beyond all of the forms of determinism that nonetheless exist in nature and history. Because of this, at difficult times the Christian cannot despair or give up, he must instead deepen his conversion to God and draw from this the energy for a stronger commitment.

Q: John Paul II asked forgiveness from God and the world for a whole host of past wrongs committed by Christians. But today the accusations against the Church are even more relentless and targeted. And Benedict XVI, what is he doing?

A: John Paul II also surprised the ecclesial world with his initiative. To many it seemed like a gratuitous, unnecessary act, and potentially dangerous, but then it was understood that it wasn't that way. In any case, he asked forgiveness for the wrongs committed by Christians in the past. Today it is different. The attention is focused on a few wrongs not of yesterday, but of today. Benedict XVI recognizes the sins committed in the present, and for these is asking forgiveness above all from God, and then also from brothers of the Church and of humanity. Forgiveness implies the willingness to repair the harm caused to the victims, it requires faith and conversion of heart. But the attitude of those who are accusing the Church in order to hurt it, and not out of a positive desire to build, is another thing. What is needed in the face of these attacks is spiritual strength, not weakness. Maritain was right when he said that the Church must not genuflect before the world.

Q: The Jubilee was a great appeal to conversion of hearts and to a self-reform of the Church. Are the fruits of this being seen today? What reform of the Church does Benedict XVI have in mind?

A: The reform of the Church that Benedict XVI wants is not in the first place a reform of external structures, of organizational apparatuses. The true reform concerns above all the inner soul of the Church, its relationship with God. Also, the term "self-reform" is not the most precise: the Church cannot act alone. It must allow itself to be shaped and reformed from on high, taking life and form from the Spirit of God.

Q: The jubilee year was also the year of "Dominus Iesus," of the reaffirmation of Jesus as the only savior of the world, a document that was greatly contested. Was it needed?

A: Certainly. It was needed then, and it is still needed today. If anything, one could say that it was late in coming, because for a few decades there have been, even within the Church, those who have brought into question a truth, that of Christ as the one savior, which for believers in Christ is fundamental, and I would like to say obvious, given that it is part of the original Christian message. The New Testament is completely centered on this: apart from Jesus Christ there is no other name under heaven by which men may be saved.

Q: But Christianity is not credible if Christians present themselves to the world as disunited. Where does the ecumenical journey of reconciliation among the Churches stand today?

A: In ten years, many steps forward have been taken, in particular with the Orthodox Churches and with the pre-Chalcedonian Churches of the East, all of them of apostolic origin. Results with the Churches that emerged from the Protestant Reformation have been less positive. There are two main difficulties on this front. The first is the progressive withdrawal of these Churches from the apostolic model in terms of the way of understanding and implementing the ecclesiastical ministries. The second concerns anthropology, the questions about who man is, about bioethics, about the family. On both of these fronts, various Protestant communities have undertaken a journey of apparent modernization that in reality is taking them further and further from the center of Christianity.

Q: And with the Jews? And with Islam? John Paul II dreamed of an encounter on Sinai among the three religions . . .

A: There has certainly been substantial progress with the Jews, even if at certain times this has been hampered by incomprehension, procedural errors, and misunderstandings. With Islam, compared to the Jubilee ten years ago, the context has been marked by September 11 of 2001. But both the Church and some components of Islam have tried and are trying to overcome this fracture and to reach a better mutual understanding. The shared conviction is that we all have the duty to serve the unity of the human race, in a world that is ever smaller and more interdependent, in which we need each other more and more.


The homily and the request for forgiveness from the Mass with John Paul II on March 12, 2000, with the document of the international theological commission, headed by Joseph Ratzinger, on the Church and the wrongs of the past:

> Day of Pardon


The continually updated dossier on the abuse of minors, on the Vatican website, with the writings of Benedict XVI on this issue:

> Abuse of minors. The Church's response


On the "court of the gentiles" ordered by Benedict XVI for dialogue with nonbelievers:

> The First "Court" of Believers and Atheists Will Open in Paris (24.6.2010)


The survey of Catholicism in Italy published by "Il Regno" no. 10 of 2010:

> Ricerca sull'Italia religiosa: da cattolica a genericamente cristiana

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