Cardinal Ratzinger Seeks a Bridge With Nonbelievers

Warns That Secular Culture Can Slip Into Dogmatism

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ROME, DEC. 14, 2004 ( Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the president of the Italian Senate agree that there must be collaboration among Catholics, nonbelievers and believers of other religions «to rediscover a common morality.»

During a public discussion Monday on the Christian roots of Europe, held at the Lateran University, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith called for a rediscovery of «the common concept of a reason that will make us join forces.»

The theologian and Senate President Marcello Pera, a politician-philosopher, discussed the questions they address in a book they co-authored, «Senza Radici. Europa, Relativismo, Cristianesimo, Islam» (Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity and Islam), published by Mondadori.

The cardinal proposed the rediscovery of natural law as the basis for a common ethic.

«We must study natural law again — perhaps another name is needed,» Cardinal Ratzinger said. «But it is necessary to identify the foundations to individualize common responsibilities between Catholics and secularists, to base an action which not only responds to the action, but also to duty and morality.»

The cardinal reminded his audience that natural law is independent of faith. «Faith can help one find it, but it does not depend on it,» he said.

Over «the last decades, man’s power has grown in an unimaginable way and his capacity to destroy is impressive. However, our moral capacities have not increased. There is a disproportion between the power to do and the power to destroy the moral faculties,» the cardinal lamented.

«The great challenge consists in discovering how we can help to overcome this disproportion,» he said, recognizing that in this connection the Church has a contribution to make.

«The Church was born as a community of martyrs and not as a state religion,» the Vatican prefect said. «It has no other instrument to guide people than the force of conviction: God himself is reason and love, given that to believe in God ‘Logos’ is to believe in a God who has created reason and, at the same time, creates out of love.»

«Is Catholicism also a force of the present?» he asked.

«My answer and that of the president of the Senate,» the cardinal said, quoting the book he wrote with Marcello Pera, is that «the tree needs roots.»

«The thesis is that secular culture, when it separates from the roots, becomes dogmatic and loses its moral force,» he said. «Reason becomes functional and technical, losing its moral faculties» and «without moral capacity, freedom becomes a caricature of itself.»

Cardinal Ratzinger continued: «Today it is thought that, if something ‘can’ be done, then ‘it must be done.’ In this case, freedom becomes absolute and no longer has moral criteria.»

«If ‘being able to do’ becomes ‘doing,’ humanity destroys itself and loses its dignity,» he warned.

For the prefect of the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation, the present crisis of Europe is very different from the one that caused the 1968 revolution or the fall of Communism.

«After its fall, the void arrived, and now everything must be done, must be built. Moral reason has been extinguished,» he said.

Hence, «the Church’s magisterium insists greatly on man’s reason, which has the moral capacity to wake from the dream. In the past there was evidence of a common reason,» Cardinal Ratzinger said.

«Christianity must convince with its moral forces and must of course respect people who do not have the gift of faith,» he concluded.

For his part, Marcello Pera, the president of the Italian Senate and a former professor of the philosophy of science at the University of Pisa, based his analysis on an X-ray of the malaise Europe is experiencing.

«There is political malaise in a Europe divided over its relations with the United States, with Israel, on the attitude it should assume vis-à-vis terrorism and the awakening of Islam,» said Pera, a self-proclaimed nonbeliever.

«The malaise is also social: immigration; security; multi-culture, understood as aggregation of monads,» he added. He when on to cite «intellectual malaise, relativism — according to which all cultures and civilizations are equivalent and cannot be arranged in order of importance; politically correct language, in which the word ‘better’ is prohibited and is applied only to ties, desserts, but not cultures, etc.»

«There is also spiritual malaise and an identity crisis which arose already before the war and terrorism,» said the Senate president.

«Europe doesn’t know how to protect its own identity, it doesn’t know how to defend itself,» lamented Pera. «Tolerance becomes indifference; Europe wants dialogue but doesn’t know how to pronounce the pronoun ‘I,’ pretends to be wise and old but no longer recognizes the foundations of her presumed wisdom.

«I would propose a Christian civil religion in which we can all recognize ourselves in common values.»

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