John Paul II Never Talked About Resigning, Vatican Aide Says

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 10, 2000 (
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, 64, is regarded as one of the best informed people in the world.

A permanent Opus Dei member, journalist, doctor and Vatican spokesman for the past 17 years, Navarro-Valls has the ability to balance that which is of vital importance in news and the absolute need for discretion. An example of this is the following interview he granted to Spain´s La Vanguardia newspaper, published Saturday.

–Q: The Jubilee is now on the homestretch.

–Navarro-Valls: The Jubilee, and the way it has unfolded, explain this pontificate. It is the vein in which it must be read or, to speak technically, it is its hermeneutical key. To strengthen Christian identity does not mean to enclose Christianity in a ghetto of exclusive truths. It is only the first step for profound dialogue with modernity, with its successes and its limitations.

Perhaps some 28 million people will come to Rome this year, and many more have lived the Jubilee in one way or another in their dioceses. However, deep down, the problem is not one of statistics but of opening to transcendence, of moving away from anthropological isolation, where nihilist secularism hoped to lead the world.

The Jubilee has come to say that the encounter with God is not only a necessity but also inevitable, both individually as well as socially and collectively. This is why it has also been well received outside the Catholic realm.

–Q: How has the modern media contributed to spread the Church´s message and to attract pilgrims?

–Navarro-Valls: It has contributed decisively. It has adopted and followed the pontificate´s agenda, because, in fact, it couldn´t ignore it. There are those who feel that the media is not adequate to transmit religious truths. I answer what daily experience confirms for me. However, it cannot be forgotten that the Church has her own ways of communicating her truths, which have worked with extraordinary effectiveness for 20 centuries: the family, liturgy, catechesis, school, Catholic universities, and the personal dynamism of each Christian in his social and work setting.

–Q: How do you evaluate your long years with John Paul II? What has the experience meant for you?

–Navarro-Valls: I would need all the pages of your newspaper to give just a summary answer. When for everyone the problem of evil is a mystery, John Paul II says: «Evil is neither fundamental nor definitive.»

It is the Pope who has changed and enriched the biblical exegesis on woman. He is the creator of a «theology of the body» that is the foundation of an anthropology of human sexuality in which he integrates love and procreation.

It is the Pope who speaks of the «moral structure of freedom» at a time in which the popular concept of liberty as an absolute leads to its negation and to existential perplexity and anxiety. He is the man of complete confidence in the possibilities of the human being. Only the one who believes in man can be morally exacting with him.

John Paul II is a very good-natured man, a Pope of extraordinary sanctity.

–Q: After the milestone implied in the trip to the Holy Land, how would you describe John Paul II´s rapprochement to Jews and Palestinians?

–Navarro-Valls: That trip was a masterpiece, not of balance, but justice. He spoke to Palestinians and Israelis from the stance of truth. He uncovered for both the truth in their respective positions. As both sides were aware of the absence of geopolitical interests on the part of the Pope, his reflection on the exact truth was accepted without reservations. No one tried to make a trip like this before John Paul II, going, in turn, to Israel, and the territories of the Palestinian Autonomy.

–Q: There is talk of the Pope´s resigning. Are these rumors absolutely unfounded?

–Navarro-Valls: I will repeat what I have had the occasion to say at other times: Never, in the 17 years that I have been working close to John Paul II, have I ever heard him mention this possibility, publicly or privately. It is my sole point of reference on this issue.

–Q: What plans of trips for 2001 can you discuss? Is a visit to Syria among them?

–Navarro-Valls: Yes, that is the Holy Father´s wish: to go to Damascus, the city of St. Paul´s conversion. He has also accepted the repeated invitation to visit Ukraine. And, naturally, there are others possibilities being studied at this time.

–Q: The Church in Catalonia [Spain] has been faced with two problems: financing, which seems to be maintained thanks, especially, to contributions from U.S. and German Catholics; and the lack of vocations. What can be done to improve finances, and why not open the priesthood to women?

–Navarro-Valls: «In every place, in keeping with local characteristics, the Church has agreed to a different system of funding. Among other things, with this system the high social value of many of its initiatives is recognized, and rightly so: teaching, assistance, attention to the less fortunate. Debts, contracted historically with ecclesiastical institutions because of disamortizations or expropriations, are also kept in mind.

As regards vocations, the relative decrease in the number of priests and religious halted years ago. Naturally, there is always a need. The hope of ordination of women is excluded in the Catholic Church, both Latin and Oriental, and in the Orthodox Churches that preserve apostolic continuity. To pose this topic as a question of rights is a mistake: Nobody has the right to be ordained a priest, neither man nor woman. This is not a question of rights, but of vocation.

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