Monday, November 22, 2010

Author of Light of the World Interviewed About Pope Benedict - There Were No Taboo Questions

The Journalist that interviews the Pope for the book got so many headlines this weekend was interviewed himself in a German Paper. Benedetto XVI Forum has translated it. It is a interesting article where we learn no subject or question was taboo. I like what he says about their common Bavarian heritage and how that might helped with this interview.

This Pope appears to be painfully shy at times which actually might his Bavarian reserve. So no doubt having a Bavarian interview him helped.

You spent six hours in conversation with Pope Benedict XVI. it would have been impossible even for the President of the United States to get that time, with the Pope. What do you have that Barack Obama does not?

I don't know! Fate? Foresight? Perhaps it's our common Bavarian heritage. We speak the same language. It makes it possible to ask about things without being shy, and to have a good discussion on every subject without cynicism. Of course, it was helpful that when he was Cardinal we had already done two of these interview books, which were not without effect! He is a team player, and we have been a winning team before.

What was it that clinched the deal, that enabled you to get this PR scoop?

I had made various approaches. The occasion for the project was the five-year jubilee of his Pontificate and the forthcoming publication of his second book on Jesus. In the end, the crisis atmosphere that developed after the revelation of more sexual abuses by priests in Europe clinched it. And so, he has expressed himself to me as no Pope has ever done before. It is a novelty in the history of the papacy... During which he has even said that in exceptional cases, the use of condoms may be acceptable.

Did you confine yourself to asking him only about the hot issues? And is there one question that came to you later that you would now like most to have him answer?

I did not leave out any questions that I really considered urgent. But because of the limited time, there were a number of subjects that I could not bring up as I would have wanted to. For instance, the scandal of increasing Christian persecutions worldwide. Or the phenomenon that a secular near-Godless society which has long considered the religion question 'settled', must suddenly confront the question of faith all over because of the spread of Islamic culture in their very midst. It would seem that an exhausted Christianity is no longer capable of dealing with these fundamental questions of existence in a public debate.

How many other questions remain to be asked?

About a thousand!

Were there questions that he did not want to answer?

None. I had presented a concept, but I did not specify the questions, nor did he then reject any of the questions I asked. For him, there are no taboo subjects. He left the spoken words remain as is, and when he reviewed the text for final authorization, he only made a few minor corrections here and there to make his meaning clear.

Which answer most surprised you?

There were many. From the earlier interviews, I already knew he is very precise, and also that he is a very original observer, very well-informed and quite abreast of the times. Add to that his unique formation and the skill to formulate complicated things in simple and easy to grasp terms. I knew to expect from his answers a multiplicity of nuances that one cannot immediately grasp. As in his reflections on the papacy, of ecumenism, questions of sexual morality, or in the area of AIDS prevention. And I was surprised by his answers to questions about the dialog with Islam.

In what way?

He integrates - one learns from him not to be too narrow nor too anxious in thinking about these things. He looks at things almost from God's perspective, in that he knows God is love, and excludes no one. And I was rather unsettled to hear how seriously be is concerned about the condition of mankind in our day - in the ecological, social, economic and especially spiritual aspects He asks along with all of us: What have we made of our dream for the planet? And of ourselves? His message is an appeal to the Church and the world, to every individual: It is time for change. Time for a conversion! "There are so many problems that must be solved, but they will not be resolved if God is not placed back in the center and made visible in this world", he says. Lately, he has often seemed embattled.

Did he seem so to you?

To lead a Church with 1.2 million members when you are 83 is no small job. It is hard to grasp how he can deal with his work load. In this sense, it is only natural if he looks tired and fragile. His concern over the Church, the often quite deficient support that he gets from his Church, and the slowness of the bureaucracy can obviously sometimes become a weight on his shoulders. But he is also able to regenerate himself fast. Like overnight. I do not know any other man who is as efficient, who is so fit and alert, and also so young and modern, as this old man on Peter's Chair.

Were there times during your conversations when he laughed?

Of course. He has a very subtle understated humor, but one can laugh with him. The public idea of him is that he is a fossilized type, some kind of bitter wood, a document eater, or some such. None of that is true. He is the very soul of a Mensch. I have been with him in a car and heard him sing along with the radio. We have always spoken about personal things. Because of course, people want to know what a Pope feels, what he does in his free time, and the like...

How would you describe the difference between Joseph Ratzinger and Benedict XVI, quite apart from the fact that they wear different hats ...

As I said before, first he is older. But when you sit across from him, then you feel right away that in his being, in his style, in his amiability, nothing has changed. Overall, I think, being Pope has brought forth his good qualities better than before, and that as Universal Pastor, he has become even more sensitive, more generous and wiser.

How do you explain that?

Probably because he is closer to God. He has seen the Light of the world and he reflects this light. For all his intellectual stature, he has remained a simple pious man.

Did he ask you any questions?

No, but then I did not give him time to do that. I had to use every second.

Have you eaten together?

Unfortunately, no. But that does not bother me. I was always glad after a session to be able to go somewhere quiet where I could smoke a cigarette and drink a beer.

Is there a question that you wonder why no one has asked you about the Pope?

I wonder above all that the same questions are always asked! Journalists today behave as though they can do any interview about the Catholic Church without any preparation as long as they stick to three topics: priestly celibacy, women priests, and Roman centralism - and when they can sell their rubbish about these topics from the 'reform' agenda, it makes them feel they have done something.

Next year, the Pope will be visiting Germany again. Did you discuss the fact that many Germans feel rather harsh about 'their' Pope?

That wasn't quite the discussion. But this problem is quite close to the Pope's heart. It's obvious to him that Germany is in many ways a fractured nation, afflicted with the proverbial German Angst and despondency. High Church functionaries are in lockstep with the anti-Roman drumbeat even if they ought to know better, and even if they have the clear mandate from the Gospel to go against the current. But that can also change. For instance we no longer have the dumbest ones, who lay so much on their unspeakable liturgies and also on their contribution to the deformations of the time.

Does the Pope share this hope?

He is not the pastor of a local German church. Globally he does not see the Catholic Church in decline. On the contrary, she has never been as big and as widespread as she is today.

Why do you think he provokes so many Germans, and even many Catholics in general?

Because the Church itself provokes. His positions, those of the Church, are not compatible with a leisure society. And yes, the Gospel itself is not compatible with such a society, and that is why many have forgotten what Catholicism really means. Many think that they can themelves 'build' their own Church, which really means that are becoming more like Protestants. What a joke! The Evangelical churches in Germany have been constantly losing, snce 1950, more members than the Catholic Church has.

Do you see that yourself, or does the Pope say so?

Anyone who wants to look can see it. Meanwhile, everyday we must experience anew how the image of this Pope is projected in the media. It has to do with a tendency that one recognizes from previous experience: The Pope is the class enemy who must be fought with whatever means possible. This is the 'new Germany' he will be visiting. That makes one wonder what he would answer to a whole series of other questions.

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