Benedict XVI interviewed by German journalists

Benedict XVI interviewed by German journalists


The following are extracts from an interview Pope Benedict XVI gave to a panel of four German journalists on 5 August 2006 in the papal summer residence of Castel Gandolfo.

The 40-minute interview was broadcast on 13 August on German public television channels, Germany's state-funded worldwide TV service Deutsche Welle, on EWTN and on Vatican Radio.

Question: Holy Father, your next trip will be to Bavaria. What are the issues you'll be speaking about during the visit?

Benedict XVI: The basic theme is that we have to rediscover God, not just any God, but the God that has a human face, because when we see Jesus Christ we see God.

Starting from this point we must find the way to meet each other in the family, among generations, and then among cultures and peoples as well. We must find the way to reconciliation and to peaceful coexistence in this world, the ways that lead to the future.

We won't find these ways leading to the future if we don't receive light from above. So I didn't choose very specific themes, but rather, it is the liturgy that leads me to express the basic message of faith which naturally finds its place in everyday reality where we want to search, above all, for co-operation among peoples and possible ways that can lead us to reconciliation and peace.

As Pope you are responsible for the Church throughout the world. But, clearly, your visit focuses attention on the situation of Catholics in Germany as well. All observers say there's a positive atmosphere, partly thanks to your election as Pope. But, obviously, the old problems are still around. Just to quote a few examples: fewer churchgoers, fewer baptisms, and especially less Church influence on the life of society. How do you see the present situation of the Catholic Church in Germany?

I'd say, first of all, that Germany is part of the West, obviously with its own characteristics, and that in the Western world today we are experiencing a wave of new and drastic enlightenment or secularisation, what- ever you like to call it.

It's become more difficult to believe because the world in which we find ourselves is completely made up of ourselves, and God, so to speak, doesn't appear directly anymore. We don't drink from the source anymore, but from the vessel which is offered to us already full, and so on.

Humanity has rebuilt the world by itself and finding God inside this world has become more difficult. This is not specific to Germany: It's something that's valid throughout the world, especially in the West.

Then again, today the West is being strongly influenced by other cultures in which the original religious element is very powerful. These cultures are horrified when they experience the West's coldness toward God. This "presence of the sacred" in other cultures, even if often veiled, touches the Western world again, it touches us at the crossroads of so many cultures. The quest for "something bigger" wells up again from the depths of Western people and in Germany.

We see how in young people there's the search for something "more," we see how the religious phenomenon is returning, as they say. Even if it's a search that's rather indefinite.

As Bishop of Rome you are the successor of St Peter. How can the ministry of Peter manifest itself fittingly in today's world? And how do you see the tensions and equilibrium between the primacy of the Pope, on one hand, and the collegiality of the bishops, on the other?

Of course there is a relationship of tension and equilibrium and, we say, that's the way it has to be. Multiplicity and unity must always find their reciprocal rapport and this relationship must insert itself in ever new ways into the changing situations in the world. We have a new polyphony of cultures nowadays in which Europe is no longer the determining factor.

Christians on the various continents are starting to have their own importance, their own characteristics. We must keep learning about this fusion of the different components. We've developed various instruments to help us: the so-called "ad limina" visits of the bishops, which have always taken place. Now they are used much more in order to speak sincerely with all the offices of the Holy See and with me.

I speak personally to each bishop. I've already spoken to nearly all the bishops of Africa and with many of the bishops from Asia. Now it's the turn of Central Europe, Germany, Switzerland. In these encounters in which the centre and the periphery come together in an open exchange of views, I think that the correct reciprocal exchange in this balanced tension grows. We also have other instruments like the synod, the consistory, which I shall be holding regularly and which I would like to develop.

Without having a long agenda we can discuss current problems together and look for solutions. Everyone knows that the Pope is not an absolute monarch but that he has to personify, you might say, the totality that comes together to listen to Christ.

There's a strong awareness that we need a unifying figure that can guarantee independence from political powers and that Christians don't identify too much with nationalism. There's an awareness of the need for a higher and broader figure that can create unity in the dynamic integration of all parties and that can embrace and promote multiplicity.

So I believe there's a close bond between the Petrine ministry which is expressed in the desire to develop it further so that it responds both to the Lord's will and to the needs of the times.

The issue of the family. A month ago you were in Valencia for the World Meeting of Families. Anyone who was listening carefully, as we tried to do at Vatican Radio, noticed how you never mentioned the words "homosexual marriage," you never spoke about abortion, or about contraception. Careful observers thought that was very interesting. Clearly your idea is to go around the world preaching the faith rather than as an "apostle of morality." What are your comments?

Obviously, yes. Actually I should say I had only two opportunities to speak for 20 minutes. And when you have so little time you can't say everything you want to say about "no."

Firstly you have to know what we really want, right? Christianity, Catholicism, isn't a collection of prohibitions: It's a positive option. It's very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today.

We've heard so much about what is not allowed that now it's time to say: We have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it's in this way that marriage develops, first of all, as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then the family, that guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet. So first, it's important to stress what we want.

Second, we can also see why we don't want something. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it's not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other, so that humanity can go on living: All cultures know this.

As far as abortion is concerned, it's part of the Fifth, not the Sixth, Commandment: "You shall not kill!" We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.

Holy Father, Christianity has spread around the world starting from Europe. Now many people think that the future of the Church is to be found in other continents. Is that true? Or, in other words, what is the future of Christianity in Europe, where it looks like it's being reduced to the private affair of a minority?

I'd like to introduce a few subtleties. It's true, as we know, that Christianity began in the Near East. And for a long time, its main development continued there. Then it spread in Asia, much more than what we think today after the changes brought about by Islam. Precisely for this reason its axis moved noticeably toward the West and Europe. Europe - we're proud and pleased to say so - further developed Christianity in its broader intellectual and cultural dimensions.

But I think it's important to remind ourselves about the Eastern Christians because there's the present danger of them emigrating, these Christians who have always been an important minority living in a fruitful relationship with the surrounding reality. There's a great danger that these places where Christianity had its origins will be left without Christians. I think we need to help them a lot so that they can stay.

But getting back to your question: Europe definitely became the centre of Christianity and its missionary movement. Today, other continents and other cultures play with equal importance in the concert of world history. In this way the number of voices in the Church grows, and this is a good thing.

It's good that different temperaments can express themselves - the special gifts of Africa, Asia and America, Latin America in particular. Of course, they are all touched not only by the word of Christianity, but by the secular message of this world that carries to other continents the disruptive forces we have already experienced.

Today there are Indian and African priests in Europe, even in Canada, where many African priests work in a very interesting way. There's this reciprocal give-and-take. But if we receive more, in [the] future we also need to continue giving with courage and with growing dynamism.

Holy Father, women are very active in many different areas of the Catholic Church. Shouldn't their contribution become more clearly visible, even in positions of higher responsibility in the Church?

We reflect a lot about this subject, of course. As you know, we believe that our faith and the constitution of the college of the apostles obliges us and doesn't allow us to confer priestly ordination on women.

But we shouldn't think either that the only role one can have in the Church is that of being a priest. There are lots of tasks and functions in the history of the Church. Starting with the sisters of the Fathers of the Church, up to the Middle Ages when great women played fundamental roles, up until modern times.

Think about Hildegard of Bingen who protested strongly before the bishops and the pope; of Catherine of Siena and Brigit of Sweden. In our own time, too, women, and we with them, must look for their right place, so to speak.

Today they are present in the departments of the Holy See. But there's a juridical problem: According to canon law the power to take legally binding decisions is limited to sacred orders. So there are limitations from this point of view but I believe that women themselves, with their energy and strength, with their superiority, with what I'd call their "spiritual power," will know how to make their own space.

And we will have to try to listen to God so as not to stand in their way but, on the contrary, to rejoice when the female element achieves the fully effective place in the Church best suited to her, starting with the Mother of God and with Mary Magdalen.

When you have an important job like yours, Holy Father, you are much observed. Other people talk about you. I was reading and I was struck by what many observers say: that Pope Benedict is different from Cardinal Ratzinger. How do you see yourself, if I may be so bold as to ask?

I've been taken apart various times: in my first phase as professor and in the intermediate phase, during my first phase as cardinal and in the successive phase. Now comes a new division.

Of course circumstances and situations and even people influence you because you take on different responsibilities. Let's say that my basic personality and even my basic vision have grown, but in everything that is essential I have remained identical. I'm happy that certain aspects that weren't noticed at first are now coming into the open.

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