May 23, 2015, Saturday — Thinking about Francis

The news stories keep coming:

— the Irish referendum yesterday on marriage (the Irish voted “Yes,” to allow same-gender marriage);

— the upcoming papal encyclical on the environment (June);

— preparations for the Pope’s trip to Cuba and the USA (September);

— the “Bishops’ Synod, Part #2” (October);

— the opening of the Jubilee of Mercy (December)…

And, amid the ebb and flow of these and other stories, many Catholics, and others, are thinking and reflecting about the role of the Catholic faith and the Christian tradition in the increasingly post-Christian modern world… and about the role of Pope Francis in promoting and defending that faith under difficult circumstances.

Some today are sharply criticizing Francis for not speaking out more often and more strongly against the passage of the new marriage law in Ireland. These critics contend that Francis, by not speaking out, was partly to blame for the defeat of the Church’s position on marriage at the ballot box.

Others (and on this point, note the remarks of Cardinal Burke below) continue to defend Francis, noting that his doctrinal teaching throughout his pontificate has been characterized by a full, eloquent, and often very persuasive explication and defense of perennial Church teaching.

What is often lost sight of in this debate — and this is the reason I close this Letter with the prophetic quotation at the end from Joseph Ratzinger — is that the “worldly powers” have become so influential over human consciences in the 20th and now the 21st centuries, that many traditional declarations of Church doctrine have become actually “counter-productive” when uttered by Church teachers and apologists, then depicted by the media as representing “impositions from on high” against “human freedom and individual dignity.”

What Francis has done is place himself in a posture where the Christian doctrines he does preach, day in and day out, can be perceived by “the world” as utterances and encouragements, not from a distant “on high” authority, but from a “man like us,” someone who understands human weaknesses and failings.

We must recall, when thinking and reflecting on these days between the two Synods on the Family — October 2014, followed by a year of discernment, and October 2015 — when the Church is attempting to weigh the requirements of fidelity to Christ’s teaching alongside Christ’s commandment to “feed my sheep,” to care for both the righteous and the sinful members of the flock, that Pope Francis is very aware of the temptation by the devil to “give in” to the world. At the conclusion of the first session of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October, Francis, addressing the assembled Fathers, said that one of five temptations he and all the bishops needed to fight was “the temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfill the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.”

Here below are three voices, and a fourth (who does not talk about Francis, but about the general fate of Christianity in our world in coming years), worth taking into consideration:

Prof. Robert Spaemann, conservative Catholic from Germany (close to Pope Benedict);

Martin Mosebach, prize-winning German Catholic writer (famous for defending the beauty and sacredness of the old Latin Mass);

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke (also well-known for his defense of the old liturgy, and for his generally “traditional” Catholic views).

And the fourth voice is:

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI (who was a radical progressive theologian at the Second Vatican Council, then became a more “tradition-oriented” theologian following the student revolts in Europe in 1968; he made the single most radical decision of any modern Pope when he announced he would resign his office two years ago, on February 11, 2013, and in so doing, in effect, “de-mystifying” the office of papacy in a way without precedent).

Mosebach’s voice is important because he is an artist, a novelist, not a cleric, not a product of any particular Catholic school, but someone who — like so many in the modern world — has found his way back to the Church, and to a profound appreciation of the ancient liturgy, by a private, personal path. His emphasis on tradition has a philosophical basis; he does not believe it is of “this world.” He sees it as part of a “transcendent” realm which cannot be contained within “earthly reality.”

He expresses his view this way: “The Church must always go back to the foundations because it is an historical institution and refers to a specific time — the so-called fullness of time into which Jesus came. She must always strive in this direction because it is a matter of preserving the essence of the Faith. In the present time we are concerned with a reduction of religion: its transcendental dimension threatens to become invisible.”

Mosebach, then, is sort of a “wild card,” a brilliant German artist who, desperate to avoid the “dead end” of a “worldly prison,” has become a defender and proponent of traditional Catholic faith and liturgy. His words do not reflect any group or “school” in the Church. His voice is a lonely, idiosyncratic one — and precisely for this reason, I think, is worth taking into consideration.

Spaemann’s voice is more “institutional.” Spaemann is notable because he is a quite prominent German Catholic intellectual, and because he was very close to Pope Benedict. He has kept up a regular correspondence with the former Pope, has gone to visit him since his retirement, and, arguably, he “understands” Benedict as well as any Catholic intellectual in the world. Therefore, what he says about Benedict has a certain weight, a certain authority (though this is less so the case with regard to what he says about Francis, where his “insights” are not the result of a privileged relationship).

Spaemann, too, is concerned that the Church not become “trendy,” that she not “water down” her doctrinal teaching to “please men.” He says: “St. Paul says that there will come teachers who say things that sound beautiful for the ears and the people will follow them. But you, says St. Paul to Timothy, shall not be confounded. Pass on the treasure that you have received, in an unfalsified and unshortened manner.”

And Spaemann actually sees Pope Francis, despite his humble manners and practices (his choice of shoes, cars, etc.) as more “papacy-centric” than Pope Benedict was.

To make his point, Spaemann argues as follows: “Pope Benedict was certainly one of the sharpest critics of papalism. Francis as a Jesuit [Note: The Jesuits take a special vow of loyalty to the Pope], however, stresses by all means the prominent position of the Pope. He made this very clear in his allocution to the Curia. The Pope has the unrestricted power of definition and also the full jurisdiction, something that Orthodoxy, for example, completely rejects. Francis stresses that he can directly intervene in every diocese of the world. If Benedict would have said something like that, there would have been an outcry. But with Francis, the powers of the Pope are again stressed in a stronger way. And no newspaper is upset.”

So Spaemann has some thought-provoking things to say, and they are interesting because he is from Germany, and represents a German view that is very different from the view of many of the more progressive German bishops.

Then there is Cardinal Burke. He has been one of the “lightning rod” figures of this pontificate. And one gets the sense in this fairly recent interview, from about seven weeks ago, that Burke feels that he has been misunderstood. In this interview, he is at pains to express his loyalty to the Pope. He has been depicted as the leader of an “opposition party,” and he says, very clearly, that that is not the case. “I have never said a single word against the Pope,” Burke says. “I strive only to serve the truth, a task that we all have. I have always seen my talks and my activities as a support to the Petrine ministry. The people who know me well can witness to the fact I am not anti-papal. On the contrary, I have always been extremely loyal and wanted to serve the Holy Father, as I am doing now.”

But it is very interesting that Burke lets slip that some bishops are now forbidding him to speak in their dioceses. This is a sign of the fractionalization of the Church today, and is worrisome for all those who have at heart the unity of the Church.

And then there are the remarks of a young Joseph Ratzinger, published in 1970, when he was 43 — so, approximately halfway through his life, and half a lifetime ago.

In those remarks, Ratzinger — already aware of the rise of such “a-Christian” and anti-Christian movements as Nazism, Communism, Fascism, and Secular Humanism — makes a striking prophecy, all the more striking because he will be elected Pope, and then resign as Pope, just a few years later.

“From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much,” he writes. “She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning… And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times.

“The real crisis has scarcely begun.”

1. Remarks by Martin Mosebach, published in Der Spiegel, the most influential magazine in Germany, on May 23 (today):

Der Spiegel interviews Mosebach: “What’s concerning about Francis is this atmosphere of an Entirely New Church”

“This Pope is creating a certain atmosphere”
[“Whatever breaks from continuity is not good for the Church”]

By Romain Leick and Walter Mayr

Der Spiegel

May 23, 2015

Author Martin Mosebach thinks it dangerous that Pope Francis serves emotions above all else and is making his mark through his appearances at the cost of the Church.


The Georg Büchner Award winner Martin Mosebach, 63, is a conservative, sometimes even reactionary, Catholic. Mosebach has spent many years looking at the role of the Church in the modern world. In his 2007 book “The Heresy of Formlessness,” he criticized the effects of the Second Vatican Council which ended in 1965 and brought about a new orientation to the Catholic Church. In 2014 he published his novel “Das Blutbuchenfest.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Mosebach, you have spent the last year in Rome. Have you been able to connect with the general enthusiasm for this Pope?
Mosebach: I remember the moment in March 2013 when a cardinal informed the waiting crowds that a new Pope had been elected who called himself Francis. At that moment I knew what problem would face the Church.

DER SPIEGEL: Because the name was itself a programme – poverty and humility instead of finery and power?
Mosebach: Yes, Francis of Assisi is simply the absolute counter-figure of the papacy: the antagonist of the institutionalized Church. He never wanted to be a member of the hierarchy himself. He was profoundly loyal to the hierarchy but he represented to himself, for his monks and nuns a completely different model, an anarchic Model. He operated under Innocence III., a power seeker, who attached great importance to hierarchy and authority.

DER SPIEGEL: Pope Francis bears a contradiction to himself just by his name?
Mosebach: The Church, which is made up of many opposites, also lives within the opposites between Pope and Francis of Assisi. It is fruitful for the Church. She needs the institutions and the anarchic Christians. But these two poles cannot both exist in one person.

DER SPIEGEL: Perhaps that was the intention of the Pope: To show from the beginning that he wants to lead the Church back closer to the foundations?
Mosebach: To which foundations? The Church must always go back to the foundations because it is an historical institution and refers to a specific time – the so-called fullness of time into which Jesus came. She must always strive in this direction because it is a matter of preserving the essence of the Faith. In the present time we are concerned with a reduction of religion: its transcendental dimension threatens to become invisible. And that means that the foundations that are understood as the current state of society are not the foundations of the Church.

DER SPIEGEL: That suggests a return to the origins. The early Church was indeed a movement of the poor, the week, the oppressed and outsiders.
Mosebach: The phrase “The poor are the treasures of the Church” applies to the history of the Church. Jesus Christ loved the poor but not as the hindered rich, but rather as those who bear smaller burdens and can more easily turn to the Kingdom of God. Jesus prompted the rich to become poor, not the poor to become rich.

SPIEGEL: And why do you not believe that that is a programme for the papacy?
Mosebach: What is concerning about Pope Francis is the atmosphere he creates – as though an entirely new Church has been created which has never existed before in this way. As though Francis is correcting centuries of abnormal development and is creating a new type of Church without dogma, without mysticism. A Church which finds itself in compliance with the current social consensus.

SPIEGEL: You are worried about assimilating with the spirit of the times?
Mosebach: At the very least, Francis is moving in this direction. And he allows this assimilation to advance by being ambiguous in what he says. The whole thing seems to be systematized.

SPIEGEL: But the public appreciates his clear statements.
Mosebach: Just take Francis’ comment that Catholics shouldn’t breed like rabbits. Lots of laughter, great pleasure over a casual remark. But also an ambiguous comment on the question of contraception which can be interpreted as very puritanical as well as very permissive. He throws snappy comments out into the room and with them causes spontaneous enthusiasm because it sounds so unofficial, so un-papal, so un-curial. And then afterwards, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has the thankless task of somehow repairing the damage and explaining how one should understand these comments according to Church teaching. The Church is not free in Her teaching, after all.

DER SPIEGEL: Perhaps Francis has set himself exactly this task – blasting tradition and its guardians, the curia?
Mosebach: Mrs. Merkel can change her party programme when she finds it advantageous to do so, but the Pope is bound by Tradition. He cannot move from it by even a millimetre. Only then, only by that measure is he the Pope. He is not free. He has to care for the continuity of Tradition. That is his principal task.

DER SPIEGEL: But a Pope can come up with something new?
Mosebach: Figures like Francis of Assisi, founders of orders, mystics… they can all explore the religion in every direction and risk a lot. The Pope can not.

DER SPIEGEL: Is theology the weak side of Pope Francis?
Mosebach: I think he is simply not interested in it. I mean that quite frankly in the nicest possible way. The scientific theology in the universities has contributed a lot to the disintegration, the desensitising of the faith in the 20th century. No one is satisfied by theology any more. But the simplicity of Francis does not necessarily open up an alternative to theology.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you also include his style within that – the renunciation of the red shoes, the golden cross and so on?
Mosebach: Naturally there is a criticism of his predecessor in doing that. However that actually has the fatal effect that it now seems that the regalia of the Pope is just a matter of taste. But it is not. To submit oneself to the office also means unquestionably taking on the clothes that belong to the office. The ideal Pope must take on the regalia that signify his office with devotion, just as a prisoner takes on his convict’s jumpsuit.

DER SPIEGEL: Francis openly embraces Benedict. That is surely a sign of respect. Or should he just ignore him?
Mosebach: That would be appropriate and in no way offensive. Because a retired Pope does not actually exist any more. He does not have the freedom all other Catholics have of expressing himself freely. But even if Benedict were dead, it would be irreverent to separate from him so demonstratively. He who does everything differently is also sending out a clear signal that that which came before him was wrong.

DER SPIEGEL: That is how it appears, even in Germany, where Pope Benedict XVI was seen very critically.
Mosebach: The Germans are an hysterical people, their reactions always fluctuate so unreasonably. At the beginning there was “We are Pope” and at the end the Pope had become a non-person. Already as a curial cardinal, Benedict had maintained a position definitively opposite to the German bishops in certain questions, such as the abortion advice centres. They felt reprimanded. No love ever developed. Francis is less interested in the German church.

DER SPIEGEL: What does this Pope want?
Mosebach: It is very difficult to reach any concrete conclusions based on his comments and actions. This Pope creates a mood, he is creating a certain atmosphere. But the atmosphere is no doctrine. It was very revealing to hear him say: “Who am I to judge?” A nice sentence, an apostolic sentence, but he cannot say that as Pope.

DER SPIEGEL: It was one of the sentences that aroused great approval.
Mosebach: Naturally! The public love the foggy rapture. The dogma fades, the dogmatic mountaintop is now up in the clouds and we live on the Earth all so jolly and don’t see it all so austere.

DER SPIEGEL: But the core of the evangelical message – the incarnation of God, the sacrifice on the Cross, salvation – remains unshakeable.
Mosebach: The incarnation of God, the incarnation of the Creator, is a distinctive feature between the Christian faith and other religions. Swapping the places of the Creator and the Created in one great castling move: That is the uniqueness of Christianity. Even the philosophical opponents of the Church feed off this.

Mosebach: It is about nothing less than the deification of man. The anti-clericalism of the enlightenment with its ideas of the autonomy of man is nothing more than a Christian heresy.

DER SPIEGEL: Even the enlightenment, the coming of age of man, depends on Christian revelation?
Mosebach: The enlightenment is completely inconceivable without Christianity. That is why it is also so peculiar to deplore the lack of enlightenment in other religions. The motive of the incarnation is the prerequisite for enlightenment.

DER SPIEGEL: Would the Pope also see it in this way?
Mosebach: He would probably avoid the word ‘heresy’.

DER SPIEGEL: He conducts himself rather as the boss of a global non-profit organisation.
Mosebach: But he isn’t. The Pope does not have to be mindful of votes, although this sort of approval currently sustains Francis’ authority. It sometimes seems to me as though Francis is making his mark at the cost of the Church. For example, he veers around Bishops so extraordinarily ruthlessly. Had Pope Benedict gone around an individual bishop like that there would have been uproar. According to Catholic law, a bishop has his office from Christ and not from the Pope; he should have a very strong legal status with respect to the Pope.

DER SPIEGEL: Is Francis looking for a showdown within the Church machine?
Mosebach: We have a Pope who, on the one hand invokes the tender Church, on the other hand reacts very strongly and interferes in dioceses. To the public it looks like this: Here the dynamic, unconventional, courageous Pope with the golden heart; there a crusty, dead, faithless, rigid machine. But it isn’t that simple.

DER SPIEGEL: His harsh reckoning with the curia, in which he reproached the cardinals with spiritual Alzheimer’s and materialism sounded like a declaration of war.
Mosebach: Yes. Imagine the chief editor of SPIEGEL giving his heads of department such a speech.

DER SPIEGEL: The cardinals tolerated the lecture amazingly unaffected.
Mosebach: In the Curia there is a high linguistic ability to phrase scandal away. Francis’ speech was a strong piece. As in every corporation there are dubious figures in the Curia, but there are very many loyal and dutiful personalities. They were all lumped together. Anyone who now says they work in the Curia presents themselves as someone who is schizophrenic, afflicted with Alzeihmer’s, faithless and greedy for money.

DER SPIEGEL: Should some of them not offer their resignations?
Mosebach: Again the Pope is serving emotions and prejudices. But he shouldn’t denigrate the institutional side of the Church, rather explain what it is there for. Besides, when one declares war on corruption it would be right to say that corruption in this and that instance is a mortal sin, which excludes one from Communion.

DER SPIEGEL: Does Francis focus too much on charisma rather than clear leadership?
Mosebach: Charisma has absolutely no function in the papal office. The first Pope was Peter, the man who disowned the Lord. The charismatic one was Paul. The best Pope is someone who recedes right behind the office. Someone who bends under this office as under a heavy load. The garments that Popes used to wear are an image of this. The Popes used to literally disappear under their regalia. And one should not have been able to see them at all because they were only a substitute for Christ.

DER SPIEGEL: And not the popular preachers the media demands?
Mosebach: What I miss with Francis is the readiness to bend under the office. That would be humility and modesty and then it is insignificant whether the Pope sleeps in the Palace or a hotel.

DER SPIEGEL: He gives people the feeling that he is one of them. What is wrong with that?
Mosebach: Plain, relaxed, unpretentious Popes have been a regular feature in the Church’s history. John XXIII for example gave himself a decidedly simple profile. And occasionally even naïve. But he did not make himself seem as though he were the first Pope to correctly understand the Church.

DER SPIEGEL: Francis also takes uncomfortable positions that oppose the spirit of the times.
Mosebach: That is true, but that does not say anything about the style of his leadership. He is the one the public, especially in the West, hails, not the Church.

DER SPIEGEL: Can Francis revive the Church in this country where he arouses the enthusiasm of the faithful at the cost of a Church that is seen as ossified?
Mosebach: We are witnesses to a bold experiment. It is important to remember that it ultimately does not depend on the current Pope. I say that as a Catholic for whom the Pope is an authority I truly take seriously. At the end it depends upon the continuity. Everything that benefits continuity is good for the Church. Whatever breaks from it is not good for the Church.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Mosebach, thank you for this interview.

[Translation by the Rorate Caeli website. Original version in German. Posted on Rorate Caeli at:]

unnamed-12. Remarks by Robert Spaemann, published in Herder Korrespondenz in their first issue of 2015:

Interview with Robert Spaemann

The Philosophers Robert Spaemann and Hans Joas on the New Pontificate
“One Does Not Get Fully Rid of the Impression of Chaos”

[The following is not a full translation, but the main excerpts of the interview.]

Robert Spaemann and Hans Joas represent a kind of intellectual polarity in the current assessment of Pope [Francis] and the Church.

In spite of the contrasts between these two philosophers, there are also some striking parallels.

Spaemann and Joas both personally profess the Faith and Church and they have dealt with these questions professionally.

Volker Resing [Editor-in-Chief of Herder Korrespondenz] moderated the interview.

Question: Pope Francis has been in office for two years now. Again and again, he has surprised many people. He has raised hopes among some, but others are rather skeptical. How do you assess the phenomenon of Francis?

Robert Spaemann: My perception is ambivalent. Sometimes, I am thrilled by what he says. Sometimes, I only can shake my head. He does not fit into any of the clichés which one has ready to use here among us.

His piety is very traditional. He speaks much about the Holy Family, he warns again and again against the devil – and this in a very concrete manner. We have not heard anything the like in many years. He says for example: “If you have chased away the devil, be attentive, he comes back and first looks very innocent.” He speaks like a Latin-American bishop who is fully rooted in the piety of his people.

On the other side, in my view, his cult of spontaneity is not helping. In the Vatican, some people are already sighing: “Today, he has already again another different idea from yesterday.” One does not fully get rid of the impression of chaos.

And it is irritating how he prepares the Synod. It is the intention that two parties meet at the synod which the Pope wants to to lead into a dialogue whereby he himself plays the role of a moderator. At the same time, however, he takes sides already in advance by favoring the position of Cardinal Walter Kasper, he has excluded the Institute John Paul II for Studies on the Family from the pre-Synod consultations and tries with the help of explicit pressure to influence those consultations.

Question: How do you see the situation with Pope emeritus Benedict XVI?

Spaemann: There is also a problematic aspect. Pope Francis always stresses his close bond with Pope Benedict. In certain ways that certainly also exists. But I wonder why he throws so many people out of the Vatican who had been called in by Benedict. While I myself did not always see the wisdom in some of Benedict’s staff decisions.

Question: What do you regard as being especially problematic with respect to Pope Francis?

Spaemann: Take the recent elections of new cardinals. There have now entered into the government of the whole Church completely unknown bishops who at times only have 15,000 Catholics in their dioceses. Bishops with larger dioceses, however, were passed by, even though one must have seen in them a certain extraordinary quality when they were chosen to be archbishops. Why are they then not called to the top? I ask myself, what will be the result in the end – next to a fleeting symbolic gesture? The upcoming Synod will especially have to show what the Holy Father intends.

Hans Joas: The greater danger is, however – and here we agree – that, through this dynamic that he [Pope Francis] fosters, he could break loose massive conflicts and the bad centrifugal forces could put in danger the Church as a whole. The analogy to Mikhail Gorbachev comes to mind – with all its differences: There comes a reformer from above and the changes make the whole edifice sway. That has to be avoided at all cost.

Spaemann: Pope Benedict always told me in reference to the reallowance of the old liturgy: A liturgical reform may not, as it was the case under Paul VI, come from above, but must grow from below. Only this way, conflicts can be avoided such as the ones with the Pius Fraternity [the Society of St. Pius X] after the Second Vatican Council.

Question: Professor Spaemann, how did you at the time respond to the first appearance of Pope Francis [after his election, on the balcony]?

Spaemann: “O God, is this necessary?” I thought.

Question: Does the papal office suffer in your eyes under the so-called Bergoglio style, or does he, rather, widen its possibilities of action?

Spaemann: That is difficult to say at this point. Perhaps, I will not live long enough to see myself the effects of it. It will show itself on the long run. It can be that Francis’ way is perceived as a new start – or as a failure. I always try to find a standard with which to measure by reading the Gospels and the Letters of the Apostles. St. Paul says that there will come teachers who say things that sound beautiful for the ears and the people will follow them. But you, says St. Paul to Timothy, shall not be confounded. Pass on the treasure that you have received, in an unfalsified and unshortened manner.

Question: But do you not, then, propose a reverse conclusion that, if I find many followers, I am already on the wrong path?

Spaemann: No, of course not, but it also does not disprove it.


Question: The writer Martin Mosebach says Popes should not have any personal charisma. There exists a good division [of tasks]. In Christianity, the charismatic figures did not, so to speak, need an office.

Joas: […] Pope Francis can permit himself to utilize a laxer dealing with the papal office especially because he has a personal charisma. The charisma of the office is being modified by it.

Question: But what follows from this attitude of the Pope? Francis once formulated in one quote that he warns against a Christianity of ideas and requests a Christianity of deeds. How do you assess this [statement]?

Spaemann: I find this formulation awkward. Both have to come together. Francis divides the two areas of the Church – theology and practice. And wants to keep them separate. The theologians shall do their work, but the shepherds shall not pay much attention to them. It seems to me that he does not read much, and does not care much about theology. However, in my view both have to be brought together. The theology becomes bloodless and abstract when the pastoral experience does not flow into it. But vice versa, the pastoral care also becomes empty and does not know what it shall teach if it does not have a theological foundation.


Question: Again and again, Francis turns to the Gospels, a turning to the kernel, as he calls it. Not the teaching of the Church has to be at the center, but the freeing and loving message of Christ. Correct?

Spaemann: The message exists only in one interpretation. Anybody who reads the Gospels, also interprets it. Then there are only a few sentences where the answer is yes or no. For example, the question, whether Jesus is risen from the dead, can only be answered with yes or no, there is nothing in between.

Joas: Well, well, indeed! There is much to be said in between. What resurrection means, one can say much more about it than only yes or no. Does it mean return to the biological life, for example? What do we understand under resurrection?

Spaemann: Of course not return to the biological and therefore mortal life, but also not merely a vision by the disciples and “no spirit,” as the Resurrected One says, but rather life as “transfigured body,” which, if He wants, can eat with His disciples.

And the tomb, it was empty, without that someone took away the corpse, that was what the Areopagites did not want to hear any more, and that is what some Catholics also do not want to hear today, but what they consider to be pious lies.

But the teaching of the Catechism is unambiguous: Jesus does not only proclaim the loving God; He announces Himself to be the Judge of the living and the dead. The ones He will receive into His kingdom, the others He condemns. Therefore, the sermons of Jesus are filled with warnings. Do we want to ignore them? Does this mean to ignore the signs of the time?


Question: The pontificate of Benedict XVI was already mentioned once. You both have accompanied and observed it in different ways. How is your view back to the years of the German Pope? What did he reach, what were his weaknesses?

Spaemann: Ah, it is so difficult to compare these two pontificates and to weigh them against each other. There is a spiritual freedom that Benedict XVI has brought into the Church. Especially through his writings, he tried to explain in actualized ways the Gospels, without adapting it, but to explain it in such a way that the contemporary people can understand it. He has done here an infinite contribution. One can say, that which Francis has done well practically, that is what Benedict has taught with words. I do see here a continuity, even though they are completely opposed in their personalities. But that is the Church, that makes her what she is.

Question: What do you personally regard as the most important part of the pontificate of Benedict XVI?

Spaemann: I esteem especially highly that he removed some grave injustices in the question of the liturgy. He has tried to integrate into the Church the spiritual potential of those people who like to attend the old Mass. That is a great achievement. Francis sometimes turns up his nose at the friends of the old Mass, I consider this to be hurtful. Well, given. In Buenos Aires it was of all people Bergoglio who one week after the publication of Summorum Pontificum gave a significant Church to the followers of the old Mass. [RORATE NOTE: This is not at all correct, as Rorate reported at the time: a hybridized once-a-month Mass was offered, and, given the natural rejection by local traditional Catholics, discontinued shortly thereafter. No Traditional Mass was offered in the territory of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires by diocesan priests, and the only Masses currently offered are those of the Society of Saint Pius X, recently somewhat recognized.]


Question: Let us return from the papacy back to the Vatican. Pope Francis has taken upon himself the mission to reform the bureaucracy of the Curia. He regards clericalism as one of the main evils, the self-reference of the priestly leadership. How do you see this?

Spaemann: Pope Benedict was certainly one of the sharpest critics of papalism. Francis as a Jesuit, however, stresses by all means the prominent position of the Pope. He made this very clear in his allocution to the Curia. The Pope has the unrestricted power of definition and also the full jurisdiction, something that the Orthodoxy for example completely rejects. Francis stresses that he can directly intervene in every diocese of the world. If Benedict would have said something like that, there would have been an outcry. But with Francis, the powers of the Pope are again stressed in a stronger way. And no newspaper is upset.

Question: Is the strong synodal approach of Francis, which Benedict already had started, the right way?

Spaemann: I can not yet assess it. When practice has distanced itself so far from the teaching, then something has to happen. It can also be that the synodal idea and also this upcoming Synod is capable to lead both together. For that, the bishops need to speak openly. It will lead to nothing when the bishops are merely allowed to say that which is welcomed in Rome. There needs to be a true dialogue. That there was an éclat during the recent Synod does not upset me. It has to be this way. But in the end, there will be the question of the outcome. Will the split within the Church grow larger, or can something be brought closer together? The Synod serves to take everybody along, that is a good thought, if only the pope omits to be moderator and partisan at the same time.

Joas: With regard to the changes in the Vatican, I considered the public humiliation of his employees in the speech of the Pope before Christmas to be problematic. A critique of such a manner has to happen either in a non-public form or there must be the possibility of expressed disagreement. To humiliate people publicly I consider to be autocratic in a negative sense.

Spaemann: This Pope is one of the most autocratic [popes] that we have had in a long time.

Question: To return to the Curia. Is that which has formed in the Vatican as a kind of Papal Court a phenomenon of illness in the Church, as Francis has put it?

Spaemann: I can not judge this in a conclusive, definitive way. Concerning the question of clericalism, I think we mourn more the failures of the 19th century than thinking of the present. Today, there is much less the danger that the clergy elevates itself than the danger that there is no respect toward – or rather, that there is even an aggressive rejection of – the priestly or spiritual form of living. Clericalism actually means an unseemly dominant position of the clergy. That is wrong, but I do assume the necessity of a spiritual authority: the pastor has this authority, then the bishop, and the Pope has the authority in any case.

Question: Does the clergy have a position that is too strong in comparison to the laymen?

Spaemann: No, not today anymore, that was perhaps once the case in the past. And where it is still the case, it starts to change.

Question: When we deal with the question of the remarried divorcees, we face a completely heterodox practice within the Church worldwide. Can it stay like that, that there are different ways of how to deal with this question in the Church?

Spaemann: No, it cannot be that in the one diocese it is dealt with in another fashion than in another one. Each bishop has authority in his diocese. But a true authority, for example, of a Bishop’s Conference does not exist. Therefore, unified solutions are needed. And especially, things have to fit together. I cannot speak on the one hand of the indissolubility of marriage and of the sinfulness of extramarital sexual relations, and then on the other hand give the Church’s blessing to a “new community in the bedroom.”

Question: Do you believe that there needs to be a change of the Catholic sexual morality?

Spaemann: Change is saying too much. But there needs to be a fundamentally different way of transmitting this teaching. If a greater adaptation to the modern ‘way of life’ of the Church would be the way, then Protestantism which goes this way should have fewer losses than the Catholic Church, which is not the case. The approval of the true indissolubility of marriage has to be the condition for admitting someone to the Sacrament of Marriage. Only in this way can a marriage experience the happiness that binds itself with the consciousness that this bond has been written in the stars from whence nobody can call it down.

Question: Are extramarital sexual relations a grave sin?

Spaemann: The Gospels say so. These are the words of Jesus. Then people say that it is too difficult for the people of today. Yes, it also became difficult for the people at the times of Jesus. When Jesus said that the marriage can not be dissolved, the reaction of the Apostles was not enthusiasm; on the contrary, they were shocked and asked who then still wanted to marry. They were shocked, just the same as people are shocked today.

[Original version in German – Herder Korrespondenz Spezial, issue n. 1/2015. A Rorate Caeli translation of the most relevant excerpts by Dr. Maike Hickson.]


unnamed3. Remarks by Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, published in Italy, in Italian, in mid-April, and then in English translaton in the National Catholic Register on April 17, 2015, link:

Cardinal Burke Responds to Recent Criticisms

In an Italian-language interview, the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta said, ‘I am not against the Pope; I have never spoken out against the Pope. … My purpose is to serve the truth.’

By Riccardo Cascioli

Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, 66, is troubled by the negative campaign that has been waged against him. Ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1995, the respected expert in canon law was called to Rome by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 as prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura before being appointed cardinal in 2010.

In recent months, critics have described him as an “ultraconservative fanatic,” “anti-Conciliar,” “in conspiracy against the Pope” and even ready for a schism should the upcoming family synod open up unwelcome changes.

The criticism has been so defamatory that in Italy several bishops have even refused to host his lectures in their dioceses. Where he has been allowed to give a conference — as recently in some cities in the north of Italy — there are invariably priests who oppose him and accuse him of spreading propaganda against the Pope.

“It’s total nonsense; I don’t understand this attitude, ” said Cardinal Burke. “I have never said a single word against the Pope; I strive only to serve the truth, a task that we all have. I have always seen my talks and my activities as a support to the Petrine ministry. The people who know me well can witness to the fact I am not anti-papal. On the contrary, I have always been extremely loyal and wanted to serve the Holy Father, as I am doing now.”

When meeting Cardinal Burke in his apartment, a stone’s throw from St. Peter’s Square, with his friendly manner and spontaneity, he bears no resemblance to that hard defender of “cold doctrine,” as he is described by mainstream media outlets.

Cardinal Burke, in the debate that preceded and followed the first synod on the family, some of your statements did sound like criticisms of the Pope, or at least that is how they were interpreted. For example, quite a stir was caused by your recent remark, “I will resist; I’ll resist,” as a response to a possible decision of the Pope to grant Communion to the divorced and remarried.

Cardinal Burke: That comment was misrepresented, and there was no reference to Pope Francis. I believe that because I have always spoken very clearly on the issue of marriage and the family, there are people who want to undermine what I say by depicting me as an enemy of the Pope or even ready for a schism by using that answer I gave in an interview with a French television channel.

How should we interpret that answer?

Burke: Quite simply. The journalist asked me what I would do if, hypothetically, not referring to Pope Francis, a pontiff were to make decisions contrary to the Church’s doctrine and practice. I replied I should resist, because we are all in the service of the truth, starting with the Pope. The Church is not a political body, in the sense of power. The power is Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Therefore, I replied I would resist, and it would not be the first time that this has happened in the Church. There have been several moments in history where someone had to stand up to the pope, beginning with St. Paul against St. Peter, in the matter of Judaizers who wanted to impose circumcision on the converted Greeks. In my case, I am not resisting Pope Francis at all because he hasn’t done anything against the doctrine. Nor do I see myself in a fight against the Pope, as they try to depict me. I’m not pursuing the interests of a group or party. I am simply trying, as a cardinal, to be a teacher of the faith.

Another criticism made against you is your alleged passion for “lace,” a comment used in a demeaning way to criticize your preferred clerical and liturgical vestments as something that the Pope cannot endure.

Burke: The Pope has never made me aware that he disapproves of the way I dress, which, anyway, has always been within norms of the Church. I celebrate the liturgy also in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, and there are vestments for this which do not exist for the celebration of the ordinary form, but I always wear what is required for the rite that I am celebrating. I am not making a political statement against the Pope’s way of dressing. It has to be said that every pope has his own style, but he does not impose this on all the other bishops. So I don’t understand why this should be a cause for controversy.

But newspapers often use a photo of you wearing a hat clearly out of date…

Burke: Yes, I know, but it’s just incredible. I can explain: That photo was spread around after Il Foglio published it alongside the interview I did at the time of the synod. The interview had been done well, but, unfortunately, they chose a photo that had nothing to do with it, which I regret, because, in this way, they gave the mistaken impression of a person who lives in the past.

unnamed-2The truth is that, after being named cardinal, I was invited to a diocese in the south of Italy for a conference on the liturgy. For the occasion, the organizer decided to give me as a gift an old-fashioned cardinal’s hat. I have no idea where he got it from. I held it in my hand and obviously had no intention of wearing it regularly, but he asked me to put it on to take at least one photo. This was the only time I put that hat on my head, but, unfortunately, that picture has been published all over the world, and some use it to give the impression that I go around like that. But I’ve never worn it, not even for a ceremony.

You have also been named as the inspiration if not the promoter of the “Petition to Pope Francis for the Family,” which has been circulated to collect signatures by a number of traditionalist websites.

Burke: I did sign that petition, but it is not my initiative or my idea. Nor did I write or collaborate in drafting the text. Anyone who says otherwise is affirming something false. As far as I know, it is an initiative by laypeople. I was shown the text, and I signed it, as have many other cardinals.

Another of the charges against you is that you are against the Second Vatican Council…

Burke: These labels are easy to apply, but there is no basis in reality. All my theological education in the major seminary was based on the documents of Vatican II, and I am still trying to study these documents more deeply. I’m not at all opposed to the Council, and if one reads my writings, he will find that I quote the documents of Vatican II many times.

What I don’t agree with is the so-called “spirit of the Council,” which is not faithful to the Council texts but purports to create something totally new, a new church that has nothing to do with all the so-called aberrations of the past.

On this matter, I wholeheartedly follow Pope Benedict XVI’s enlightening presentation to the Roman Curia for Christmas 2005: It is the famous discourse in which he explains the correct hermeneutic, which is that of reform in continuity, as opposed to the hermeneutic of rupture in discontinuity that many sectors promote. Pope Benedict XVI’s presentation is brilliant and explains everything. Many things that happened after the Council and are attributed to the Council have nothing to do with the Council. This is the plain truth.

Did Pope Francis “punish” you by removing you from the Apostolic Signatura and entrusting you with the patronage of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta?

Burke: In an interview with the Argentine newspaper La Nacion, the Pope already answered this question by explaining the reasons for his decision. This already says everything, and it is not up to me to comment. I can only say, without revealing any confidential information, that the Pope has never told me or given me the impression that there was anything he wanted to punish me for.

Perhaps your “reputation” has to do with what Cardinal Walter Kasper called the “synod battle,” which also seems to grow in intensity as we get closer to the ordinary synod this coming October. At what stage are we now?

Burke: I would say that there is now a much more extensive discussion on the topics covered by the synod, and this is a good thing. There is a greater number of cardinals, bishops and laypeople who are intervening, and this is very positive. Therefore, I don’t understand all the fuss last year made over the book Remaining in the Truth of Christ, to which I contributed, along with four other cardinals and four specialists on marriage.

That was when the theory of a conspiracy against the Pope was born, a view echoed recently by the well-known Italian historian Alberto Melloni, co-author of a famous history of Vatican Council II that pushes for a progressive interpretation of the Council. Melloni wrote an article for the most popular Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, blaming the five cardinals of a conspiracy against the Pope…

Burke: It is simply absurd. How can you possibly accuse of plotting against the Pope those who uphold what the Church has always taught and practiced on marriage and Communion? The book was certainly written as an aid for the synod to answer Cardinal Kasper’s thesis. But it is not polemical, it is a presentation completely faithful to the Tradition, and it is also of the highest scholarly quality possible. I am absolutely disposed to receive criticism on the content, but to say we conspired against the Pope is unacceptable.

Who is behind this witch hunt?

Burke: I do not have any direct information, but there is definitely a group that wants to impose on the Church not only Kasper’s thesis on Communion for the divorced and remarried, or for those in irregular situations, but also other positions related to the themes of the synod. I think, for instance, of the idea of identifying the positive aspects of extramarital or homosexual relationships. It is evident there are forces pushing in this direction, and this is the reason why they want to discredit those of us who are trying to defend the Church’s teaching. I have nothing personal against Cardinal Kasper; for me, the question is only to proclaim the Church’s teaching, which in this case is tied to words spoken by the Lord.

Looking at some of the themes that emerged strongly in the synod, there is talk again about a “gay lobby”…

Burke: I can’t precisely identify it, but I see more and more that there is a force moving in this direction. I can see people either consciously or subconsciously driving a homosexual agenda. How it’s organized, I don’t know, but it is evident there is a force of this nature. At the synod, we said that homosexuality had nothing to do with the family; rather, a synod should be convoked on the subject if we wanted to speak about this theme. And, instead, we found in the relatio post disceptationem this theme which had not been discussed by the fathers.

One of the theological arguments that is frequently repeated to justify Cardinal Kasper is that of the “development of doctrine.” It isn’t change, but a deeper understanding that can lead to new practice.

Burke: Here, there is a big misunderstanding. The development of doctrine, as, for example, Blessed Cardinal [John Henry] Newman put it or other good theologians, means a deepening in appreciation in the knowledge of a doctrine, not the change of doctrine. Development in no case leads to change.

An example of this is Pope Benedict’s post-synodal exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, where he presents the development of the knowledge of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, also expressed in Eucharistic adoration. There have in fact been some who were contrary to Eucharistic adoration, because the Eucharist is to be received within us. But Benedict XVI explained — also citing St. Augustine — that if it is true that the Lord gives us himself in the Eucharist to be consumed, it is also true that you cannot recognize this reality of Jesus’ presence under the Eucharistic species without worshipping these species.

This is an example of the development of doctrine, but it is not the case that the doctrine on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist changed.

One of the recurring themes in the controversy on the synod is the alleged opposition between doctrine and practice, doctrine and mercy. The Pope often insists on the pharisaic attitude of those who use doctrine to keep out love…

Burke: I think you have to distinguish between what the Pope says on certain occasions and those who affirm an opposition between doctrine and practice. The Church can never allow a contrast between doctrine and practice, because we live the truth that Christ communicates to us in his holy Church, and the truth is never something cold. It is the truth that opens to us a space for love; to love, really, you have to respect the truth of the person and of the person in the particular situations in which you find him or her. Thus, creating a kind of contrast between doctrine and practice does not reflect the reality of our faith.

One who supports the thesis of Cardinal Kasper — a change of discipline that does not touch doctrine — should explain how this is possible. If the Church allows Communion for a person who is bound by marriage but who is living with another person in a matrimonial relationship, that is in a state of adultery: How can the Church allow this and maintain at the same time that marriage is indissoluble? The contrast between doctrine and practice is a false contrast that we must reject.

But it is also true that you can use doctrine without love…

Burke: Absolutely, and this is what the Pope is condemning, the use of doctrine or law to promote a personal agenda in order to dominate people. But this does not mean there is a problem with the doctrine and discipline; only there are people of ill will who commit abuses, for instance by interpreting the law in a way that harms people. Or they apply the law without love, insisting on the truth of a situation of a person but without love. Even when someone is in a state of grievous sin, we have to love that person and help him or her like Our Lord did with the adulteress and the Samaritan woman. He was very clear in announcing the state of their sin, but at the same time, he showed great love by inviting them to come out of this situation.

This is not what the Pharisees did; instead, they showed cruel legalism: denouncing the violation of the law without offering any help to the person on how to turn away from sin so as to find peace again.

Riccardo Cascioli is editor of the popular Italian Catholic website Nuova Bussola Quotidiana (link: where this interview originally appeared in Italian. Translated for the Register by Patricia Gooding Williams.

unnamed-34. Remarks by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, before he became Pope. The passage is taken from the book Faith and the Future, by then-Father Joseph Ratzinger, published originally in German in 1970 as Glaube und Zukunft, republished by the Vatican Press in 2006 after Ratzinger became Pope.

Here is the passage:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much.

She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.

She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity.

As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision.

As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.

Undoubtedly she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion.

Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly.

But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.

In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right.

It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystalization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy.

It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek.

The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed.

One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.

Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty.

Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new.

They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times.

The real crisis has scarcely begun.

We will have to count on terrific upheavals.

But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith.

She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.


Note: For those who would like to travel with us on pilgrimage:

(1) In mid-July 2015, we will travel with a small group of Inside the Vatican readers on our annual “Urbi et Orbi” pilgrimage to Russia, Turkey and the Vatican, to visit eastern Orthodox leaders, shrines and monasteries, and to talk with Vatican officials about ecumenical relations between Catholics and Orthodox;

(2) On December 8, 2015, and again on November 20, 2016, we will be gathering in Rome to be present when Pope Francis opens the Holy Door to begin his Special Jubilee of Mercy, and when he closes the door to end the Jubilee Year. If you would like to join us on one or more of these pilgrimages, email now for more information…

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What is the glory of God?

“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.

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