Pope Benedict: “Greatest Persecution of the Church is from Sin Within”

On the papal plane, Shepherd One, en route to Portugal to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, National Catholic Reporter senior correspondent John Allen got an interesting response from the Pope on the issue of the “sin within the church.”

Benedict’s emphasis on the greatest challenge to the church being from within, rather than attacks from the outside, is different from what other church leaders have recently claimed, that the media, the Jews, or secularists were to blame for unjust criticism of the church. (Really? That old playbook?)

The Pope’s response in the interview with Allen is intriguing because Benedict aligns the suffering of the church as embodied in the suffering of the pope – “because the Pope stands for the church” – but then states clearly that the greatest challenge of the church is sin from within. This raises the final corollary question – does the Pope carry the sin of the church within himself? The question is, of course, both theological and personal.

That the whole conversation is couched in the mysticism of the appearances of Mary at Fatima in 1917 is also fascinating. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

John Allen: Now we look to Fatima, which will be the spiritual culmination of this trip. What meaning do the apparitions of Fatima have for us today? When you presented the Third Secret of Fatima in a press conference at the Vatican Press Office in June 2000, you were asked if the message of the secret could be extended beyond the assassination attempt against John Paul II to other sufferings of the popes. Could it also be extended to put the suffering of the church today in the context of that vision, including the sins of the sexual abuse of minors?

Pope Benedict XVI: First of all, I want to express my joy to go to Fatima, to pray before the Madonna of Fatima, and to experience the presence of the faith there, where from the little ones a new force of the faith was born. It’s not limited to the little ones, but has a message for the whole world and all epochs of history, it illuminates this history. As I said in the presentation, there is a supernatural impulse which doesn’t come simply from someone’s imagination but from the supernatural reality of the Virgin Mary. That impulse enters into a subject, and is expressed according to the possibilities of the subject, who is determined by his or her historic situation. The supernatural impulse is translated, so to speak, according to the subject’s possibilities for imagining it and expressing it. In this expression formed by the subject, there are always hidden possibilities to go beyond, to go deeper. Only with time can we see all the depth which was, so to speak, dressed in this vision, which was possible for the concrete person.

With regard to this great vision of the suffering of the popes, beyond the circumstances of John Paul II, other realities are indicated which over time will develop and become clear. Thus it’s true that beyond the moment indicated in the vision, one speaks about and sees the necessity of suffering by the church. It’s focused on the person of the pope, but the pope stands for the church, and therefore sufferings of the church are announced. The church will always be suffering in various ways, up to the end of the world. The important point is that the message of Fatima in its substance is not addressed to particular situations, but a fundamental response: permanent conversion, penance, prayer, and the three cardinal virtues: faith, hope and charity. One sees there the true, fundamental response the church must give, which each of us individually must give, in this situation.

In terms of what we today can discover in this message, attacks against the pope or the church don’t come just from outside the church. The suffering of the church also comes from within the church, because sin exists in the church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way. The greatest persecution of the church doesn’t come from enemies on the outside, but is born in sin within the church. The church thus has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. Forgiveness does not exclude justice. We have to re-learn the essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That’s how we respond, and we can be realistic in expecting that evil will always launch attacks from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil. The Madonna for us is the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history.

Read the whole interview here.

Pope Uses “C”-Word

popeafricaThere’s been a bit of a tempest about the comments made by Pope Benedict XVI to the press pool on Shepherd One (the Pope Plane) while en route to Cameroon. Apparently, he used the C-word (ahem … “condom”).

That’s a first for a pope. Despite plenty of rulings eschewing birth control and promoting the sanctity of the family, it appears no pope has actually ever said the word publicly before. Wow? What next?

It also appears that the Pope’s comment about “French letters” (so quaint!), was then cleaned up by the papal translators. All this has caused a storm–and rightly so. With the devastating prevalence of AIDS in Africa, religious leaders–especially one as prominent as the Pope–absolutely need to be part of the solution.

The Pope has legitimate moral and theological issues with anything that he thinks is an attack on human dignity and on the culture of the family and the culture of life. I don’t agree with all of them, but they are reasoned. At the same time, he needs to be very careful about overemphasizing ideals that are not possible in the present situation–especially when lives are at stake.

So … what did the Pope actually say? Here’s the original quote–before the papal fixers got a hold of it. The question’s premise was “The Catholic Church’s position on the way to fight against AIDS is often considered unrealistic and ineffective,” and the pope responded:

“I would say the opposite. I think that the reality that is most effective, the most present and the strongest in the fight against AIDS, is precisely that of the Catholic Church, with its programs and its diversity. I think of the Sant’Egidio Community, which does so much visibly and invisibly in the fight against AIDS … and of all the sisters at the service of the sick.

“I would say that one cannot overcome this problem of AIDS only with money — which is important, but if there is no soul, no people who know how to use it, (money) doesn’t help.

“One cannot overcome the problem with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, they increase the problem.

“The solution can only be a double one: first, a humanization of sexuality, that is, a spiritual human renewal that brings with it a new way of behaving with one another; second, a true friendship even and especially with those who suffer, and a willingness to make personal sacrifices and to be with the suffering. And these are factors that help and that result in real and visible progress.

“Therefore I would say this is our double strength — to renew the human being from the inside, to give him spiritual human strength for proper behavior regarding one’s own body and toward the other person, and the capacity to suffer with the suffering. … I think this is the proper response and the church is doing this, and so it offers a great and important contribution. I thank all those who are doing this.”