Two years of Benedict XVI's pontificate

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue.

WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - What tasks - in your opinion - Benedict XVI set two years ago, at the beginning of his pontificate?

CARDINAL PAUL POUPARD: - I think that Benedict XVI wanted to return to the fundamentals, showing the essence of Christian life - friendship with Jesus. Recently the Pope has returned to this theme in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation 'Sacramentum caritatis', devoted to the Eucharist. Since the beginning of his pontificate Benedict XVI has showed us the task of the mission and message that we are fulfilling through our personal and communal testimonies of Jesus' disciples. He also encourages us to realise the regulations of Vaticanum Secundum, especially in such fields as the liturgy as well as the ecumenical, inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue.

- Can we speak about a new 'style' of the pontificate?

- I would define the style of Benedict XVI as 'fundamental', as an invitation directed to every believer, to all people of good will to live a life that is worthy of human person, i.e. open to God the Father who made us his children. Openness to transcendental God and to neighbour constitutes two dimensions of Christian love, which Benedict XVI spoke about in his first encyclical 'Deus caritas est'. The 'fundamental' style can be also seen in the way he runs the Church: the Pope wants to decide about the 'fundamental' issues concerning the office of St Peter's Successor, leaving matters that he does not have to be involved in. For example, Benedict XVI pays much attention to his mission as the teacher of faith. It is evident in his speeches. One can see how well they have been prepared. The speeches of Benedict XVI, which reflect his personality and style, although their intellectual level is high, are understandable by all people. The Pope has the gift of explaining the mystery of God in a clear and simple way.

- Public opinion worldwide perceives Benedict XVI as the Pope of 'the affair' related to his lecture at the University of Regensburg. What lesson should be taken from this 'affair', which had serious religious and political consequences?

- We should explain that we talk about the 'affair', which the world media created on purpose. Many people wanted to have a scandal and to publicize it. It could have happened because this Pope does not remind us of the caricature that certain social communications have created for several years. On the contrary, Benedict XVI evokes people's sympathy and that was not so obvious after the pontificate of his Predecessor who drew multitudes. Even in secularised France, where only 8% of citizens attend Sunday services, as many as 65% of people have a good opinion of the present Pope. Naturally, not all people are satisfied with the actual state of affairs. However, coming back to the 'affair' of Regensburg I would like to stress that one should not demonise the Muslim world. Those who protested against the Pope, and whom we could see in the media, did not represent the whole Muslim community, which embraces over 1 billion people. The lesson we should take from this affair is called 'dialogue'. Benedict XVI showed 'a lesson of dialogue' when he welcomed the ambassadors of the Muslim countries and then during his travel to Turkey. He uses every occasion to teach us about dialogue.

- At the beginning of his pontificate Benedict XVI expressed a wish to intensify ecumenical dialogue. Has a considerable progress been made?

- I am not to analyse this issue. It is the task of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue. But I am glad to say that many prejudices, which hinder any form of collaboration, have disappeared. We know that the divisions between Churches are often based on historical and cultural issues and not dogmatic ones. That's why, once the surface problems are solved we need to analyse the arguments that stand on the way to full unity.

- Once Cardinal Ratzinger said that we should reform the Roman Curia that had expanded within the last 30 years. So far the changes in the Curia have been very small: Benedict XVI entrusted you with the task of presiding over two councils: the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for Culture; whereas Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council Justice and Peace, was nominated the chief of the Council for the Pastoral Care for Migrants and Itinerant People. Does it mean that the Pope has given up his wish to reorganise the Curia for the time being?

- Only the Holy Father himself knows it. However, I would say that we do not deal with some 'unrealised reform', but 'planned reform'. After Vatican Council II we dealt with two contrary tendencies: on the one hand, we wanted to make the Church closer to all environments, in which contemporary man lived, and thus various institutions of the Curia, the pontifical councils, were created; on the other hand, working in accordance with the regulations of the Council concerning local Churches and bishops, many matters, which the Apostolic See administered, were entrusted to diocesan bishops. Taking into account the present changes we should again take a stand as far as the activities of the Curia are concerned. However, we should remember that the Roman Curia is a very complex reality and every project to reorganise it, even a very limited one, must consider various consequences.

- You know the Curia as no one else does. Is its present structure effective to support the popes to fulfil their unique mission?

- Undoubtedly, the Curia helps the Pope. Without its workers the Holy Father could not fulfil his universal mission of the cause of catholic communion of all local churches. Naturally, like all human structures it can be improved but its imperfection cannot obscure the huge amount of work that is done every day in various offices by international personnel who, besides concrete competences, brings the richness of their cultures.

- I would like to mention the theme that directly concerns the activities of the Pontifical Council for Culture that you preside over. Benedict XVI keeps warning all people against the danger of relativism. How can one conduct a dialogue with people that spread contrary opinions, that the so-called relativism of values, life styles, etc. is something positive since it constitutes the foundation of democracy?

- Since the times of Vatican Council II dialogue with all people has become the constant duty of the universal Church and the local Churches. One should conduct dialogue with people of culture, with followers of other religions and with unbelievers, about important existential issues: the sense of life and death, people's problems that have religious dimension, and even about faith itself. Dialogue should also concern major problems of social life: upbringing, poverty, solidarity, foundations of co-existence in multicultural societies, values and human rights, cultural and religious pluralism, common good, ethics in economy and politics, beauty, ecology, biotechnology and bioethics, peace, etc. One can face relativism when we conduct intercultural dialogue with intellectual honesty and we care for the suffering and those who seek the sense of beauty of life. I can see that every time I have some meeting, usually a private one, an official one, an academic or a scientific one at a high level.

- What is the role of Benedict XVI in unmasking false benefits of relativism?

- Benedict XVI is a precious gift for the Church and the world. His knowledge of our world is wise and thorough. He keeps giving diagnoses, keeps discerning the most hidden diseases like a good and wise doctor, and keeps proposing suitable, although sometimes painful, 'medicines'. For example, the Pope has condemned relativism many times, defining it as a 'new religion'. We owe him the expression 'religione fai da te' (religion on your own). At the same time the Pope tries to enter into a dialogue with mankind, proposing 'ideas' and 'values' based on faith and reason - God's gifts. In the world that is threatened by chaos and loss of any points of reference, both in the sphere of faith and reason, we need a lamp, which can light, understand and often unmask the principles of dangerous ideologies. Claiming that relativism of values is the foundation of democracy we face the risk of anarchy and we negate the true nature of human family. We must call for deep reflection on human nature, which can help all people. However, in order to preserve the integrity of the Catholic faith the Church must conduct dialogue on the basis of her own teaching.

- What are the most important challenges for the contemporary Church?

- In the contemporary, increasingly dechristianised societies, practical atheism and religious indifference are spreading very quickly. In this situation the Church will be the real yeast of new society and effective sign of hope if she becomes a true house of holiness.
The inter-religious dialogue is an element of the mission of evangelisation of the Church and will be one of the challenges in the third millennium. For the Church the dialogue brings hope that one day all things and all people are reconciled in Christ, the Lord of history and bond of all hearts.

"Niedziela" 15/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: