Sandro Magister, a columnist for the Italian magazine L’Espresso and one of the top “Vaticanistas”, an expert on Church affairs and the intricate world of the Vatican, gave yesterday an interview in Washington to Catholic leaders. He drew on the first months of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and the current situation of the Catholic Church. The event took place at the Cosmos Club in Washington DC, and was sponsored by the Athanasius Conferences -an iniciative of the Morley Institute- and Catholic News Agency.
Magister affirms it is possible to identify a clear and coherent direction in the beginning of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. He particularly recalls the pope’s first Mass at Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of the bishop of Rome, on Saturday, May 7.
“In it, Benedict XVI asserted that the pope “must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.”
So this is the program Pope Benedict has enunciated since the beginning: that of restoring to the truth – which is Christ in the definitive – its primacy and splendor.”
“In ten months, he has shown his intention to carry this out in all areas: in his first encyclical, in the liturgy, in catechesis, in law, in pastoral practice, in the magisterium of the bishops, in the application of Vatican Council II, in working for peace…”
Reviewing Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Magister underlines this same consistency with the beginning of his pontificate: “to speak the truth about love, a word today "so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused". To demonstrate that “Deus est caritas.”
“The encyclical is a letter to the Christian people, but is also addressed to those far from the faith, to the “secularists,” to those without faith. To all of these, Benedict XVI says: This is the true heart of the Christian faith. Understand this. With a God such as this, you may have the strength to live “as if God exists,” even if you do not have the strength to believe.”
On the issue of liturgy, “Benedict XVI has wished to restore to the celebration of the Mass the truth expressed by the great liturgical tradition.”
“The pope has said in many ways that the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is real, supremely real, not symbolic. He said it by adoring the consecrated host silently on his knees, with a million young people in Cologne – in Protestant country! – and with the one hundred thousand children who received first communion in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome.”
In particular, the pope called back to faithful observance of the true liturgical tradition the Neocatechumenal Way: one of the most vibrant Catholic movements of the past half century, but which often modifies the Mass and uses it as an “instrument” for missionary expansion, instead of accepting and celebrating it as the work of God, the “source and summit” of Christian life.
In the second part of his intervention, Magister comments on the way the Pope is managing the Church and his relation to bishops, the way he is implanting the teachings of the Vatican II council. “Benedict XVI has addressed severe reminders to bishops he believes to be timid, doubtful, reticent in teaching true doctrine.”
The pope also wanted to restore its proper truth to Vatican Council II, forty years after its conclusion.
"He has criticized the false interpretation of the Council as “discontinuity and rupture,” as “the spirit” contrasted with “the letter.” And he explained, instead, its “proper hermeneutic,” its “rightful key of interpretation and application”: that is, the Council as “reform,” as “renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.”
On a more international scope, Magister stressed the pope’s role in world affairs such as his message for the World Day for Peace
“Significantly, Benedict XVI entitled his first message for the World Day for Peace “In truth, peace.” The pope wanted to express, right from the title, “the conviction that wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace.”In this message, and then in his speech to the diplomatic corps, he brought all of international politics beneath the scrutiny of the truth:
“In short, the primacy of the truth appears to be truly the common thread since the beginning of this pontificate. Benedict XVI, the first pope-theologian, is showing himself as a “doctor of the Church.”
It is true that Benedict XVI enjoys the trust and attention of great crowds of the faithful – the number of those who attend his liturgies and preaching is more than double than in the case of John Paul II, and participants listen to him with great attentiveness.
Finally on the rumors of the bad conduct of his election as Pope, “These rumors are intended to show that the election of Ratzinger was not at all equitable, that it was in doubt until the very end, that it was unduly favored by the fact that he was the dean of the college of cardinals, that he is in the pocket of Opus Dei, that the time is ripe for a new pope, preferably a Latin American, and that, in short, Benedict XVI should submit himself to these inherent limitations.”