"I Don't Think Benedict XVI's 'Program' Is to Combat Relativism"

Interview With Journalist Andrea Tornielli of Il Giornale

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ROME, MAY 22, 2005 (Zenit.org).- For Vaticanist Andrea Tornielli of the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, the new Pope will seek “to proclaim and witness the simplicity, purity and beauty of faith in Jesus Christ.”

In his book “Benedict XVI, Custodian of the Faith” (Piemme, 2005), a collection of testimonies and reminiscences about the prelate who would become Pope, the journalist describes the personality of a man of the Church who is as authoritative in the field of science as he is humble from the human point of view.

To learn more about the 265th Roman Pontiff, ZENIT interviewed Tornielli.

Q: What will be the novelties of Benedict XVI’s pontificate?

Tornielli: As he has already done since the first hours after the election, I think the new Pope will seek to turn attention away from the figure of the Pope, insofar as person, so that all attention is centered on him whose Vicar the Pope is.

This is why I think Benedict XVI has already made the important decision not to celebrate beatifications personally, reserving for himself only the canonizations.

Moreover, I have been very impressed by the accent he places when emphasizing that the Pope is first and foremost Bishop of Rome. On Saturday, May 14, for the first time, the Pope did not celebrate the beatifications, but the next day he presided over the ordination of 21 new priests of his diocese, the Diocese of Rome. I think these are important signs, above all from the point of view of the ecumenical commitment.

Q: It has been said that what John Paul II was for communism, Benedict XVI will be for relativism.

Tornielli: I wish to make a clarification. Just as I avoid the caricature that certain progressive environments have made of Ratzinger over the past 20 years, I also try to be on guard against a certain error: to think that he will be a Pope on the basis of what Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was and said.

I don’t think that Benedict XVI’s “program” is to combat relativism. I believe, instead, that he will seek to proclaim and witness the simplicity, purity and beauty of faith in Jesus Christ.

The antidote to relativism is not a program, it is not a theory, it is not and can never be an invective or a denunciation. An invective, a denunciation, however, were more useful vis-à-vis communism. No, the antidote is in a people, even small in number, that lives the faith and witnesses the fullness of life.

Q: John Paul II filled the squares. In your opinion, is it for Benedict XVI to fill the churches?

Tornielli: I don’t know if this will happen. Personally, I hope churches and squares are full. But if John Paul II with his charism and his extraordinary personality could fill squares, it will be hard for Benedict XVI or any one else to fill the churches.

The churches will be filled, God willing, thanks to the Pope’s testimony, but above all the testimony of all Christians. “I am not alone!” Benedict XVI repeated during the Mass [for the inauguration of his pontificate]. The Pope is not a super-ruler of the Church, he is not an absolute monarch; he is the servant of the servants of God. And the task of proclamation and witness is everyone’s.

Q: Was it singular to elect as Pope the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith? What challenges is the Church trying to respond to with this election?

Tornielli: I think the election is not so much linked to the role as such, but rather to Ratzinger’s personality, his preparation, his depth. I think that with this election the Church wishes to again propose what is essential in the Christian faith.

Q: As Cardinal, Ratzinger expressed his great admiration for the liturgy in Latin, manifesting reservations over the reform carried out in this area during the Second Vatican Council. What do you foresee Pope Benedict XVI will do in regard to the liturgy?

Tornielli: Let’s look at what he has done. The celebrations over which he has presided have been of exceptional simplicity and beauty.

I hope that, little by little, without divisions or traumas, this taste for the liturgy well celebrated, which allows one to perceive the grandeur of the mystery that is lived in the Mass and that has God as protagonist — who comes into our midst and speaks to us — and not the cleverness or inventiveness of the priest or the community, will gain ground.

In his programmatic discourse on the first day after the election, Pope Ratzinger spoke of the centrality of the Eucharist and of the correct liturgical celebration.

I think it will be one of the key points of his ministry, although for the time being I cannot foresee what the concrete steps will be. I also think that there will be greater tolerance in regard to traditionalists, and perhaps the next months might also be decisive for the re-composition of Monsignor Lefebvre’s mini-schism.

Q: It seems that during Vatican II the then young Ratzinger always posed the question: “And the doctrine?” Forty years after the Council, in what way will Benedict XVI consolidate the clergy’s and Catholics’ obedience to sound doctrine?

Tornielli: I was very impressed by the way in which the Pope spoke about doctrine and the papal chair the day he took possession [of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran].

He did not reaffirm a doctrine, asking everyone to obey. He explained that everyone, including the Pope, must obey Christ, and that Peter’s charism is precisely in this obedience. To confirm brothers in the faith is an act that cannot be separated from love and service.

The more it is seen that the Christian faith is the encounter with something great and beautiful, the more it will be understood that the “depositum fidei,” the doctrine — and not our ideas or interpretations — is key to penetrating this mystery in the truest way.

Q: Can we expect reforms from Benedict XVI?

Tornielli: I would like to remind that Ratzinger has said several times that he would like a reform of the Roman Curia, which he thinks has become too gigantic and bureaucratized. I would not exclude the possibility that the Pope will take a step in this direction.

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