Cardinal Ratzinger, After the 9/11 Attacks

Interview With Vatican Radio From 2001

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ROME, APRIL 27, 2005 ( Here is an excerpt of a translation of an interview Antonella Palermo of Vatican Radio had with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2001.

Vatican Radio has received numerous requests to rebroadcast the interview in the wake of the cardinal’s election as Pope. At the time of this interview, the U.S.-led war against terrorism in Afghanistan had entered its second month.

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Q: Your book [«God and the World»] came out in Italy two days after the terrorist attacks in the USA. If it had come out a little bit later, what would you have added in hindsight?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I would probably say that abusing the name of God would have been the problem, because these attacks were carried out in the name of God. Religion here is being abused for other ends; it has been politicized and made a factor of power.

On the other hand, perhaps I would have spoken more about the need to know God’s human face. If we see Christ’s face, our Lord who suffers for us and showed how much he loved us in dying for us, we have a vision of God that excludes all forms of violence.

And so it is Christ’s face that seems to me to be the perfect answer to the abuse of a God who is turned into an instrument of our power.

Q: «I would dare to say that no one can kill another man without knowing that this is bad» — you said this in the book in answer to the question «Are there people without conscience?» So where does that put any kind of fundamentalism in the name of good, in the name of God?

Cardinal Ratzinger: Yes, naturally there are many different kinds of fundamentalism.

I’d say for example that among the evangelicals in the United States there are some who fully identify themselves in the words of the Holy Scripture — and if they are truly faithful to the Scriptures, they don’t fall into the trap of fanaticism and a religion that becomes violent.

But, it is nevertheless important that we ourselves understand that religion is a gift from the Lord and should be lived within the context of the Church. We cannot manipulate religion — it is strictly tied to the word of God.

I suppose you could say we have this balance between something that cannot be manipulated: the word of God, and that freedom which allows us to live this Word and testify to it in our lives.

Q: Is there any such thing as a «just war»?

Cardinal Ratzinger: This is a major issue of concern. In the preparation of the Catechism, there were two problems: the death penalty and just war theory were the most debated. The debate has taken on new urgency given the response of the Americans. Or, another example: Poland, which defended itself against Hitler.

I’d say that we cannot ignore, in the great Christian tradition and in a world marked by sin, any evil aggression that threatens to destroy not only many values, many people, but the image of humanity itself.

In this case, defending oneself and others is a duty. Let’s say for example that a father who sees his family attacked is duty-bound to defend them in every way possible — even if that means using proportional violence.

Thus, the just war problem is defined according to these parameters:

1) Everything must be conscientiously considered, and every alternative explored if there is even just one possibility to save human life and values;

2) Only the most necessary means of defense should be used and human rights must always be respected; in such a war the enemy must be respected as a human being and all fundamental rights must be respected.

I think that the Christian tradition on this point has provided answers that must be updated on the basis of new methods of destruction and of new dangers. For example, there may be no way for a population to defend itself from an atomic bomb. So, these must be updated.

But I’d say that we cannot totally exclude the need, the moral need, to suitably defend people and values against unjust aggressors. …

Q: As a Christian in the new millennium, are you ever afraid of God?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I am not afraid of God because God is good. Naturally I recognize my weaknesses, my sins and know these can wound the Lord who cares for us so deeply.

I suppose that in this sense I’m afraid of how my actions will affect God — something quite different from the traditional understanding of fear. In this sense, I am not afraid of God; I revere the Lord and so I wouldn’t want to do anything that would harm him.

Q: An expression that is sadly used today is «God yes, Church no.» In this book you respond to that with a note of concern. Can you clarify this?

Cardinal Ratzinger: Yes, because by saying «God yes, or perhaps even Christ yes, Church no,» I create a God, based on what I want him to be, based on my own ideas and desires.

The true God, the real judge of my being and the true light of my life, lives in me. God is not changeable according to my ideas or desires. If I can change this God according to my needs and wishes, it means I don’t take him seriously — and I find this artificial.

Q: You speak in the book also about a tendency to agree with the expression «God no, religion yes.»

Cardinal Ratzinger: This is another aspect of the problem today: We look for something religious, something religious that gives us a certain degree of satisfaction. Humanity wants to understand the infinite, to have the answers about that other dimension, that «other side» that exudes the sweetness and hope that material things cannot give.

I really think this is a big trend today: separating yourself from the need of faith, from a concrete «yes» to God that is full of meaning.

People are looking more for immediate satisfaction without the need to truly commit themselves. While it can be very nice to enter into this mystical dimension — without any commitment — you end up merely satisfying immediate wants and you are imprisoned in your sense of self.

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