On May 24, Pope Francis chose the new President of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) among the three candidates chosen by the Bishops’ 70th Plenary Assembly. The following day, CEI’s new president, Cardinal Gualterio Bassetti, answered several questions during a press conference, some of which were of interest only for Italy.
Expressing his gratitude to the Holy Father for his new post, the Cardinal pointed out that with his 75 years, he was already in the “twilight of his life” and, responding to questions on this expression he said: “I see it as a sunset, which will still be able to illuminate a bit, but that afterwards will be preparing for the new day.” He acknowledged that at the beginning he felt disoriented, although later, on receiving the Pope’s affection and that of the Bishops, he felt encouraged and thought “together we will still be able to do something beautiful.”
In regard to Amoris Laetitia and some discussions on the subject, he pointed out that this Apostolic Exhortation “is the synthesis of the Doctrine on Marriage and the Family, suffice it to look at the references.”
The Cardinal added that “to understand this document we must take an important step and avoid a simplification: by stating every irregular situation is mortal sin,” because, before “pointing out a mortal sin” the “Catechism presents a series of conditions that must be fulfilled at the same time.”
He added that the Pope “does not speak of admission to the Sacraments, but of discernment about the real situation of a person, of a couple. Also to begin, if necessary, a penitential journey and afterwards evaluate. He made it very clear that “Amoris Laetitia is presented as it was written. It is not a debatable document, but Magisterium.”
On the Pope’s final address to CEI’s Assembly, the new President said “I saw a clear exposition of Evangelii Gaudium: that the Pope wants very much the pastoral conversion of the Church.” “Not only to change something, but a change of mentality, of heart, with hands on the job.”
In regard to sexual abuses, CEI’s new President said that they are “not beginning from zero” and that “Benedict XVI’s teaching was clear and we must be in contact with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to receive the guidelines, and to evaluate each case in particular.” It is “for us, Pastors, to be vigilant,” he said.
On euthanasia, he pointed out that if a person “has the perception that he is of value to others, it is very much more difficult that he will want to take his life.”
Cardinal Bassetti also addressed the issue of ecumenism, stating that “the Church is in dialogue with today’s world, but she is not afraid of dialogue, but of the mediocrity of one who doesn’t have a clear identity and doesn’t know where he will end up.” Moreover, he stressed: “to be able to dialogue it is necessary to have solid principles to eventually receive and correct the other.”
On the Italian ‘Five Stars’ political movement, Cardinal Bassetti explained: “the post-Conciliar Church dialogues with all. However, in the case of politics she makes a distinction. There is politics with a small ‘p’ which is that of all the parties and I respect them. Then there is politics with a capital ‘P’, which refers to the common good of all.” And the Church and CEI are in agreement “with possibilities to which they can commit themselves.”
In regard to immigration, the Cardinal noted that “from the Bible and from the Magisterium the need emerges to receive,” although there is awareness that the problem is complex and that Italy is part of the European context. In addition to immigrants’ reception, “it is necessary to create conditions so that people don’t feel obliged to leave.”
Referring to the 2018 Synod for Young People, Cardinal Bassetti said the Pope “stresses the importance of the Oratories,” because “they are not only a pastoral instrument but also a cultural and missionary one. They are a richness.” Moreover, the Bishops “look at young people with the heart of Pastors. Our concern is for our young people. May no one will rob them of hope, because there are so many rapacious wolves that want to rob them of it.” The Cardinal hopes that “they will be given the possibility of work, of building a valid future for themselves,” because “the lack of work takes away young people’s dignity.”
In regard to the Pontiff’s attention to the poor, the Cardinal said: “I think that in his teaching Pope Francis has taken a step forward, also in regard to the teaching of his predecessors,” because “they called the poor the last” but “the Pope uses a new term that must make us reflect: rejection.” And if “one is the last he always has his dignity, but to be rejected is to be no longer considered a person; it is to be regarded as rubbish.”
Giuseppe Cesareo contributed to this article