National Catholic Register


Peter Speaks: Benedict In Wide-Ranging TV Interview


August 27-September 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/28/06 at 9:00 AM


VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI gave a wide-ranging interview Aug. 5 to German TV and radio media. The following remarks are abridged from Vatican Radio’s translation of the interview, which was broadcast Aug. 13. 

The German Situation

Your visit to Bavaria in September focuses attention on the situation of Catholics in Germany as well. How do you see the present situation there?

I’d say, first of all, that Germany is part of the West, with its own characteristic coloring obviously, and that in the Western world today we are experiencing a wave of new and drastic enlightenment or secularization, whatever you like to call it.

It’s become more difficult to believe because the world in which we find ourselves, is completely made up of ourselves and God, so to speak, doesn’t appear directly anymore. We don’t drink from the source anymore, but from the vessel which is offered to us already full, and so on.

Humanity has rebuilt the world by itself, and finding God inside this world has become more difficult.

This is not specific to Germany: It’s something that’s valid throughout the world, especially in the West. Then again, today the West is being strongly influenced by other cultures in which the original religious element is very powerful. These cultures are horrified when they experience the West’s coldness towards God.

But with all this the Church is present once more, and faith is offered as the answer. I think that this visit, like the visit to Cologne, is an opportunity because we can see that believing is beautiful, that the joy of a huge universal community possesses a transcendental strength, that behind this belief lies something important and that together with the new searching movements there are also new outlets for the faith that lead us from one to the other and that are also positive for society as a whole.

The Middle East

What do you see as the Holy See’s role in relationship to the present situation in the Middle East?

Of course, we have no political influence and we don’t want any political power. But we do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilize all the forces that recognize how war is the worst solution for all sides. It brings no good to anyone, not even to the apparent victors. We understand this very well in Europe, after the two world wars. Everyone needs peace.

There are moral forces at work that are ready to help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live together. These are the forces we want to mobilize: It’s up to politicians to find a way to let this happen as soon as possible and, especially, to make it last.

Primacy and Collegiality

As Bishop of Rome you are the successor of St Peter. How do you see the tensions and equilibrium between the primacy of the Pope, on one hand, and the collegiality of the bishops, on the other?

Of course, there is a relationship of tension and equilibrium and, we say, that’s the way it has to be. Multiplicity and unity must always find their reciprocal rapport and this relationship must insert itself in ever new ways into the changing situations in the world.

We have a new polyphony of cultures nowadays in which Europe is no longer the determining factor. Christians on the various continents are starting to have their own importance, their own characteristics. We must keep learning about this fusion of the different components.

We’ve developed various instruments to help us: the so-called ad limina (every five years) visits of the bishops, which have always taken place. Now they are used much more in order to speak sincerely with all the offices of the Holy See and with me.

I speak personally to each bishop. I’ve already spoken to nearly all the bishops of Africa and with many of the bishops from Asia. Now it’s the turn of Central Europe, Germany and Switzerland. In these encounters in which the center and the periphery come together in an open exchange of views, I think that the correct reciprocal exchange in this balanced tension grows.

We also have other instruments like the synod, the consistory, which I shall be holding regularly and that I would like to develop. Without having a long agenda, we can discuss current problems together and look for solutions.

Everyone knows that the Pope is not an absolute monarch but that he has to personify, you might say, the totality that comes together to listen to Christ. There’s an awareness of the need for a higher and broader figure that can create unity in the dynamic integration of all parties and that can embrace and promote multiplicity.


As the land of the Reformation, Germany is especially marked by the relationships between the different religious confessions. What chances do you see of improving relations with the evangelical Church?

I believe that the first thing we need to do is to concern ourselves with clarifying, establishing and putting into practice important ethical directives in society, thus guaranteeing a social ethical consistency without which society cannot fulfill its political ends, namely, justice for all, living together in a positive way and peace. In this sense, I think a lot is already achieved, that we already agree on the common Christian basics before the great moral challenges.

Of course, then we have to witness to God in a world that has problems finding him, as we said, and to make God visible in the human face of Jesus Christ, to offer people access to the source without which our morale becomes sterile and loses its point of reference, to give joy as well because we are not alone in this world.

Only in this way joy is born before the greatness of humanity: humanity is not an evolutionary product that turned out badly. We are the image of God. We have to move on these two levels, so to speak: the level of important ethical points of reference and the level that manifests the presence of God, a concrete God, starting from within and working towards them.

If we do this and, especially, if in all our single communities we try not to live the faith in a specific fashion but always start from its deepest basics, then maybe we still won’t reach external manifestations of unity quickly, but we will mature towards an interior unity that, God willing, one day will bring with it an exterior form of unity too.

Positive Christianity

A month ago you were in Valencia for the World Meeting of Families. You never mentioned the words homosexual “marriage,” you never spoke about abortion, or about contraception. Clearly your idea is to go around the world preaching the faith rather than as an “apostle of morality.”

Christianity, Catholicism, isn’t a collection of prohibitions: It’s a positive option. It’s very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost completely disappeared today.

We’ve heard so much about what is not allowed that now it’s time to say: We have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other, that the scale of sexuality, eros, agape, indicates the level of love and it’s in this way that marriage develops, first of all, as a joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman, and then the family, that guarantees continuity among generations and through which generations are reconciled to each other and even cultures can meet.

So, firstly it’s important to stress what we want. Secondly, we can also see why we don’t want something. I believe we need to see and reflect on the fact that it’s not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other, so that humanity can go on living: All cultures know this.

As far as abortion is concerned, it’s part of the Fifth, not the Sixth, Commandment: “You shall not kill!” We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother’s womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath.

The human person must always be respected as a human person. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way.

Forming the Person

Throughout the world, believers are waiting for the Catholic Church to answer the most urgent global problems, like AIDS and overpopulation. Why does the Catholic Church pay so much attention to moral issues rather than suggesting concrete solutions to these problems that are so crucial to humanity, in Africa, for example?

So that’s the problem: Do we really pay so much attention to moral issues? I think — I am more and more convinced after my conversations with the African bishops — that the basic question, if we want to move ahead in this field, is about education, formation.

Progress becomes true progress only if it serves the human person and if the human person grows: not only in terms of his or her technical power, but also in his or her moral awareness. I believe that the real problem of our historical moment lies in the imbalance between the incredibly fast growth of our technical power and that of our moral capacity, which has not grown in proportion.

That’s why the formation of the human person is the true recipe, the key to it all, I would say, and this is what the Church proposes. Briefly speaking, this formation has a dual dimension: Of course, we have to learn, acquire knowledge, ability, know-how, as they say.

In this sense Europe, and in the last decades America, have done a lot, and that’s important. But if we only teach know-how, if we only teach how to build and to use machines, and how to use contraceptives, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we find ourselves facing wars and AIDS epidemics.

Because we need two dimensions: Simultaneously, we need the formation of the heart, if I can express myself in this way, with which the human person acquires points of reference and learns how to use the techniques correctly. And that’s what we try to do.

Throughout Africa and in many countries on Asia, we have a vast network of every level of school where people can learn, form a true conscience and acquire professional ability which gives them autonomy and freedom. But in these schools we try to communicate more than know-how, rather to form human beings capable of reconciliation, who know that we must build and not destroy and who have the necessary references to be able to live together.

We offer treatment, treatment to AIDS victims too, and we offer education, helping to establish good relationships with others. So I think we should correct that image that sees the Church as spreading severe Nos.