Pontiff on Crisis of Faith, Abuse Scandal, AIDS

Excerpt From Book-Interview “Light of the World”

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ROME, NOV. 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is an excerpt from German journalist Peter Seewald’s book-interview with Benedict XVI titled “Light of the World,” which is scheduled to be released Tuesday by Ignatius Press. The excerpt comes from Chapter 11, titled “The Journeys of a Shepherd.”

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Seewald: With your soon to be twenty foreign visits, whether in Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Spain,Australia, North and South America, Africa, Portugal, Cyprus, Israel, or England, you have now become a traveling Pope yourself. Let’s select just a few examples.

In Brazil you visited some of the country’s social service facilities and took part in the historic meeting of 176 cardinals and bishops from Latin America. You declared that the encounter between faith in God and the aboriginal peoples has for five hundred years animated and enlivened the countries of this continent. Yet today, you went on, the Catholic identity of the people is in jeopardy.

Benedict XVI: In the last twenty-five years, a huge shift has taken place in the religious geography. In countries or regions that before then still had up to 90 percent or more Catholics, the percentage has sunk to 60 percent. The change has two causes. On the one hand, Evangelical sects are plowing up the religious landscape — though they themselves are quite volatile in turn and are also incapable of generating any permanent sense of belonging. On the other hand, secularism has come to exercise a powerful influence through the media, and it is changing the way people think.

In this sense, there is really a cultural crisis in Latin America, and it is a far-reaching one. This makes it all the more important for Catholicism to present its faith in a new and vital way and to reproclaim it as a force for unity, a force of solidarity and of eternity’s openness to time.

Seewald: During your trip to the US, the fallout from the abuse scandal occupied center stage. What kind of impression did you bring back with you from this visit?

Benedict XVI: I think even non-Catholics were surprised that the visit was not some kind of challenge, but that it revitalized the positive energies of the faith and touched everyone who was present. Wherever the Pope went, there were countless people, and there was a joy of being Catholic in the air that was quite incredible.

Everywhere, whether in the magnificent liturgies — in Washington with more modern music, in New York it was typically classical — or else at the Catholic University, there was joyful participation, a sense of closeness, of communion, that touched me greatly. I also spoke with the abuse victims and became acquainted with many institutions that work with young people.

Seewald: Has the Catholic Church in the United States already surmounted the crisis?

Benedict XVI: That might be an exaggeration, but, for one thing, it is aware of its fragility and of the problems and sin that are present in it. This is very important. In addition, there is an internal awakening to the need to overcome all these things and to live out and embody Catholic identity in new ways in our time.

[…]Seewald: On the occasion of your trip to Africa in March 2009, the Vatican’s policy on Aids once again became the target of media criticism. Twenty-five percent of all Aids victims around the world today are treated in Catholic facilities. In some countries, such as Lesotho, for example, the statistic is 40 percent. In Africa you stated that the Church’s traditional teaching has proven to be the only sure way to stop the spread of HIV. Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms.

Benedict XVI: The media coverage completely ignored the rest of the trip to Africa on account of a single statement. Someone had asked me why the Catholic Church adopts an unrealistic and ineffective position on Aids. At that point, I really felt that I was being provoked, because the Church does more than anyone else. And I stand by that claim.

Because she is the only institution that assists people up close and concretely, with prevention, education, help, counsel, and accompaniment. And because she is second to none in treating so many Aids victims, especially children with Aids.

I had the chance to visit one of these wards and to speak with the patients. That was the real answer: The Church does more than anyone else, because she does not speak from the tribunal of the newspapers, but helps her brothers and sisters where they are actually suffering. In my remarks I was not making a general statement about the condom issue, but merely said, and this is what caused such great offense, that we cannot solve the problem by distributing condoms. Much more needs to be done. We must stand close to the people, we must guide and help them; and we must do this both before and after they contract the disease.

As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.

There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Seewald: Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?

Benedict XVI: She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

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To purchase “Light of the World”: www.LightOfTheWorldBook.com

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