French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, 65, is a veteran Vatican diplomat, the former “Foreign Minister” of the Holy See, who today serves as President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. On September 10, L’Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops’ conference, published an interview with Tauran by noted journalist Gianni Cardinale. Among other topics, Tauran discussed the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI to France. The following is an NCR translation of that interview.
Your Eminence, on Friday Benedict XVI leaves for France, and you, along with Cardinals Roger Etchegaray and Paul Poupard, will be part of the papal entourage. Some have written, including John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, of a Ratzinger who is a Francophile. What do you think of this definition?
I have to say that this pope speaks a splendid French, elegant and without any German accent. Actually, he speaks French with an elegance that’s rare even among my countrymen. Regarding Ratzinger’s particular predilection for France, I’m a eyewitness, so to speak.
In what sense?
On May 11, 1998, the French Ambassador to the Holy See at that time, Jean-Louis Lucet, presented then-Cardinal Ratzinger with the insignia of a Commander of the Order of the Legion of Honor. The ceremony took place at the Villa Bonaparte, and I was present. Ratzinger delivered a brief but very rich speech in which he showed all of his love for France, for the French church and for French culture. The future pontiff confessed to always having been, since his youth, a ‘zealous admirer of sweet France.’ He talked about all the French authors he read: Catholics such as Claudel, Bernanos, Mauriac, Peguy, but also secular writers such as Anouilh and Sartre. Then, he turned to the great French theologians such as Congar, Danielou, and Chenu, and he spoke at length about Fr. De Lubac. At the end, he said: ‘I congratulate France for these great personalities, and I thank France for the gift of its humanistic culture.’ He ended with a moving appeal: ‘Long live friendship between France and Germany! Long live France!’
Do you have other memories of the bonds between France and Cardinal Ratzinger?
Certainly. The speech he gave in Normandy in 1992 comes to mind, when he was inducted into the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences of the Institute of France. It was titled, ‘In search of peace.’ There are also the numerous private trips Ratzinger has taken in our country, such as those to the abbeys of Le Barroux and Fontgombault. There’s the celebrated lecture he gave at the Sorbonne in 1999. All these events demonstrate the extraordinary predilection of Ratzinger for France.
What will be the themes of the trip the pope is about to take to Lourdes and Paris?
Obviously, I don’t know the content of the papal speeches. It’s a pastoral visit, and therefore the religious dimension will be preponderant. Nonetheless, I believe I know what the expectations are in France of the pope. They include a clear discussion of healthy secularism when he speaks at the Elyse, and an illuminating word on culture when he speaks to academic world.
You were favorably impressed with the words of Nicolas Sarkozy when he took possession of his seat as a Canon of St. John Lateran in December 2007. How would you evaluate the subsequent steps of the president?
His words were very encouraging. I have to confess, however, that for the present, they have not been followed by concrete actions. Legal recognition of the degrees issued by ecclesiastical universities and faculties, for example, has not been granted, despite the fact that it was mentioned at the Lateran and it would not be a very complicated reform to undertake.
How is the health of the church in France that will meet the pope?
Undoubtedly, the level of religious practice is very low and the priest shortage is dramatic. Christianity, in contrast with the situation in Italy, does not have influence on public life and doesn’t inspire public debate. But, there are small signs of hope. There’s a small increase in vocations, which, to tell the truth, are most robust among the traditionalists. Also, this summer there was some good news from Lourdes.
What are you referring to?
On the occasion of the anniversary of the apparitions, there’s been a great influx of pilgrims … many young people, many families with lots of children. It’s a truly moving witness of faith, which even the mass media have noticed. They’ve treated this phenomenon with curiosity and respect, without the tones of superiority and facile irony that we’ve seen in the past. For France, believe me, that’s a small miracle.
John Allen is filing stories throughout the pope's visit to France and Lourdes. Read all the stories in his daily news column: John L Allen Jr Daily Column. Stories he has already filed include:
• Pope offers prayerful meditation on Eucharist: Jesus 'past, present and future'
• Pope in France: Traditionalists deserve 'a place in the church'
• The Cross, Mary, and hope for 'new vigor' in the Church
• No reference to Muslims, but pope makes a call to resist 'disaster for humanity'
• Benedict makes a case for 'healthy secularism'
• Pope in France: Averting a secular Iron Curtain
• Pope in France: Latin Mass an 'act of tolerance'
• Extracts from Sarkozy on church/state relations in France
• Cardinal Tauran on the pope's trip to France
• The Marian Papacy of Benedict XVI
• Benedict hopes to tap the 'creative minority' of French Catholics
(Editor's Note: Some stories are double posted, on NCRonline.org and on NCRcafe.org.)