Thursday, December 7, 2006

Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone Speaks about the Holy Father's Recent Apostolic Journey

I mentioned in a earlier post how hopeless the secular media is in understanding anything the Holy Father does and how it frequently misinterprets the meaning and symbolism of much of what he says and does. To just take one example, CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 entitled their weeklong coverage of the Holy Father's trip, When Faiths Collide: The Pope in Turkey. It is refreshing, therefore, to read what Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, had to say in an interview with Gianni Cardinale, for the newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, L'Avvenire. I have to acknowledge my debt to NCR's John Allen for the tip-off that this interview had occurred and for his always insightful commentary.

The first clarification Cardinal Bertone makes has to do with the political dimension of the Holy Father's visit. Saying that he was glad that Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, decided to meet with the Pope, he also said it would have been strange had he not met with Benedict because it was the Turkish government that wanted the Holy Father's visit to have a political dimension, as the Pope is Vatican head-of-state. From the time he proposed it, Pope Benedict XVI said he wanted his trip to be a spiritual pilgrimage, "without", the Cardinal says, "stopping in the political capital of the country". A visit during which he had to go to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's mausoleum and sign the "golden book". According to the Secretary of State, it "was the civil authorities who, legitimately, insisted that the trip also have a 'political' dimension." Hence, "it would have been truly strange if those authorities withdrew from meeting with the pope", even after Regensburg. Of course, it would help if they had read and sought to understand the Holy Father's Regensburg lecture. Especially given that the Holy See readily acceded to having the Pope begin his trip in Ankara.

Politicians being politicians throughout the world, PM Erdogan did not miss the opportunity to make the reversal of his decision to meet with the Holy Father work to his advantage, or at least not lose face, by emerging from the airport terminal, at which he met Pope Benedict, and declaring that Pope Benedict XVI, who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, publicly opposed Turkey's admission to the European Union, now supported Turkey's bid. Cardinal Bertone also clarifies this by reiterating what the Holy Father himself told the international media on the flight to Ankara: "As is known, the Holy See does not have an official position on the entry of Turkey or any other country into the European Union". Furthermore, the Holy See doesn't want to possess "any political judgment in this sense". The real point of the Pope's message, the true theme, according to Cardinal Bertone, was religious freedom. "Certainly the Holy See always hopes that the countries which form part of the European Union- all, without exception . . . respect [the] liberty to publicly profess one's own faith," a right "which must be guaranteed to every person and to every religious community". But, even on this score, the Holy Father was sensitive to the input given him by Turkey's Christian communities (Orthodox, Syriac, Armenian, Catholic) prior to his visit. He did not call Turkey, who represses and oppresses its Christian communities in significant ways, out in a way that would cause embarassment or make the situation worse for these communities.

In a refreshingly straightforward statement that reflects his background as a theologian and pastor, not a diplomat, Cardinal Bertone said, on an almost unrelated note, "If I can put it in a sound-bite, the church doesn't really worry about atheists, however devout, because they're out of her spiritual jurisdiction". "Much more worrisome," Cardinal Bertone opined, "are those inside the church who work to distort its faith and moral principles, or who oppose the pope and his design for renewal of the church".

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