New Book Compares Power of White House and Vatican

Interview with Rafael Navarro-Valls

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MADRID, Spain, SEPT. 26, 2004 ( Rafael Navarro-Valls, professor at Madrid’s Complutense University and Secretary General of the Royal Spanish Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation, has just published a book entitled «On Power and Glory.»

The book is a collection of essays that focus on different aspects of the presidency of the United States (where «political power is manifested in a pure state») and of the spiritual authority represented by John Paul II.

The work also addresses issues of «Sex, Marriage, and Law,» «Culture and University,» and «Conscience and the Law,» which the author explains in this interview with the Spanish news agency Veritas.

Q: What was your intention in collecting the series of essays in your book?

Navarro-Valls: Focusing in a comparative manner on the power of the president of the United States and that of the Pope, the first spiritual authority on earth, I wish to show a series of contrasts that exist between both powers, separated only by «a thin red line.»

If Washington is a political theater of which the president is the main actor, Rome is the See of a Pope who believes that any person in this world is an actor in a great play of which God is author.

Q: The U.S. presidency is in the headlines with the proximity of the Nov. 2 elections. In your opinion, what are the ethical characteristics that the most powerful man in the world should have?

Navarro-Valls: The presidency has two faces: one evokes hope and tradition; the other, darker, entails broken promises and harsh realities. Kissinger said that you «have to be a rich egotist without a job to be able to be a candidate to the presidency of the United States.»

This is not my point of view. I think that a president must have character, intellectual curiosity, energy, a sense of history and a vision of the future.

The crises he must face daily in the Oval Office are a chain of challenges that presidents have not always been able to resolve. Naturally, then, in these essays (which make up the first part of the book) there is a bit of everything: scandals and issues, substantial errors and successes, integrity and corruption.

The study I make of the presidencies of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton and Bush Jr., etc… demonstrates this, although the book also analyzes other figures whose course was marked by power: Churchill, De Gaulle and Bob Kennedy.

Q: You dedicate the longest part of the book to an analysis of the «spiritual power,» and topics connected with it. What is your point of view on John Paul II?

Navarro-Valls: John Paul II is a revolutionary who heads a revolt against a way of life dominated, as Indro Montanelli said, «by that anxiety for the new which by the afternoon has made decrepit what was invented in the morning.»

Its «distressed divisions (as opposed to those of the Pentagon) are not measurable in martial terms, but its actions and words have the force of integrity — which its enemies criticize as temerity — of those who raise the standard above the atmosphere of mediocrity.

Most of the book, in fact, addresses a series of topics that have the Pope’s spiritual power as protagonist. This is a power, as I said earlier, that many times is separated from the scene only by a thin border.

It is natural that on the border skirmishes of identity occur (secularism and its limits, freedom of expression and the religious factor, sects, the public and private sphere in political activity, etc…). I study these with care.

In addition, the book includes an analysis of another series of actions of John Paul II (trip to Cuba, the Middle East, his struggle for human rights, his relations with the PLO and Israel, Fatima and the Third Secret, his confrontation with the new totalitarianisms, etc…) which noticeably illustrates his constant activity.

The challenges that the Pope must address in St. Peter’s are much more complex than those of the president in the Oval Office.

Q: On two occasions in this interview you have referred to the «thin red line» that separates the spiritual power from the earthly. Can you enlarge on this idea?

Navarro-Valls: Only someone who is naive can think that in this uncertain border there are no incidents. But incidents and skirmishes are one thing, paradoxes quite another.

Today we witness a curious tendency of the media to intervene and pass judgment on exclusively religious actions of the ecclesiastical authorities. A tendency that, in its extreme form, lights civil bonfires on whose pyres these authorities are thrown, as new social heretics.

Something like this is happening in Spain in response to the legitimate actions of the ecclesiastical authority when judging the government’s family policy on divorce, the teaching of religion, homosexual marriages, etc… If much of the press and television are analyzed the result is a dramatized documentary of long duration, which is a biased interpretation, confronting a «traditional hierarchy» with «courageous reformers» of the Church.

This is also happening, for example, in the United States. Not long ago, a long piece was published which analyzed the treatment by significant sectors of the media of topics connected with the moral doctrine of the Catholic Church. The result: the arguments of the news spin without focus «around a besieged ecclesiastical authority that struggles to impose its traditions with authoritarian forms of control and an anachronistic focus on modern society.»

It happens especially with news connected to the gay world. We are witnessing a form of «reverse clericalism» which would attempt from the civil side to relive the old lay rule, that is, to subject religion to ideological interests. This is a sort of lay newly-coined confessionalism.

Q: Another part of the book is dedicated to essays on «Sex, Marriage, and Law.» How do the civil and ecclesiastical powers compared here?

Navarro-Valls: This part includes a series of works that manifests that the most delicate point of suture between civil society and the Church is, precisely, marriage and the family. The latter («the smallest democracy») suffers today from the winds of change of conceptions that are altering its traditional make-up.

The family should be rescued from the media passion and assessed by more appropriate points of view on issues such as sexual violence, de facto unions and established couples, the new bioethics, the moral dilemmas that the new procreative techniques generate and so many other ethical and juridical challenges. This is what I have attempted to do in the book.

Q: What is the topic of the chapter entitled «Conscience and the Law»?

Navarro-Valls: There is no spiritual power more powerful than one’s own conscience. This explains why, ever more frequently, deep down in the human conscience a dark drama is unfolding that is not exceptional: one that supposes choosing between the duty of conscience, which imposes the legal norm (based on what we could call «the common conscience of society»), and sometimes a duty to resist, when the moral norm demands it, namely, the individual conscience.

What years ago was the nucleus of conscientious objection — refusal of armed military service — today has exploded in a thousand different directions in a sort of juridical big bang: conscientious objection to abortion, pharmaceuticals, medical treatments, taxes, educational means, scientific experiments, etc…

What is happening in Western law? Leaving to one side the opportunism of isolated behavior, it might well be that the minorities understand with special sensitivity certain paradoxes that are present in modern culture.

So, for example, in a secularized society human life acquires a terrible seriousness. With the fading of the sense of life hereafter, the life of here and now
acquires a different quality. But at the same time, that human life is potentially threatened by warlike conflicts, as well as by legislation that authorizes death at the beginning or end of life. It is not strange, therefore, that conscientious objection arises in these areas.

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