ROME, Monday, 21 March 2011 (ZENIT.org). “I’m sure there is still a place for God somewhere in the world!”. These are words we read in the book “The Age of the Plain-speaking Pope” written by Stefano Fontana and published by Cantagalli in collaboration and with the contribution of the “Magna Carta” Foundation.
Stefano Fontana is the director of the International Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân on the Social Doctrine of the Church, consulter of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and director of the “Vita Nuova”, the weekly of the diocese of Trieste.
In the introduction to this book Mr. Fontana explains that it contains 100 stages of a post-ideological Catholicism, three years of articles published in the online paper ‘L’Occidentale’, from the kidnapping of Fr. Giancarlo Bossi in the Philippines to the issue of priest pedophiles, the Courtyard of the Gentiles, the referendum on minarets and the admissibility of the burqa.
“But this is not trendy rereading” underlines the author, who asserts: “I am still a Catholic who listens to the Holy Father”.
Mr. Fontana candidly admits: “I have never been turned on by messianic movements bereft of God, and the new religions of ecologism, pacificism driven marches, Third Worldism and de-growth leave somewhat the taste of idolatry on my tongue. But I do hold dearly to the few “non negotiable principles”, that once for all oblige me to say ‘yes, yes’ or ‘no, no’, without flights of fancy and countless distinctions”
“And when I fail to understand how certain complex things really stand I look at what the Church tells me, and I trust what I hear. Then again, to whom else could I turn? I am not an adult Catholic; I feel the need to be guided. I think the Gospel counts more than the Constitution”.
According to Mr. Fontana, “In the face of Christ man mirrors himself, sees himself all the better, and hence discovers confirmation of the humanity of the Christian religion. The Church serves the world, but precisely for this reason must help the world peer into the depths of its own truth, and she cannot do this without making the truth of Christ clear to one and all”.
Here is the interview conducted by ZENIT with Mr. Fontana.
Why is this pope plain-speaking?
Mr. Fontana: Several books have been written over the last few months in an effort to explain why this pope is plain-speaking, or controversial as some people put it. These books highlight diverse reasons. In my mind, however, the main reason is as follows: by reiterating the fact that Christianity is the true religion, this pope has triggered two explosive consequences; first of all, he has challenged the world at large to ask itself questions about its own truthfulness; secondly, he has staked a claim for the Christian religion to have a public role. These are two exacting requests that many sectors of both the world and the Church find it difficult to accept and often quite openly oppose.
Presenting Christianity as truth means that if the world accepts this provocative challenge with due laicism and does not just reject it in a fideistic or ideological manner, it is summoned to come to terms with its own truthfulness, with the issue of truth as such, and this after countless philosophies have argued that the truth does not exist and continue to propound this line of reasoning. This is a most arduous endeavor and hence the pope is considered controversial. In addition, asking the world to acknowledge a public role to Christianity insofar as the bearer of a truth indispensable for social togetherness, asking for a place in the world for God, collides head on with a widespread view of social and political cohabitation as bereft of absolute foundations.
Converting anew such a widespread mentality is difficult and laborious, and this too is why the plain-speaking pope is controversial. This also applies within the Church itself, because the two points mentioned above have also been taken on by many Catholics. Benedict XVI preaches two things: that God is love and that God is truth. And he is considered controversial or upsetting especially because of the second affirmation. In fact, the world somehow accepts that Christianity announces a truth proposed with love, but does not accept it proposing a love respectful of truth.
Which themes and arguments proposed by Benedict XVI collide the most with the “trends” that seem to prevail in the world?
Mr. Fontana: Think, for example, of all the so-called “non negotiable principles”. They are opposed – I repeat, not only in the world but also inside the Church – for two reasons leading us back to what I said in response to the first question. The first reason is that present day society considers nothing at all to be ‘non negotiable’, that nothing is true or false, good or bad in absolute terms. The second reason is that in order for there to be ‘non negotiable’’ principles there has to be a place for God in the world. Without God everything is negotiable. This is why the ‘non negotiable principles’ of life, the family and freedom of education constantly turn into grounds for this pope’s appearing to be controversial.
Then again, there are more specific issues. For example, the liturgy, the assessment of Vatican Council II, the use of condoms in the fight against HIV-AIDS, or women priests. In the final analysis, however, all these themes or issues boils down to what I said above. The world’s logic would like to prevent the Church’s logic from existing, or would like it to conform to the world’s way of thinking. Do all persons enjoy equal rights? If so, why shouldn’t a woman have the right to become a priest? Is there a right to freedom? If so, why shouldn’t people be allowed to procreate as they see fit? Isn’t democracy a value? If so, why can’t there be liturgical democracy with individual communities inventing their own liturgy? As we can see, the world does not accept the expression of a truth on the part of the Christian religion, and would like to extend its ‘truth’ to the Church as well. But the pope asserts the exact opposite. Not to deny natural truths, but to say that deprived of the light of the supernatural, they too get lost along the way. It is therefore understandable that this pope, albeit with his distinctive gentleness, touches all the exposed nerves of the world and many sectors of the Church.
Widespread is the idea that the Catholic Church specializes in moralism and token goodness, but in your book you sustain another idea of Church. Could you illustrate that for us?
Mr. Fontana: Neither moralism nor token goodness take into account truth, which, as I’ve said, is the main message of this pope. People often think in terms of a Church which is charity without truth, apostolate without doctrine. But it’s not like that at all. All it takes is for someone to utter the word ‘ethics’ and Catholics immediately get on the bandwagon. Wait a minute. . .what ethics are we talking about? What anthropology lies behind the proposal in question? The same applies for development, peace, protection of the environment, etc. What we quite often have are forms of solidarity without truth, and hence inhuman in nature. At the moment I am hard at work contending the compatibility between the Serge Latouche’s thesis of de-growth and what is said in Caritas in veritate. These are two completely different approaches, but for many Catholics de-growth and after-development are authentically Christian because they argue justice, equality and moderation. When delving deeply into the matter we discover that’s not the way it is at all. The world is to be loved, but precisely because it is to be loved must it also be summoned to its own truthfulness. Token goodness is love without truth; but far from being love, it is exploitation of other-than-self, and hence moralism.
You argue that the Gospel alone does not suffice to understand the revolutionary scope of Christianity. In addition, you sustain the validity of the teachings of the Magisterium and the need for the public dimension of the Church. Could you explain why?
Mr. Fontana: “The Gospel is enough” is a slogan frequently used by some Catholics. We know, however, that the Gospel (or the Word) is inseparable from Tradition (which, by the way, came before the written Gospel in chronological terms) and the Magisterium of the Church. These three dimensions form the unique reality of the depositum fidei, of what Catholics believe in. All three have a Christological significance: believing in Jesus Christ is believing in the inseparable unity of the three dimensions. When people appeal to the spirit of the Gospel against the Church, or when people appeal to prophetic personalities who systematically say things contrary to what the pope teaches, or else when people take recourse to a spirit of the Council in contrast with what the Church teaches about the Council they are failing to respect the truth of the Church and render a public presence of the Catholic religion impossible. The Catholic religion is therefore shunted aside into the realm of what is private and purely spiritual, and cannot adequately express the assistance it can and must give for the construction of the social and political community as well.