The controversy surrounding the question of what Pope Benedict XVI actually said concerning the morality of using condoms to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS was at least good publicity for Ignatius Press, which has the publishing rights to the English version of Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times.
It was good, too, for Catholic media and teachers of the faith; it gave them an opportunity to discuss what the Church really teaches about love, marriage and human sexuality in God’s plan.
However, the Pope’s words on condoms took up only a couple of pages of the 239-page work, an interview conducted over six days at Castel Gandolfo by veteran German journalist Peter Seewald. The book offers a fascinating insight into the Pope’s way of thinking over a wide range of subjects. We at the Register were so impressed that we thought we’d treat our readers to some golden nuggets … with an encouragement to read the entire work.
On the papacy: “The fact that all the early popes were martyrs is significant. Standing there as a glorious ruler is not part of being pope, but rather giving witness to the One who was crucified and to the fact that he himself is ready also to exercise his office in this way, in union with him.”
On how he prays: “[The Pope] too is a simple beggar before God — even more than all other people. Naturally I always pray first and foremost to Our Lord, with whom I am united simply by old acquaintance, so to speak. But I also invoke the saints. I am friends with Augustine, with Bonaventure, with Thomas Aquinas. … With them, strengthened by them, I then talk with the dear Lord also, begging, for the most part, but also in thanksgiving — or quite simply being joyful.”
On the cover-up of clerical abuse: “The archbishop of Dublin told me … that ecclesiastical penal law functioned until the late 1950s; admittedly, it was not perfect — there is much to criticize about it — but nevertheless it was applied. After the mid-sixties, however, it was simply not applied anymore. The prevailing mentality was that the Church must not be a Church of laws but, rather, a Church of love; she must not punish. Thus the awareness that punishment can be an act of love ceased to exist. This led to an odd darkening of the mind, even in very good people.
“Today we have to learn all over again that love for the sinner and love for the person who has been harmed are correctly balanced if I punish the sinner in the form that is possible and appropriate. In this respect there was in the past a change of mentality, in which the law and the need for punishment were obscured. Ultimately this also narrowed the concept of love, which in fact is not just being nice or courteous, but is found in the truth. And another component of truth is that I must punish the one who has sinned against real love.”
On the persecution of Christians today: “A new intolerance is spreading, that is quite obvious. There are well-established standards of thinking that are supposed to be imposed on everyone. These are then announced in terms of so-called ‘negative tolerance.’ For instance, when people say that for the sake of negative tolerance [i.e., ‘not offending anyone’] there must be no crucifix in public buildings. With that we are basically experiencing the abolition of tolerance, for it means, after all, that religion, that the Christian faith is no longer allowed to express itself visibly.”
On the naked public square: “We must first ask the question: Why must the state banish [the crucifix in public]? If the cross contained a message that was not comprehensible or acceptable to others, then that would surely be worth considering. But the cross contains the message that God himself is someone who suffers, that through suffering he is fond of us, that he loves us. This is a message that attacks no one.”
On the current battle: “In keeping with man’s fallen nature, paganism breaks through in him again and again; this is an experience that runs through all the centuries. The truth of original sin is confirmed. Again and again man falls behind the faith and wants to be just himself again; he becomes a heathen in the most profound sense of the word. But again and again the divine presence in man becomes evident also. This is the struggle that passes through all of history. As St. Augustine said: World history is a battle between two forms of love. Love of self — to the point of destroying the world. And love of others — to the point of renouncing oneself. This battle, which could always be seen, is in progress now, too.”
On receiving Communion: “I am not opposed in principle to Communion in the hand; I have both administered and received Communion in this way myself. The idea behind my current practice of having people kneel to receive Communion on the tongue was to send a signal and to underscore the Real Presence with an exclamation point. One very important reason is that there is a great danger of superficiality precisely in the kinds of mass events we hold at St. Peter’s, both in the basilica and in the square. I have heard of people who, after receiving Communion, stick the Host in their wallet to take home as a kind of souvenir. In this context, where people think that everyone is just automatically supposed to receive Communion — everyone else is going up, so I will too — I wanted to send a clear signal. I wanted it to be clear: Something quite special is going on here! He is here, the One before whom we fall on our knees! Pay attention! This is not just some social ritual in which we can take part if we want to.”