Many have observed that the United States had a significant role in the past century that we are rediscovering once more today. This is true in the Catholic Church and in many other areas. What do you think?
Yes, unfortunately there has been a frightening decline of Christian culture in my country. I grew up during the ‘50s, when American society was marked by a Christian character, mostly Protestant but nevertheless faithful to the Christian identity. In those times, we knew about things that have become common today: the reality of abortion, of people who manifest homosexual tendencies, whose personal dignity we always respected, but we were formed to see these acts as absolutely unacceptable, against the nature that God had created for us.
However, in recent decades my country has moved in the direction of a rampant secularism. Now, every year in America, more than a million children are killed in the womb, the practice of recognizing unions between two people of the same sex as marital unions has been imposed, and an attack has been mounted on religious liberty: the government—which has become a very powerful agent of this secularism—forbids the Catholic Church and Catholics from following their conscience regarding the practice of abortion. The Church herself must accept what are considered homosexual ‘marriages’.
In a flight interview, after the umpteenth question about homosexuals, the Holy Father said that we obviously must not discriminate and we have to ask forgiveness from these people for the way they are treated…
I haven’t read the Pope’s text. What I can say is that this year I turned 69, and I have spent my whole life in the Catholic Church. I have never encountered discrimination against people who suffer from the homosexual condition. We know that we are dealing with an abnormal condition: God has not created us to have sexual relations with people of the same sex. This is not a discrimination against persons. It is to affirm the truth of Christ, the truth of our faith.
I must say sincerely, even though I haven’t read the words of the Pope, that I don’t see why the Church ought to ask forgiveness for teaching the truth about sex and sexuality. Rather, during my priesthood of more than 42 years, I have always found priests very compassionate in meetings with people who have had this difficulty and have suffered from this condition.
I would like to speak with you about Benedict XVI. At the time of his resignation, what did you feel?
It was an action that took me by surprise. It is clear that Pope Benedict has reached a certain age, but certainly he was in full possession of his faculties. Someone said that “he was not longer able to travel or bear many audiences.” But I ask myself: who says that the pope has to travel or that he has to receive so many people? I think it is necessary to re-examine the substance of the Petrine office. I would also say that it was not a good thing for the Church to lose its universal shepherd: there is a certain feeling among many Catholics that their father abandoned them. I hope it does not become a common practice.
Isn’t the pope’s traveling and seeing so many people something inherited from the times of John Paul II, and perhaps also Paul VI? Maybe these popes have introduced a new way of understanding the office of the Supreme Pontiff, which is not so essential?
Certainly Pope Paul VI began to travel a bit, just as he began to grant these interviews, for example the ones he gave to Jean Guitton, a French author. Pope John Paul II wanted to face the crisis of the Church with a new evangelization; that is why he traveled so often. But this not part of the Petrine ministry per se, whose mission is to safeguard the unity and the practice of the faith, and especially the liturgy.
Don’t you think that Benedict XVI, who saw the final years of John Paul II—we all remember him being very sick in his last years—feared to repeat these things?
It is naturally a fear. If I’m not mistaken, Pius XII was concerned about this matter. But it can happen to any pope, because a pope does not know how long he will have possession of his full faculties. But we must trust ourselves to our Lord and to the Church, which has the means to confront the situation of a pope who truly is no longer capable.
I have spoken with many journalists and personalities about Benedict XVI and I have discovered that even those most favorable to him have made the following observation, about which I’d like your comment: a great thinker, a great theologian, but not a great leader when it came to the government of the Church. What do you think?
He is certainly an extraordinary teacher of the faith. And he had a way of writing and speaking in a manner accessible to everyone. He also had a great charisma: he communicated a great paternity in individual encounters and also in groups. One thing we can say is that he did not want to be pope, not because he did not want to teach, because he was a great teacher even before he rose to the papal office, but in my opinion, from my limited point of view, the government of the Church, which isn’t easy for anyone, posed a tremendous challenge for him. So, he left it to others to attend to these things and there are some who did not serve him well.
You often celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. May I ask you how you became close to this form, considering that there are so many bishops and cardinals who oppose this return to the pre-conciliar forms?
For me it is a way to remain strongly anchored in Tradition, because the Mass that we have celebrated since 1962 is more or less the Mass we have received from the time of Pope Saint Gregory the Great. In my view—and Benedict XVI has written very well about this—there can be no opposition between the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form. I believe that it is important to keep alive the so-called Extraordinary Form of the Mass to maintain a stronger link with Tradition. I also celebrate many Holy Masses in the Ordinary Form, and it is not a problem for me, but I adhere strongly to the vision that Benedict XVI expressed in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. I think that it is a very good thing for the Church to celebrate the Rite of the Mass in its two forms.
Yet many people say with respect to the Extraordinary Form that they have a problem regarding the use of Latin. They say that they don’t understand Latin, that it is a dead language. What do you think of these criticisms?
First of all, Latin is not a dead language. It is the living language of the Church. We have to restore education in the Latin language, in the seminaries, in schools. In fact, today there is a great interest in Latin especially among young people. Monsignor Daniel Gallagher, who works now in the Latin section of the Secretariat of State, has a summer course in Latin that is always full. Many would like to participate, but cannot because often there are not enough places. We have always had missals, handbooks, and they permit us to follow the Mass in Latin. The Mass in Latin has never posed a problem for me, even when I was a boy. I understood that this language is a sacred language, spanning the centuries through its use in the Sacred Liturgy. Also, I remember very well the people who used to visit my family’s house when I was a boy, who told us about going to foreign countries, where they went to Mass, to the same Mass we did. This is a very important thing.
In the last few months, there has been much talk about the Vatican’s relations with China. How do you see the situation of relations between the Catholic Church and this very strategic country?
I’m convinced that China is a very important and strategic country that has suffered long years of the communist ideology. China needs a constant evangelization. We know that in China there are many Catholic faithful and even great figures. I would say that we need to continue to dialogue with the Chinese government to vindicate as much as possible the right of the Church to evangelize and to carry out its mission normally, as in any other nation. So it is good to go to the Chinese government, but always insisting upon the integrity of Catholic practice and of the faith. I thought that the letter of Benedict XVI to the Chinese Catholics was very opportune. It is difficult: we need courage and perseverance.