During his flight to Australia for the celebration of World Youth Day, Pope Benedict XVI answered questions from journalists on the papal airplane covering the significance of World Youth Day, the problems of secularism, clerical sexual abuse, climate change and the turmoil in the Anglican Communion.
While insisting that the Holy Spirit ultimately converts young people into witnesses of Christ, he said he hoped that World Youth Day would be a stimulus to help participants live their faith with maturity and responsibility towards creation and society.
When asked about whether he was optimistic about the Catholic Church in Australia or believed it would follow the European path of secular decline, Pope Benedict said that Australia, as part of the “Western world,” shares in its recent economic and technical successes.
However, he said, “religion - Christian faith - is in a certain sense in crisis. This is clear because there is the impression that we do not need God, we can do all on our own, that we do not need God to be happy, we do not need God to create a better world; that God is not necessary, we can do all by ourselves.”
Nonetheless, Pope Benedict said, religion is always present in the world and will always be present “because God is present in the heart of the human being and can never disappear.”
Faith, he said, will be present in new forms and though perhaps in the minority it will be present for all society to see.
Society is again realizing its need for God, Pope Benedict said, especially in climactic changes mankind cannot remedy:
“We need the gift of the Earth, the gift of water, we need the Creator; the Creator re-appears in His creation. And so we also come to understand that we cannot be really happy, cannot be really promoting justice for all the world, without a criterion at work in our own ideas, without a God who is just, and gives us the light, and gives us life.”
While he said he believed there will always be a crisis of faith, there will also always be a revival of faith “because Christian faith is simply true, and the truth will always be present in the human world, and God will always be truth.”
“In this sense, I am in the end optimistic,” he concluded.
The Pope was then asked whether he would address the issue of clerical sexual abuse in Australia and whether he would offer an apology.
He responded by saying that he will essentially say the same things concerning sexual abuse as he did in his United States visit “because it is essential for the Church to reconcile, to prevent, to help and also to see guilt in these problems.”
Pope Benedict stated the Church’s moral teaching must be clear. He said that the moral theory of “proportionalism,” which held that nothing is bad in itself, had insufficiently opposed pedophilia, despite Catholic teaching clearly forbidding it. He then endorsed better education and formation for priests.
The content of apologies for clerical sexual abuse, Pope Benedict underlined, “has to say what was insufficient in our behavior, what we must do in this moment, how we can prevent [it] and how we all can heal and reconcile.”
Noting that it is not his role to evaluate technical responses to climate change, Pope Benedict said environmental problems would be a topic of discussion in his meeting with young people, with whom he will focus upon people’s moral responsibility towards creation.
The Pope also said he would pray for the Anglican Communion’s upcoming Lambeth Conference as the Church of England considers how to be faithful to the Gospel in the contemporary world.
Pope Benedict will celebrate the final Mass at World Youth Day on Sunday, July 20.