By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Aboard Shepherd One
The following is a rush transcript of comments made by Pope Benedict XVI to reporters aboard the papal plane, on his way to his first pastoral visit to the United States.
Late last week, the Vatican asked reporters travelling with the pope to submit questions for the pope by 3:00 pm Monday afternoon, the day before the trip began. Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, selected four of these questions and asked four different reporters to put them to the pope aboard the papal plane. There was no opportunity for follow-up.
In response to a specific request, Pope Benedict answered one question in English, on the subject of the sexual abuse crisis. His other responses were given in Italian. The following is an NCR translation and transcription of the exchange.
Lombardi: In the name of all those present, thank you for your kind willingness to be with us this morning, to greet us and also to give us some ideas about this trip. It’s your second inter-continental trip, and your first as Holy Father to the United States and the United Nations. It’s a very important trip, much anticipated. Can you say something to us about your sentiments and your hopes with which your approach this trip, and what your fundamental objectives are?
My trip has basically two objectives. The first is a visit to the church in America, in the United States, and naturally also the entire country. There’s a particular motive, which is that 200 years ago the Archdiocese of Baltimore was elevated as a metropolitan archdiocese, and at the same moment two or three other dioceses were created … Philadelphia, Boston, Louisville. It’s a great jubilee for the church in the United States. It’s a moment of reflection on the past, but also on the future, on how to respond to the great challenges of our time that will present themselves in the future.
tNaturally, the inter-religious and ecumenical encounters are an important part of this trip, as is the encounter in the synagogue with our Jewish friends on the vigil of their Passover festival. That’s the religious and pastoral aspect … the church in the United States in this moment of our history, and the encounter with all the others in this common humanity which leads to a common sense of responsibility.
tAt this point, I want to thank President Bush who is coming to the airport and has devoted considerable time to our meeting, and who is also receiving me on the occasion of my birthday.
tThe second objective is the visit to the United Nations, and also here there’s a particular motive. This is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s an expression of the founding philosophy of the United Nations and the human and spiritual basis upon which it’s constructed. Thus it’s a moment of reflection and to refresh awareness of this important moment in history, that in this declaration of human rights diverse cultures came together. There’s an anthropology that recognizes the human being as a subject of rights prior to all institutions, with a value that must be respected by everyone. This trip, given a moment of a crisis of values, gives us the opportunity to build upon what was begun in this moment and to exploit it for the future.
Lombardi:: Now we’ll turn to the questions that you yourselves presented in recent days and that some of us will present to the Holy Father. We’ll start a question from John Allen, who I don’t think needs an introduction. He’s a well-known commentator on Vatican affairs in the United States.
Allen: Holy Father, I’ll ask my question in English. I know you will speak principally in Italian, but we would be grateful for at least a few words in English. The Catholic church in the United States is large and dynamic, but also suffering, above all because of the recent sexual abuse crisis. The American people are waiting to hear what you have to say on this subject. What will your message be?
It is a great suffering for the church in the United States, for the church in general, and for me personally that this could happen. If I read the histories of these victims, it’s difficult for me to understand how it was possible that priests betrayed in this way their mission to give healing and to give the love of God to these children. We are deeply ashamed, and we will do all that is possible that this cannot happen in the future.
I think we have to act on three levels.
The first is the level of justice, the juridical level. We now have also norms to react in a just way. I would not speak in this moment about homosexuality, but pedophilia, [which] is another thing. We will absolutely exclude pedophiles from the sacred ministry, this is absolutely incompatible. And who is really guilty of being a pedophile cannot be a priest. So the first level is, as we can do justice and help clearly the victims, because they are deeply touched. So [there are] two sides of justice, on the one hand that pedophiles cannot be priests; on the other hand, to help in all the possible ways to the victims.
The second level is the pastoral level, the level of healing and help of assistance and of reconciliation. This is a big pastoral engagement, and I know that the bishops and the priests and all the Catholic people in the United States will do all possible to help assist and to heal, and to help that in the future these things cannot happen.
The third point [is that] we have made a visitation in the seminaries to also do what is possible in the education of seminarians for a deep, spiritual, human and intellectual formation –with discernment so that only sound persons can be admitted to the priesthood, only persons with a deep personal love for Christ and a deep sacramental love, to exclude that this can happen [again]. I know that the bishops and the rectors of seminarians will do all that is possible so that we have a strong discernment, because it’s more important to have good priests than to have many priests. This is also our third level, and we hope that we can do, and we have done, and we will do in the future, all that is possible to heal this wound.
Lombardi:: Thank you, Your Holiness. Another theme upon which we had many questions from our colleagues was that of immigration, reflecting the growing presence of Hispanics in the society of the United States. We’ll have a question from our colleague Andres Beltramo, from the Notimex agency in Mexico.
Beltramo: I’ll ask the question in Italian, but we would love to have just a greeting in Spanish. With the enormous growth in the Hispanic presence, the Catholic church in the United States is becoming steadily more bilingual and bicultural. Yet there’s also a growing “anti-immigrant” movement in America. Do you intend to invite the United States to welcome immigrants well, many of whom are Catholic?
tUnfortunately I’m not ready to speak in Spanish, but I offer a greeting and blessing for all the Spanish-speakers! Certainly I’ll talk about this subject. I recent had the ad limina visit from the bishops of Central America, also South America. I saw the scope of this problem, above all the grave problem of the separation of families. This is truly dangerous for the social, human and moral fabric of these countries.
It seems to me that we have to distinguish between measures to be taken immediately, and longer-term solutions. The fundamental solution [would be] that there is no longer any need to immigrate, that there are sufficient opportunities for work and a sufficient social fabric that no one any longer feels the need to immigrate. We all have to work for this objective, that social development is sufficient so that citizens are able to contribute to their own future.
On this point, I want to speak with the President, because above all the United States must help countries develop themselves. Doing so is in the interests of everyone, not just this country but the whole world, including the United States.
In the short term, it’s very important above all to help the families. This is the primary objective, to ensure that families are protected, not destroyed. Whatever can be done, must be done. Naturally, we have to do whatever’s possible against economic insecurity, against all the forms of violence, so that they can have a worthy life.
I’d like also to say that although there are many problems, so much suffering, there’s also much hospitality [in America.] I know that the bishops’ conference in America collaborates a great deal with the Latin American bishops’ conference. Together they work to help priests, laity and so on. With so many painful things, it’s also important not to forget much good and many positive actions.
Lombardi:: Thank you, Your Holiness. Now we’ll have a question that refers to American society, the place of religious values in American society, from our colleague Andrea Tornielli, the Vatican writer of the newspaper Il Giornale.
Tornielli: Holy Father, in receiving the new ambassador of the United States of America, you cast in a positive light the public value of religion in the United States. I’d like to ask if you consider this a possible model also for secularized Europe? Also, is there also a risk that religion and the name of God can be abused for supporting a certain political stance, including war?
t Certainly we can’t simply copy the United States. We have our own history, and we must learn from each other.
What I find fascinating about the United States is that they began with a positive concept of secularism. This new people was composed of communities and people who had separated from state churches, and they wanted to have a secular state which would open possibilities for all the confessions and all the forms of religious expression. It was an expressly secular state, and it was directly opposed to a state-church. It was secular precisely out of love of religion, for the authenticity of religion, which could be lived only in freedom. Thus we find a state that’s expressly secular, but favorable to religion in order to give it authenticity.
tWe know that the public institutions in America, albeit secular, draw on a de facto moral consensus that exists among the citizens. This seems to me fundamental and positive to consider, also in Europe. But in the meantime, more than 200 years of history have passed with so many developments. Also in the United States, they’ve had a new form of secularization, a new secularism, which is entirely different. They also have new problems, such as immigration, the “Wasp” ideology, and all these problems. The situation has become complicated and differentiated in the course of history, but the fundamental idea seems to me even today worthy of being observed.
Lombardi:: Thank you, Your Holiness. Now we’ll have the last question, dealing with the theme of the visit to the United Nations. It will be asked by John Thavis, the bureau chief in Rome of the Catholic News Service.
Thavis: Holy Father, the pope is often considered the conscience of humanity, and this is one of the reasons your address at the United Nations is highly anticipated. Do you think a multi-lateral institution such as the UN can protect the non-negotiable principles defended by the Catholic church, meaning those rooted in natural law?
tThis is precisely the fundamental objective of the United Nations, to protect the common values of humanity upon which the peaceful coexistence of nations is based, the pursuit of justice and development against injustice. There’s an idea I’ve already touched upon which seems to me to be fundamental for the United Nations, and that’s the idea of human rights, the rights expressed by them as non-negotiable in all situations, are the fundamental principles of the institution. It’s important that there be this convergence among the cultures, which found a consensus that these values are fundamental and are written in the being of the human person. To renew this awareness, that the United Nations and its peacekeeping mission can work only if it’s based on fundamental rights held in common by all. To confirm this fundamental conception and to reinforce it as much as possible is an objective of my mission.
tAt the beginning, Fr. Lombardi asked about my sentiments. I’d like to say that I’m going with joy. I’ve been in the United States several times, I know this great country, and I also know the great life of the church despite all the problems. I’m happy to be able to meet in this historical moment, both through the church and my visit to the United Nations, this great country.