VERONA, Italy — The eighth annual Fede e Cultura (“Faith and Culture”) gathering took place Nov. 17 on the theme of “Persecuted Catholics.” As in previous years, the event gathered prominent intellectual figures of Italian Catholicism, including writer and Vaticanist Aldo Maria Valli, economist and former president of Vatican Bank Ettore Gotti Tedeschi and Msgr. Nicola Bux, theologian and a close collaborator of Pope Benedict XVI. The event was sponsored by Fede e Cultura, a Catholic publishing house based in northern Italy, which promotes traditional Catholic spirituality in Italy.

During Benedict’s pontificate, Msgr. Bux was a consultant for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. He is also a regular contributor to the theological magazine Communio, which then-Cardinal Ratzinger co-founded in 1972. Msgr. Bux is also the author of a number of books, including Perché I cristiani non temono il martirio (“Why Christians Don’t Fear Martyrdom”).

In this interview with the Register, Msgr. Bux discussed the effects of what he believes to be a shift toward worldliness within the Church, the reasons why traditional liturgy attracts more and more young people and gradual replacement of “charity” by “volunteerism.”

 

The theme of this gathering is “Persecuted Catholics.” What does it mean to be persecuted for one’s faith nowadays, especially in our Western democracies?

First of all, persecution is the ordinary status of Christians and the Church — as Jesus said, “Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you” (John 15:20) — and it has been our ordinary status for over two millennia.

Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, a great servant of God [who will be beatified June 7, 2020], was very instrumental in the appointment of Karol Wojtyła as archbishop of Krakow and later as Pope John Paul II . Cardinal Wyszyński told Pope John Paul II once that the time had come for every one of us to trade our small way of the cross for a larger one — one that thousands of humans have undergone in following Christ.

For many people, especially in the West, this bit of advice has not been very clear. For the past few decades, we have had relative freedom to profess our faith and so we consider persecution as something extraordinary. But a creeping persecution is being seen and felt in many parts of the West — it has been happening for many years now and very few people seem to be fully aware of that.

To be persecuted for one’s faith is the lot of every Christian. So, I think we should convince ourselves about one fact: Those who want to be truly Christian, even more if they want to be Catholic, must accept persecution — whether it is done with “white gloves” or with brutality, from inside or outside the Church. Because, unfortunately, the world enters the Church, and while entering it, it tries to make the Church its own. Never totally, but partly — so the part of the Church that is taken by the world always ends up succumbing.

But let’s also remember that Christ has already “overcome the world” (John 16:33).

 

In your address, you suggested the fact that persecution can assume many different forms. One of them is the attack not only against the Church but also against particular parish churches, from people inside and outside the Church. In particular, you expressed your concern about the growing practice to transform places of worship into entertainment spaces. What is this a symptom of?

The phenomenon of transforming places of worship for various functions — into concert rooms, restaurants, and so on, almost like multipurpose rooms — is one of the effects of worldliness in the Church. Let’s recall that totalitarian regimes did the same when they forbade the use of churches for the purpose of worship. Now paradoxically, we do it from within the Church. It is a symptom of the corruption that has even affected some clergymen. Fortunately, some people have become aware of this and have tried to respond. They haven’t given in to this “trend.” So it is necessary to help everyone maintain or acquire a Catholic judgment with the aim of not falling into this trap.

 

In his talk, former director of the Vatican Bank (IOR), Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, lamented the fact that today, the Church seems to be more concerned about economic or environmental issues than about morality and the salvation of souls. Do you agree with such a statement?

Absolutely. It is a widespread tendency. To give you an example, I recently had the occasion to listen to an interview with the archbishop of Taranto, Italy, in the framework of the national scandal triggered by the shutdown of a former ILVA steel plant in Taranto. The archbishop [Filippo Santoro] said it was necessary to maintain employment and the environment — nothing else. Many other clergymen before him have said similar things. But when one sees a bishop with a cross, one would expect a moral statement from him.

For instance, he would be expected to wonder how the greatest factory in Europe is in crisis. It is easy to imitate politicians’ statements, but there is also a moral problem at stake here: This factory had hired many people who didn’t contribute to the factory’s wellbeing.

For instance, he would be expected to wonder how the greatest factory in Europe is in crisis. It is easy to imitate politicians’ statements, but there is also a moral problem at stake here: This factory had hired many people who didn’t contribute to the factory’s wellbeing. So when a CEO comes along and says, “We must cut jobs,” everyone is scandalized. Fair enough, but it would be more appropriate to let people in charge of political and economic issues think about how they can expand the possibilities for employment.

The Church should confine itself to explain why it is not moral to continue this fight — neither from the head of the factory, nor from trade unions or other participants in this controversy. The clergy have a crucial role to play in educating people’s consciences. Today, we tend to align with political correctness and we are no longer able to say more. This must change.

 

You strongly support maintaining tradition within the Church, especially with regard to liturgy. Why is it so important for you?

When we talk about tradition, we speak about the process of transmission of the faith, which started with Christ, with Revelation, and comes to us through the Apostles. Liturgy is one of these places of transmission of the faith. It is not something at our disposal, subject to whatever we can or want to do, because liturgy then would no longer be sacred. It would become our own liturgy, entertainment or something else.

So, this is why liturgy belongs to the driving [force behind] the transmission of the faith. So true is it that the Fathers of the Church used to say that the rule of the faith and the rule of prayer are interdependent. Today, I could say that I can understand what you believe from the way you pray. If the way you pray changes, it means that even the way you believe has changed.

Sacred liturgy is something very delicate. But we have been through a time of desecration in which it seems that the sacred dimension has been overshadowed by new fashionable dimensions. There is the prevailing impression that everything should be desecrated, secularized.

 

Young people seem more and more attracted to traditional liturgy nowadays. How do you explain that?

Several studies confirm that. I see it all the time, especially among young men. And I also want to note that today the participants in this Fede e Cultura gathering [whose sensitivity is openly traditionalist] was mostly made of men — which does not diminish the female presence, of course.

But these tendencies are symptomatic. Because Christianity has a masculine liturgy. It is not feminine in the sense of a sentimental approach. However, nowadays liturgy is often reduced to emotions, to feelings. So, clearly, how could men recognize themselves in this?

Liturgy, by its very nature, is masculine, objective. Liturgy doesn’t fall within the ambit of emotions. Liturgy must gather objectively all the human beings’ states of mind, maintaining such feelings on a low level, because at this very moment, we are worshiping God, not ourselves.

 

You were a consultant in four different Vatican congregations during Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate. How have these congregations changed in the last few years?

I believe they are affected by some of the new orientations that are being given to them … it is something I have noticed, especially at the Congregation for the Cause of Saints.

For example, recently, some processes were opened or even concluded with great ease, even though some of them were very questionable — something that wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. I think this was the case for Argentinian Enrique Angelelli, to name one. It ends up generating a great sense of confusion among the faithful.

Historically, the modalities for such processes have always been extremely rigorous. The Church always used to ask for miracles — two for beatification, and at least two others for canonization. This requirement means that the final declaration, even if it cannot be totally infallible, has a very limited margin of risk. But unfortunately, it has become relative.

Relativism has also reached this congregation in other ways too. I believe things have become more political now. We are trying to promote a “martyrdom of charity.” What does this mean? Martyrdom has always been suffered in odium fidei, which means that the person is killed because of Jesus’ name. When a priest or a lay person is killed because he showed solidarity, he certainly is a hero, but not a martyr. If he gets killed because his charity is a direct expression of the faith he professed, then he really is a martyr. But these things are no longer clear enough.

 

Do you mean there currently is a confusion between social work and charity work, between solidarity and true holiness ?

Exactly. And there tends to be a growing confusion between volunteerism and charity, even within the Church, where the word “volunteerism” is gradually replacing “charity.” However, charity is not volunteerism, as the word “volunteerism” itself suggests that if I do good to someone, it is because I want it. But you must do charity even if you don’t want to! You must do it for the love of Christ, because you are full of love. We must be charitable — even if we don’t have time, even if we have many good excuses not to practice charity.