Tuesday, 21 December 2010
The Pope's Christmas message to the Curia: reclaim morality!
The face of the Church, soiled
"Recalling the principal events of the past twelve months, the Pope noted how "with great joy we began the Year for Priests and, thanks to God, were able to conclude it with much gratitude, though it was very different to how we had imagined. Among us as priests and among the laity, also and especially the young, a renewed awareness arose of the great gift of the priesthood of the Catholic Church, which was entrusted to us by the Lord. One again we came to understand how beautiful it is that human beings are authorised to pronounce the name of God and, with complete authority, the word of forgiveness, and thus that they are able to change the world, to change life. How beautiful it is that human beings are authorised to pronounce the words of consecration. ... How beautiful it is to be able to remain, with the strength of Lord, close to mankind in his joys and sorrows".
"Thus our shock was even greater when, precisely in this year and in a dimension that we could not imagine, we became aware of the abuse of minors committed by priests who distort the Sacrament into its antithesis: under the veil of the sacred they inflicted profound harm on human beings in their infancy, causing damages that lasts a lifetime.
"In this context", the Pope added, "a vision of St. Hildegard of Bingen came to my mind, who disturbingly describes what we experienced this year".
"In St. Hildegard's vision the face of the Church was soiled with dust, and this is how we saw it. Her vestments were torn, and the fault was of priests. Just as she saw and expressed her vision, so have we lived this year. We must humbly accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair, as much as possible, the injustice committed. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our announcement, in our entire way of determining Christian existence, that such a thing could happen.
"We must discover a new resolve to be faithful and good. We must be capable of penance. We must strive to do everything possible, when preparing people for the priesthood, to ensure such a thing can never happen again. This is also the place to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone working to help victims, to restore their trust in the Church and their capacity to believe in her message.
"In my meetings with victims of this sin, I have also always encountered people who, with great dedication, remain close to those who are suffering or have been damaged. This is also an occasion to thank the many good priests who humbly and faithfully transmit the Lord's goodness and who, amidst so much devastation, are witnesses of the beauty of the priesthood, a beauty which has not been lost".
A sick culture and the error of consequentialism
The Holy Father went on: "We are aware of the particular gravity of this sin committed by priests and of our consequent responsibility. Yet we cannot remain silent concerning the context of our time in which we see these events taking place. There is a market for child pornography which, in some way, seems to be increasingly considered by society as something normal. The psychological devastation of children in whom human beings are reduced to the level of a market commodity, is a frightening sign of the times".
In this context, the Holy Father mentioned the problem of drugs, "which with increasing strength extends its tentacles to the entire world. ... All pleasure becomes insufficient and excess under the delusion of intoxication turns into violence that rends entire regions. And all this in the name of a fatal misunderstanding of freedom, in which precisely man's freedom is undermined and in the end completely cancelled.
"To oppose these forces we must look at their ideological foundations. In the 1970s it was theorised that paedophilia was entirely consistent with man and with children. This, however, was part of a basic perversion of the concept of 'ethos'" in which "nothing is good or bad in itself, everything depends on the circumstances and on the intended goal. ... Morality was replaced with a calculation of consequences, and by this process ceased to exist. The effects of these theories are evident today. Against them, Pope John Paul II, in his 1993 Encyclical 'Veritatis splendor', indicated with prophetic force the great rational tradition of Christian 'ethos' as the essential and permanent foundations for moral action. Today this text must once again be placed at the centre as a way to form consciences".
Orthodox relationsBenedict XVI then turned his attention to the Synod of the Churches of the Middle East which began when he consigned the "Instrumentum laboris" during his apostolic trip to Cyprus in June. "Even if full communion is not yet granted to us", said the Pope referring to the Orthodox Church, "we have nevertheless established with joy that the basic form of the ancient Church unites us profoundly with one another: the sacramental office of bishops as the bearer of apostolic tradition, the reading of Scripture according to the hermeneutic of the 'Regula fidei', the understanding of Scripture in its manifold unity centred on Christ, developed under divine inspiration, and finally, our faith in the central place of the Eucharist in the Church's life".
"We witnessed impressive manifestations of the rich Christian culture of the Christian East. But we also saw the problems. ... The wrongs and the deep wounds of the past were all too evident, but so too was the desire for the peace and communion that had existed before. Everyone knows that violence does not bring progress; indeed, it gave rise to the present situation. Only in a spirit of compromise and mutual understanding can unity be re-established. To prepare the people for this attitude of peace is an essential task of pastoral ministry.
The Middle East: put a stop to Christianophobia
"During the Synod itself", he added, "our gaze was extended over the whole of the Middle East, where the followers of different religions - as well as a variety of traditions and distinct rites - live together. ... In the turmoil of recent years, the tradition of peaceful coexistence has been shattered ... with the result that we witness with increasing alarm acts of violence in which there is no longer any respect for what the other holds sacred. ... In the present situation, Christians are the most oppressed and tormented minority. For centuries they lived peacefully together with their Jewish and Muslim neighbours. During the Synod we listened to wise words from the Counsellor of the Mufti of the Republic of Lebanon against acts of violence targeting Christians. He said: when Christians are wounded, we ourselves are wounded. Unfortunately, though, this and similar voices of reason, for which we are profoundly grateful, are too weak. Here too we come up against an unholy alliance between greed for profit and ideological blindness.
"On the basis of the spirit of faith and its rationality", the Pope went on, "the Synod developed a grand concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world. The human being is one, and humanity is one. Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone. Thus the words ... of the Synod must be a clarion call, addressed to all people with political or religious responsibility, to put a stop to Christianophobia; to rise up in defence of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalise the spirit of reconciliation".
The Holy Father also dwelt on his apostolic trip to the United Kingdom in September, during which he beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, focusing his remarks on "two points that are connected with the theme of the responsibility of Christians at this time and with the Church's task to proclaim the Gospel".
On the subject of his meeting with the world of culture at Westminster Hall in London, the Pope noted how "Alexis de Tocqueville, in his day, observed that democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by purely instrumental rationality. ... In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake".
On the subject of Cardinal Newman, the Holy Father highlighted the blessed's conversion to a "faith in the living God" in which he recognised that "God and the soul, man's spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts. ... Where such a conversion takes place, it is not just a person's theory that changes: the fundamental shape of life changes. We are all in constant need of such conversion: then we are on the right path.
"The driving force that impelled Newman along the path of conversion was conscience", meaning "man's capacity for truth: the capacity to recognise precisely in the decision-making areas of his life - religion and morals - a truth, the truth. At the same time, conscience - man's capacity to recognise truth - thereby imposes on him the obligation to set out along the path towards truth, to seek it and to submit to it wherever he finds it. ... The path of Newman's conversions is a path of conscience - not a path of self-asserting subjectivity but, on the contrary, a path of obedience to the truth that was gradually opening up to him".
Finally, the Holy Father also made brief mention of his trips to Malta, Portugal and Spain where, he said, "it once again became evident that the faith is not a thing of the past, but an encounter with the God Who lives and acts now".