NOTE: The Vatican released this morning a transcript of Pope Benedict XVI’s press conference aboard the papal plane en route to Australia for World Youth Day. As is the custom under Benedict XVI, the Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, asked journalists to submit questions in advance and then selected five to be presented to the pope. Benedict XVI responded to two of the questions in English and the other three in Italian. The following is a rush NCR translation of the entire exchange.
Lombardi: Your Holiness, many thanks for being here with us at the beginning of this long trip. We extend our best wishes, and we are truly honored by the willingness you always show to respond to our questions. The questions we’re going to ask have been expressed by people who are present here. I selected those that seemed to respond to the widest interests. If possible, we ask that you respond in English to the two questions that will come from our Australian colleagues, while we expect that you will answer the others in Italian.
The first question that we will ask comes from our colleague Lucio Brunelli of RAI.
Question: Your Holiness, this is your second World Youth Day -- the first, we might say, which is entirely your own. What are your sentiments in living this experience, and what is the principal message you want to offer the youth? Do you believe that World Youth Day has a deep influence on the church which hosts it? Finally, do you think the formula of these massive gatherings of youth is still relevant?
Benedict XVI: I’m going to Australia with sentiments of great joy. I have very beautiful memories of the World Youth Day in Cologne. It wasn’t simply a massive event, but above all a great festival of faith, a human encounter of communion in Christ. We saw how the faith opens frontiers, how it has a real capacity for communion among diverse cultures and how it creates joy. I now hope that the same thing happens in Australia. For that reason, I’m joyful to see so many young people, and to see them united in the desire for God and the desire for a truly human world.
The essential message is indicated by the words which constitute the motto of this World Youth Day: we speak of the Holy Spirit which makes us witnesses of Christ. Therefore, I would like to concentrate my message precisely on this reality of the Holy Spirit, who appears in different dimensions: it’s the Spirit who operates in Creation. The dimension of Creation is very present, because the Spirit is the creator. This seems to me a very important theme in the present moment. But the Spirit is also the one who inspires Scripture: in our journey, in the light of Scripture, we can move forward together with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, thus it guides us in communion with Christ, and finally it makes itself manifest, according to St. Paul, in the charisms, that is, in a great number of unexpected gifts that change in different times and give new energy to the church. Therefore, these dimensions invite us to see the traces of the Spirit and to make the Spirit visible to others.
A World Youth Day isn’t simply an event of the present moment: it’s prepared by a long journey with the Cross and with the icon of the Madonna. The preparation isn’t just organizational, but also spiritual. Therefore, these days are simply the culminating moment of a long journey that preceded it. Everything is the fruit of a journey, of being together on the path towards Christ. The World Youth Day also creates a history, that is, it creates friendships, it creates new inspirations – in this way, World Youth Day continues afterwards. This seems to me very important: not to see just these three or four days, but to see the entire journey that precedes it and follows it. In this sense, it seems to me, the World Youth Day – at least for our short-term future – is a valid formula that prepares us to understand that, from different points of view and different parts of the world, we’re moving forward towards Christ and towards communion. We thus learn a new way of moving together. In this sense, I hope it will also be a formula for the future.
Lombardi: Thank you, Holiness. The second question is presented by Mr. John Paul Kelly, a journalist from The Australian, one of the grand newspapers of Australia.
Question: Holy Father, I’d like to ask my question in English: Australia is a very secular land, with low religious practice and much religious indifference. I’d like to ask whether you are optimistic about the future of the Church in Australia, or are worried and alarmed that the Australian Church may follow the European path to decline? What message would you offer Australia to overcome its religious indifference?
Benedict XVI: I will do my best in English, but I beg your pardon for my insufficiencies in English. I think Australia in its present historical configuration is a part of the ‘Western world’, economically and politically, and so it is clear that Australia shares also the successes and the problems of the Western world. The Western world has had in the last 50 years great successes: economic successes, technical successes; yet religion – Christian faith – is in a certain sense in crisis. This is clear because there is the impression that we do not need God, we can do all on our own, that we do not need God to be happy, we do not need God to create a better world, that God is not necessary, we can do all by ourselves.
On the other hand, we see that religion is always present in the world and will always be present because God is present in the heart of the human being and can never disappear. We see how religion is really a force in this world and in countries. I would not simply speak about a decline of religion in Europe: certainly there is a crisis in Europe, not so much in America but nevertheless there too, and in Australia.
But on the other hand, there’s always a presence of the faith in new forms, and in new ways; in the minority, perhaps, but always present for all the society to see. And now in this historical moment, we begin to see that we do need God. We can do so many things, but we cannot create our climate. We thought we could do it, but we cannot do it. We need the gift of the Earth, the gift of water, we need the Creator; the Creator re-appears in His creation. And so we also come to understand that we cannot be really happy, cannot be really promoting justice for all the world, without a criterion at work in our own ideas, without a God who is just, and gives us the light, and gives us life.
So, I think there will be in a certain sense in this ‘Western world’ a crisis of our faith, but we will always also have a revival of the faith, because Christian faith is simply true, and the truth will always be present in the human world, and God will always be truth. In this sense, I am in the end optimistic.
Lombardi: Thank you, Holy Father. The next question is formed by Mr Auskar Surbakti of SBS, the Australian television.
Question: Holy Father, I’m sorry that I don’t speak Italian well, so I’ll be asking my question in English. There has been a call from Australian victims of sexual abuse by clergy for Your Holiness to address the issue and to offer an apology to the victims during your visit to Australia. Cardinal Pell himself has said that it would be appropriate for the Pope to address the issue, and yourself made a similar gesture on your recent trip to the United States. Will Your Holiness be speaking on the issue of sexual abuse and will you be offering an apology?
Benedict XVI:: Yes, the problem is essentially the same as in the United States. I felt obliged to speak about it in the United States because it is essential for the Church to reconcile, to prevent, to help and also to see guilt in these problems, so I will essentially say the same things as I said in America.
As I said we have three dimensions to clarify: the first, I mention, is our moral teaching. It must be clear, it was always clear from the first centuries that priesthood, to be a priest, is incompatible with this behavior, because the priest is in the service of Our Lord, and Our Lord is holiness in person, and always teaching us – the Church has always insisted on this. We have to reflect on what was insufficient in our education, in our teaching in recent decades. There was, in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the idea of proportionalism in ethics: it held that nothing is bad in itself, but only in proportion to others. With proportionalism, it was possible to think for some subjects – one could also be paedophilia – that in some proportion they could be a good thing. Now, it must be stated clearly, this was never Catholic doctrine. There are things which are always bad, and paedophilia is always bad.
In our education, in the seminaries, in our permanent formation of the priests, we have to help priests to really be close to Christ, to learn from Christ, and so to be helpers, and not adversaries of our fellow human beings, of our Christians. So, we will do everything possible to clarify what is the teaching of the Church and help in the education and in the preparation of priests, in permanent formation, and we will do all possible to heal and to reconcile the victims. I think this is the essential content of what the word ‘apologize’ says.
I think it is better, more important to give the content of the formula, and I think the content has to say what was insufficient in our behavior, what we must do in this moment, how we can prevent and how we all can heal and reconcile.
Lombardi: Thank you, Holy Father. Now another question posed by Ms. Martine Nouaille, of the Agence France Presse.
Question: I’ll ask the question in Italian. One of the subjects at the last G8 meeting in Japan was the struggle against climate change. Australia is a country very sensitive to this subject as a result of a strong drought and the dramatic climactic events in this region of the world. Do you think that the decisions taken in this area are adequate to the challenge? Will you talk about this issue during your trip?
Benedict XVI: As I already underlined in response to the first question, certainly this problem will be very present at this World Youth Day, because we’re talking about the Holy Spirit, and in consequence, about Creation and our responsibilities with regard to Creation. It’s not my intention to enter into the technical questions which politicians and specialists have to resolve, but to offer essential impulses for seeing the responsibility, for being capable of responding to this great challenge: rediscovering in Creation the face of the Creator, rediscovering our responsibility before the Creator for the Creation which he has entrusted to us, forming the ethical capacity for a style of life that’s necessary to assume if we want to address the problem posed by this situation and if we really want to arrive at positive solutions. Therefore, [I’ll seek] to awaken consciences to see the great context of this problem, within which the detailed responses are not our responsibility, but rather that of politicians and specialists.
Lombardi: The next question will be posed by Cindy Wooden of CNS, Catholic News Service, the Catholic agency of the United States.
Question: Holy Father, while you’re in Australia, the bishops of the Anglican Communion, which is quite large also in Australia, are meeting at the Lambeth Conference. One of the principal subjects regards various means for reinforcing communion among the provinces and finding a way to ensure that one or more provinces don’t take steps which others see as contrary to the Gospel or to tradition. There is a risk of a fragmentation in the Anglican Communion and the possibility that some Anglicans will ask to be received in the Catholic church. What’s your hope for the Lambeth Conference and the Archbishop of Canterbury? Thank you.
Benedict XVI: My essential contribution can only be prayer, and in my prayer I will be very close to the Anglican bishops who are meeting in the Lambeth Conference. We can’t, and we shouldn’t directly intervene in their discussions. We respect their own responsibility. Our hope is that schisms or new fractures can be avoided, and that a solution can be found that responds both to the needs of our time and also to fidelity to the Gospel. These two things must go together. Christianity is always contemporary and lives in this world, in a given time, but it makes present in this time the message of Jesus Christ, and therefore, it offers a true contribution for this time only by being faithful in a mature way, in a creative way that’s faithful to the message of Christ. We hope, and I personally pray, that they find together the path of the Gospel in our time. This is my wish for the Archbishop of Canterbury: that the Anglican Communion, in the communion of the Gospel of Christ and the Word of the Lord, finds responses to the current challenges.
Lombardi: Holiness, we thank you very much for these comments, for this conversation, and for the responses you have given us. We renew our good wishes for this long journey, hoping that it will truly bear the fruits which you expect. We will seek to collaborate with you in making your message known and understood in the best possible manner. Thank you again.