Unlike his immediate predecessor, Pope Francis’ ideas and opinions are not well known outside his home archdiocese, also because before he was elected Pope he had written very little and given few interviews to the media.
So when the English translation of “On Heaven and Earth” – a 2010 dialogue between Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio and Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka – hits bookstores on Friday, one can expect sales to be brisk.
Published by Image Books with the subtitle: “Pope Francis on Faith, Family and the Church in the 21st Century,” it offers precious insights into Pope Francis’ thoughts on a wide variety of issues, from abortion and same-sex “marriage” to euthanasia and capitalism.
ZENIT publishes an excerpt of the book here.
The Pope begins by underlining the importance of dialogue which, he stresses, “is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say.” He and the rabbi then embark on a civilized and frank discussion, each sharing their own perspectives.
Divided into 29 chapters according to topic, an early theme concerns the Devil. One trait many have noticed and praised in Pope Francis is his readiness to single out the Devil’s works in his homilies, and in “On Heaven and Earth” he offers an explanation.
“Maybe his [the Devil’s] greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist, and that all can be fixed on a purely human level,” he says, adding: “Man’s life on Earth is warfare; Job says it, meaning that people are constantly put to the test; that is to say, a test to overcome a situation and overcome oneself.”
On the subject of paedophilia, Bergoglio is forthright, strongly opposing moving guilty priests from one parish (he describes it as “stupid”) and admiring Benedict XVI’s “courage and straightforwardness” in enforcing zero tolerance for such a crime.
Cardinal Bergoglio frequently stresses the importance of free will in the book, and opposes any forms of clericalism and fundamentalism. A priest should never impose the faith but simply present and defend Church teaching with clarity, he frequently says.
“The priest who adopts an attitude of only being a boss, like in fundamentalist groups, nullifies and emasculates those who are searching for God,” he says. “The priest, in his role as teacher, instructs, proposes the truth as it is revealed, and accompanies.”
Without specifying, he refers to “restorationist factions” that have “continued to multiply” and which he considers fundamentalists. For young people, he says such rigid religiosity, which tells them “do this, do that”, can lead to poor preparation for life, an inability to handle crises and the shortcomings of others. It results in preventing them from knowing and understanding the mercy of God, he argues.
“This type of religiosity is disguised with doctrines that claim to give justifications, but in reality deprive people of their freedom and do not allow them to grow as persons,” Cardinal Bergoglio says. “A large number end up living a double life.”
He goes on to say that such fundamentalism is an “opiate” because it takes people away from the living God and reduces the Divine “to a being you can manage with prescriptions.” It is a form of “buying comfort, well-being, fortune and happiness,” he says, “but it leaves behind the living God, He that accompanies you along the way.”
On euthanasia, the future Pope says he believes a kind of “covert euthanasia” is taking place: “Our social security pays up until a certain amount of treatment and then says ‘may God help you.’ The elderly are not taken care of as they should be, but rather they are treated as discarded material.”
Turning to abortion, Cardinal Bergoglio puts religion aside in order to stress that from a scientific view, the genetic code of a person is present at the moment of conception, already making him a human being. “Abortion is killing someone that cannot defend himself,” he says simply.
He goes on to discuss with Rabbi Skorka the issue of same-sex “marriage” which he describes as an “anti-value”, and “anthropologic regression”. It is a weakening of the institution of marriage, an institution that has existed for thousands of years and is “forged according to nature and anthropology.”
But again, the cardinal stresses the importance of free will – including the freedom to sin. Although a priest has the right to give an opinion if it is in service to the people, he “does not have the right to force anything on anyone’s private life,” Bergoglio says. “If God, in creation, ran the risk of making us free, who am I to get involved?”. He says “one has to speak very clearly about values, limits, commandments, but spiritual and pastoral harassment is not allowed.”
On humility, Cardinal Bergoglio says it is a virtue that “gives assurance that the Lord is there.” But when someone is “self-sufficient, when he has all the answers to every question, it is proof that God is not with him.” Self-sufficiency, he adds, “is evident in every false prophet, in the misguided religious leaders that use religion for their own ego.”
When discussing politics, the future pontiff says the preaching of human and religious values has a political consequence “whether we like it or not,” but the challenge is to propose values “without interfering” in “partisan politics.” And he criticises the press for reducing what he says to “whatever is opportune.” “Today, from two or three facts, the media spins something different: they misinform,” Cardinal Bergoglio says.
Later, he says religious leaders have the obligation to defend values but not to preach “against so and so.”
“We do not preach against anyone,” he says. “We refer to the value that is in danger and that must be safeguarded.” And again, he chastises the media, which he says is “sometimes infected with hepatitis” because of “their yellow colour” and tendency to “jump out and say ‘Harsh rebuke to so and so.'”
Bergoglio is characteristically strident when it comes to discussing capitalism and communism. Capitalism, he says, “has its own spiritual perversion” by taming religion, so that it doesn’t bother capitalism too much, thereby giving it a “certain transcendence, but only a little bit.” Communism’s spiritual perversion is to reject the transcendent because it believes it “paralyzes man” and does not allow him to progress. Both perversions, he says, are manifestations of worldliness.
Regarding care for the poor, the cardinal differentiates between genuine works of charity and “social-conscience calming activities” carried out in order that a person “feel good about oneself.” But love, he says, “requires a person to go out from himself, to truly give oneself to others.” He then gives as an example a Church charity auction in which a gold Rolex was auctioned off. “What a disgrace [and] bad use of charity,” he says. “It sought a person who would use this watch for vanity in order to feed the poor.”
What the poor need most, he says, is a job to give him dignity, and he must not be looked upon with disgust. “He must be looked at in the eyes,” he says, and later repeats. The great danger when aiding the poor is falling into an attitude of “protective paternalism” that doesn’t allow them to grow.
A characteristic Pope Francis’ most admires is meekness, but he stresses it is not synonymous with weakness. “A religious leader can be very strong, very firm, but without exercising aggression,” he contends, and, as he has often said since his election, the true power of religious leadership comes from service.
He sounds a hopeful note, arguing that the “religious search” for God among most people “continues to be strong, though somewhat disorientated outside institutional structures.” He says “evangelizations is essential, but not proselytism,” which, “today – thanks be to God – is crossed out of the pastoral dictionary.” Quoting Benedict XVI – “the Church is a proposal that is reached by attraction, not by proselytism” – Cardinal Bergoglio says the faith is about “attraction through testimony.”
There is plenty more in this book, including discussions about science, globalization, divorce, education, the Holocaust and women. The conversations on each subject are mostly short, merely giving a taste of the Pope’s thoughts, but with so little known about the new Holy Father, even the shortest passages make welcome reading.
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ZENIT publishes an excerpt of the book here:
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