Rocco Buttiglione, a Catholic politician and eminent European intellectual, is president of the Christian Democratic UDC party in Italy.
This pontificate can best be summed up by Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).
The world of today wants a Christianity that is kind to everybody and is ready to take at face value whatever everybody wishes in terms of their fulfilment, the meaning of their life. It wants a Christianity that is ready to help everybody to reach their goals. But what they do not want is the Church to have an idea about the truth of man. They don’t want the Church to say to a drug addict: “Don’t do that; you’re destroying your life. This is wrong.” They want a love without truth.
The message of Benedict XVI is that true love is a passionate interest in another; a passionate interest that is aimed at the true happiness, true fulfilment of each individual human being. If you really love someone and see that he is destroying himself, you have not only the right but the duty to tell him he is doing wrong. And if you do not try to explain to him why it is wrong, if you don’t want to enter into a confrontation with him in order to convince him to save his own life, then you don’t really love him. This is the proper meaning of the word authority. Authority means you take responsibility to sometimes, if need be, say no. Our society suffers from a lack of authority. Parents do not feel authorized to say no anymore. And by the way, they don’t even know on which occasions they should say no because there is the idea that there is no objective truth.
Everything in this pontificate is related to this first principle. Take, for example, his new approach to religion and to the Islamic world. Interreligious dialogue cannot just be about telling each other all is good or about what we share. We must be able to speak about God, and to speak about God means to speak about man and his relationship with God. We also need to speak of human rights: that a human being is endowed with freedom and that he has the duty and a right to search for freedom, that he cannot be compelled to accept as truth something which he doesn’t, in conscience, recognize as true. This implies the problem of conversion, the possibility of conversion to another religion, and the right to be different.
This doesn’t imply you must renounce your convictions. It means only the other human being has his own path towards God and you must leave him free to follow his own path, one that is not necessarily your own path. This implies also an idea of reason. The Regensburg speech addressed these core issues. As you know, this was not well received in the beginning, but later his lecture brought about an important deepening of interreligious dialogue.
Regarding the pedophilia scandal: I don’t know if he’ll be remembered for that. This issue has really been created by the media. They have brought together all the cases of pedophilia that have taken place in the Church of the United States and throughout the world in the last 50 or 60 years as if they had happened all at once. And of course this has created a tremendous concern among people and has had a tremendous effect of defamation on the Church.
I think the Pope has responded with great courage, and he has taken strong measures. People are increasingly coming to know the measures that have already been taken. Of course, it is terrible morally. One case is one case too many because it’s a terrible sin against God. As Jesus said, whoever scandalizes one of these children that have been given to me, “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin” (Luke 17:2).
It is the only case when Jesus is so harsh to the sinner. Usually, he is full of forgiveness. It is a terrible sin, a terrible crime, but there is a kind of hysteria, and it seems that all priests are now suspect. If any accusation is levelled against any priest, he is immediately to be condemned without benefit of doubt, without trial, without any appropriate dissent.
So I think the Pope has responded with great courage and great powers of spirit to this attack against the Church. But I don’t think this will be remembered as one of the great events of this pontificate. It’s something that may be rather important for a while, but it will be forgotten. With time people will realize the real proportion of things. This Pope will be remembered as a great pope because of his achievements.
And let me just say one more thing: There is a close connection between this pope and John Paul II, the Polish pope and the German pope. Only in the Church could there be such a tremendous spiritual friendship and such a connection between a Pole and German.
About This Series
Now more than ever, we need to be reminded of what a Pope is. On the rock of Peter our Church is built. To him and his successors — Christ’s vicars — have been entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. Christ prayed for him that his faith might not fail, that he might strengthen his brethren.
The untold story right now in the media is how much God has worked through Pope Benedict XVI in his first five years as Pope. That’s why we began to commission short essays to honor him for his anniversary just a few weeks ago.
As the media tries in vain to pin the lion’s share of the blame for the developing abuse scandal on him, those essays are now taking on a meaning and depth we couldn’t have imagined. We’re fortunate to have this man leading us, and these tributes tell why.
We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.
— The Editors