Posted May 1, 2005
Lorenzo Albacete on the New Pope and the Future of the Church
Who is Benedict XVI, and where does he want to take the Catholic Church? On the day the new pope was elected, Charlie Rose interviewed Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a leading Catholic theologian and a friend of John Paul II, and asked him that question. The answers may surprise you.
By Charlie Rose
CHARLIE ROSE: Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete was a friend of Pope John Paul II and I am especially pleased to have him at this table to help us understand the selection of the new pope and what it means for the church. Welcome.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Thank you very much.
CHARLIE ROSE: Tell me, you expected this selection?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Yes. Like everyone else. Certainly Cardinal Ratzinger was a leading candidate. But frankly, I was not too sure that he would be elected. Because you've got to admit that he doesn't have a very good image. He has a serious image problem around-among certain segments of the church. And after the triumphant gestures of John Paul II-so many people seemed attracted by him-I thought maybe the cardinals would worry about this image problem.
CHARLIE ROSE: What kind of image problem did he have?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Well, he's a reactionary, closed-minded, intolerant. You name it. You know, he's a monster, and against free thinking. His homily, his last homily, which was the one before the conclave was, was said to be a blunt statement of the need to cut down newness, to find refuge in the old tradition, et cetera, which is completely false. This is not this man. This is not this man at all.
CHARLIE ROSE: Joseph Ratzinger is not that way.
LORENZO ALBACETE: No, Joseph Ratzinger is not that way. He had a job, though, that required attention to tradition, because the office that he headed in the Vatican is not exactly there to inspire new and imaginative thinking.
CHARLIE ROSE: What office was that?
LORENZO ALBACETE: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the former inquisition. So you're dealing with something that his task is to conserve. In a sense, that prevented him from showing the creative thinking that he has always been known for.
I first heard of Joseph Ratzinger in 1968, the great year of the revolution, when I was a young and dashing scientist, surrounded suddenly by people who wondered how I could be a good scientist and claim to believe in transcendence, even less being a Catholic, of all things.
So I never had to answer that question. I thought an intelligent answer was required. And so I began to look around for a text, and I found this book by Joseph Ratzinger called Introduction to Christianity. And that book changed my life. Introduction to Christianity, the idea was you were going to look at this for the very first time. Get rid of all that you think you know what Christianity is, and let`s look at it from point zero. This is what he wrote in '68.
The book came out again in the year 2000, with a new introduction, and he said, "I withdraw nothing of what I wrote in 1968."
In his latest book, which hasn't even been translated to any other language-it was in Italian because it is a dialogue with a non-believer, an Italian thinker and politician, on relativism and on the failure of Europe-the feared failure of Europe and of the West to stand up to the challenges of Islamic fundamentalism. And this is a conversation between the two.
In that book, he repeats again, he says, the number one problem with Christianity today is that the Christian life is no longer convincing. It doesn't convince anyone. So his program is the formation of-he says creative minorities, throughout the world, that will offer not words but the witness of a life full of humanity, of peace, of joy, so that people from what is a cruel world-he agrees it is-will find a home in these communities.
Now, this is exactly what was done in the history of the church by one man named St. Benedict. Is it surprising that he has chosen...
CHARLIE ROSE: Benedict XVI.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Benedict.
CHARLIE ROSE: But you buy everything he said, do you not?
LORENZO ALBACETE: I certainly buy everything he says, yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: And it changed your life, and you went from being a scientist into the church.
LORENZO ALBACETE: I didn't-the priesthood was something else. But it showed my thinking. It`s guided the way I have approached what I believe.
CHARLIE ROSE: What was the essence of that thinking?
LORENZO ALBACETE: The essence of that thinking was precisely the essence of the book, is precisely that the Christian doctrines refer to a particular way of looking at life. For example, if you believe this, you will look at life this way. These things will be important to you. These will not be. That is to say, faith was related to experience.
And this, I would say, Ratzinger or the Holy Father now, Pope Benedict XVI would say is what really neutralized Christianity as a presence in the world. The split between faith and experience of life. Faith became something otherworldly, something in theory or emotional.
CHARLIE ROSE: And experience of life became primarily...
LORENZO ALBACETE: Experience of life was something else, separate from faith.
CHARLIE ROSE: And he said that experience of life should reinforce life or faith should reinforce experience of life?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Faith and experience of life should correspond. Faith shapes how you see and experience life. This is what St. Benedict did.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, so you read all of this that he said.
LORENZO ALBACETE: I sure did.
CHARLIE ROSE: You read all of the things that have been written about him in the last-certainly in the last month, when he became the most likely successor to your friend.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Yes, and I`m so happy he is.
CHARLIE ROSE: What's the true nature of the man that is now the pope?
LORENZO ALBACETE: The man is a humble man. The words you said, the first words he said this morning are clear. A humble, simple servant of the Lord's vineyard. He is profoundly intelligent, but a very, very gentle man. Everybody who finally gets to meet him is stunned by that, because everybody goes through that image of the unbending German autocrat.
And yet I think you could even see it in the man's eyes, in his little smile, in introducing a brand new papal gesture, something like this. This is a first in the history of the papacy, perhaps the beginning of the downfall of everything. And I think he should go on a worldwide piano tour. He's a great pianist.
CHARLIE ROSE: Oh, really? Yeah, he loves Mozart.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, yes, and he plays it very well. If I was his public relations person, I would recommend a piano tour. And then people would see that this is not a monster.
CHARLIE ROSE: Bring the piano to the mass. How about that?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Bring Mozart to the mass. That`s what he would like to do.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is it possible, or, better yet, what did your friend, the late Pope John Paul II, think of him?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Well, he is what he is because John Paul recognized in him a brilliant thinker and an articulator of his own theological position, which was from another tradition.
CHARLIE ROSE: So John Paul said this guy and I are just like this. We believe the same things.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, yes, absolutely. There were differences in style.
CHARLIE ROSE: What Ratzinger says-when Ratzinger says...
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, the pope, when he finished writing anything, had to submit it to Ratzinger to make sure it was not inopportune or not perhaps semi-dangerous.
CHARLIE ROSE: Ratzinger could change what the pope wrote?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, yes. The head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith examines even...
CHARLIE ROSE: What the pope says.
LORENZO ALBACETE: In the end, he can only say, no, Holy Father, I think this is perhaps better phrased this way. In the end, the pope can say, well, just get out of here.
CHARLIE ROSE: Exactly.
LORENZO ALBACETE: But I mean . . .
CHARLIE ROSE: That's the kind of pope I like.
LORENZO ALBACETE: . . . it's done to kind of make sure that, you know, you`re not putting in things that . . .
CHARLIE ROSE: Pope John Paul II trusted him?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: Admired him.
LORENZO ALBACETE: I`m sure.
CHARLIE ROSE: They were friends.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Um-hum.
CHARLIE ROSE: How much do you think that had to do with his selection as his successor?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, I think a lot.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because everybody is feeling so good about John Paul II.
LORENZO ALBACETE: I think it had to do a lot. The cardinals saw the spectacle, the unbelievable spectacle we all saw after his death. And the worldwide reaction to it. And they realized that they really needed someone that was closely tied to that effort.
You can`t find an exact copy, obviously. That would be disgusting even. But someone that is identified-see, Cardinal Ratzinger is a figure in a movement, if I want to call it that, within Catholic theology that began in the, well, the beginning of the 20th century. And it was the one that finally prevailed, if you wish, in the Second Vatican Council, only to see the great divisions emerge right after the council.
And yet they have continued this task, many from all around the world. Joseph Ratzinger was one of them, and one of the most brilliant exponents of this theological position. He was German. Modern theology, for its glory or its horror, originates in Germany. Modern philosophy originates in Germany, again, for its great achievement and for its great problems. And you know, and Ratzinger comes from that world. And it`s an amazing . . .
CHARLIE ROSE: He's 79 years old.
LORENZO ALBACETE: 78.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, 78.
LORENZO ALBACETE: A very young man.
LORENZO ALBACETE: The church is the only place in the world left for people like us. When you are like 63, oh, my God, a child. We don`t want him. He`ll last forever. I felt so good.
CHARLIE ROSE: I'm asking to read the minds of the cardinals, I mean, do you think they said listen, we had this long reign with this pope, the longest in the...
LORENZO ALBACETE: Twenty-six years.
CHARLIE ROSE: Twenty-six years, one of the longest in the history of the church.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Right.
CHARLIE ROSE: We maybe need to take a breath and get somebody in here who will have a short reign, who is true to the principles of John Paul II, who is now being glorified in so many ways. And then we`ll settle in and see who our next guy is.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Well, I think that was a factor. But after the funeral of John Paul II, I think that went down to the lowest of priorities. And second, you know, he is not a-this idea of a transitional, are you kidding? This guy if anything realizes he has got a short time, so he`s going to move fast.
CHARLIE ROSE: He's going to get on with this.
LORENZO ALBACETE: He sure will.
CHARLIE ROSE: What do you think he'll do?
LORENZO ALBACETE: I'm sure he's thinking the same thing.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, of course. I know. But what do you think?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Well, first of all, he'll eventually within a couple of months have completely changed staff there. I think he will have a lot to say about streamlining the Roman curia. And then he will-in August, I think he will have his first encounter with World Youth. He will initiate programs of dialogue with other religions. He's very strong on that. And what else you do? I mean...
CHARLIE ROSE: Don't you think it would be great if the Holy Father would sit down for an interview with people like me?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, yeah, he would love to. And maybe I'm going to go to Rome in a couple of weeks. If I manage to see him, I may...
CHARLIE ROSE: I would certainly...
LORENZO ALBACETE: . . . say that you need to-you need Charlie Rose. You got a big image problem.
CHARLIE ROSE: Don`t say that. Just say that this is an important time for someone to...
LORENZO ALBACETE: And he's very at ease with it.
CHARLIE ROSE: . . . give voice to the church beyond the traditional means.
LORENZO ALBACETE: He is very at ease with this, you know, with interviews like this. Very many of his books are interviews that people made of him, journalists. He's very good at that.
CHARLIE ROSE: Oh, so, while he was a cardinal he talked to a lot of journalists and wrote books and played the piano.
LORENZO ALBACETE: All the time, absolutely, yes. And you know, he is very favorite of the intellectual, serious non-believers, because he participates in many meetings with them. And they appreciate and see in him a spokesperson for the best of intellectual Catholicism. And recognize his simplicity. This is a big word, perhaps not a positive word for many people, but there is a simplicity of heart in this man that is almost child-like. And that strikes you because you`re prepared to meet-and this simple...
CHARLIE ROSE: This simple man.
LORENZO ALBACETE: It's unbelievable.
CHARLIE ROSE: Now, did you have a favorite?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, look, what I most wanted in addition to fidelity to Christ and everything, the thing I wanted from the new pope is that he would renew my permit, parking permit at the Vatican.
CHARLIE ROSE: No, you didn't.
LORENZO ALBACETE: And I knew about five or six of these guys...
CHARLIE ROSE: That's not what you had...
LORENZO ALBACETE: . . . that I knew, it was-I mean, no, I wanted to be faithful to Christ and keep the unity of the church. But that also would have helped. And he was among my list.
CHARLIE ROSE: Glory to God and where is my parking ticket.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, I am ruined. I shouldn't have done this. I'm ruined. I hope he's not watching this.
CHARLIE ROSE: You've got to go to confession before this night is over.
LORENZO ALBACETE: OK, all right. OK.
CHARLIE ROSE: So you're optimistic about this guy.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Yes. I don't know, look, there is a curious thing. And that is that I am a man of faith, that is to say, this is not just a fascinating worldly thing. It is that. I mean, the only place in the world where politics-but in heart, at heart this man is a successor of this fisherman who was chosen by Jesus, who was not immediately obvious the best choice. The guy betrayed him three times.
CHARLIE ROSE: You're talking about Peter.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Yes, I`m talking about Peter. And he was not exactly a leading intellect, but to whom Jesus said, I entrust to you the unity of the church. You will be a rock.
CHARLIE ROSE: I never understood why Jesus trusted somebody that betrayed him.
LORENZO ALBACETE: I don't know. I guess because he wanted to say, to make sure that whenever future people would betray him we wouldn't leave.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yeah. The church. What is the biggest challenge facing this new pope?
LORENZO ALBACETE: I think the biggest challenge facing this new pope is to develop a proposal to the world that will show the church and what the church proposes to be-to generate a human culture that is less violent and less cruel than the present one.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is he capable of that, leading the church in that direction?
LORENZO ALBACETE: No human being is. Christ is. The Holy Spirit is. And if he follows them, then the Lord will accomplish whatever he wants in the end. That's what matters, but it will be interesting.
CHARLIE ROSE: Many people had hoped that the pope might come from Latin America, because there`s so many Catholics in Latin America.
LORENZO ALBACETE: I was ready for that too. But he didn't. I mean, in the end, you see, you have to choose. This is what is important, leaving all seriousness aside, as Steve Allen used to say. This is-you have to make-you know, if you have a big family and you have all kinds of stuff, divisions, fights, arguments and you know, it`s a huge zoo of a place, and there you are, and this family needs this and so forth, but then suddenly you or someone you love develops a brain tumor.
At that moment, who do you want in order to do your surgery? A great surgeon who understands your disease or a family counselor?
CHARLIE ROSE: A great surgeon.
LORENZO ALBACETE: You bet. This is what the cardinals looked at. They really realized that we are living in a moment in which once again what is at stake is what does it mean to be a human being?
CHARLIE ROSE: A human being or a Christian?
LORENZO ALBACETE: A human being, a human being. No, not a Christian.
CHARLIE ROSE: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be human today?
LORENZO ALBACETE: What does it mean to be human today. And then what is-what is the exact nature of our unity to transcendence and the mystery? All these things are up for grabs today. And so, somebody who has studied this and can begin to formulate a proposal for this, I think they saw in this man the most competent of the whole bunch.
CHARLIE ROSE: You think that's what happened, they looked around and said this guy...
LORENZO ALBACETE: This guy...
CHARLIE ROSE: . . . is the most competent guy.
LORENZO ALBACETE: He knows exactly... He is the best surgeon that we have at this moment. And if he can sing and dance, fine. And we'll see. And as I say, he can play the piano. But that in the end is not what matters. What matters is does he understand the moment we are living through? And I think he does.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you believe for a lot of American Catholics, divorce is an issue, women in the church is an issue.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: And homosexuality is an issue.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is the church going to face up to these issues?
LORENZO ALBACETE: It will face up to it, but at a level deeper than the questions have-the church will face up to it because for the church, these are expressions of even more fundamental questions. And they are really a question having to do with what is humanity. And in that sense, I think Cardinal Ratzinger-well, Pope Benedict XVI is able to perhaps rephrase the question and bring the discussion, the dialogue with those who think that the church has to change, bring it to a more fundamental level than what has become a political clash. And I hope that that can be done if the conditions for dialogue are there. If not, I don`t think there's going to be-I think there`s going to be a lot of disillusioned people, yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: What does this priest who became a cardinal who became pope think of Islam?
LORENZO ALBACETE: I think he thinks that Islam obviously is an impressive part of the religious panorama of the world, that it is tied to Christianity and Judaism. It's a religion that is not just a religious sentiment, but that it comes to-or belongs to those that believe in a revelation. And I think he would love to have a . . .
CHARLIE ROSE: A dialogue?
LORENZO ALBACETE: A dialogue with that, but I think...
CHARLIE ROSE: Wouldn't it be nice since your friend, Pope John Paul II, moved for a dialogue with Jews and apology, wouldn`t it be nice now to see this cardinal try to come to dialogue with Islam?
LORENZO ALBACETE: I expect it. Absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: You do?
LORENZO ALBACETE: I do. I'm absolutely sure that's...
CHARLIE ROSE: It is the priority and imperative of the world today.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Exactly. I think within the top points of his agenda, that must be one of them. I'm almost sure. And I think he'll carry it through pretty well.
CHARLIE ROSE: What else do you think is on the top of his agenda that we haven't spoken to?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Taking a nap, because it`s been a long day. Other than to drive a nice-to wonder where he can buy a German beer or something?
Having satisfied those...
CHARLIE ROSE: The pope, yeah.
LORENZO ALBACETE: . . . no, no, I think he will promote-I don`t think he has a very high opinion of the pope's ability to really change the world. I think he sees the pope more as a facilitator that would provoke, that would move, prompt creative initiatives. Again, he uses that term. We need creative minorities to establish ways of life that are attractive to the people who experience the cruelty of today's world.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you believe that Pope John Paul II would be pleased with his choice?
LORENZO ALBACETE: He is thrilled, having a wild party up there.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is he really?
LORENZO ALBACETE: Absolutely, out of control, yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is that right?
LORENZO ALBACETE: I`m sure he arranged it all.
CHARLIE ROSE: He and the other popes are up there...
LORENZO ALBACETE: And all those saints, and-yeah, good stuff. I`m sure.
CHARLIE ROSE: I sure hope so.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Yes, yes, I know.
CHARLIE ROSE: You knew the guy. So you...
LORENZO ALBACETE: No, I'm telling you. Absolutely. Again, I don't- again, I haven't-I cannot say I had a friendship with Ratzinger, though we have worked together for 20 some years.
CHARLIE ROSE: So you know him.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Oh, yes. Yes. Do you want me to tell you-maybe it`s not prudent for me to tell you.
LORENZO ALBACETE: It`s not prudent.
CHARLIE ROSE: Please.
LORENZO ALBACETE: I'll regret it. In the reruns, I'll always regret it.
CHARLIE ROSE: Don`t worry.
LORENZO ALBACETE: You know that he is a proponent of these movements....
CHARLIE ROSE: Throw prudence aside. Of what?
LORENZO ALBACETE: The movements that have risen in the church, these creative minorities, from very impressive ones to ones that one has never heard from. And once I was at a Congress in which he was there, to understand what this means, all these movements. And they have the whole list of them, and there was a huge number towards the end that were all called joy of something. Like of a place. Joie of Lyon.
CHARLIE ROSE: Joy of Lyon, France.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Joie de Paris. Joie-and I said, well, look at this. And then he came over to me and he said hi. I said, oh, hi. Your Eminence, look, I'm very concerned. I am the founder of a movement, and it's not here. You haven't listed it. He said, "Oh, what is your movement?" I said Joie de Times Square. He started laughing. And he said, "What is your charism," namely your specialty? And I said, oh, the Virgin. And he said, "Ah, Our Lady." I said, no, no, the Virgin Megastore that's over in Times Square, that's open all night, that's where we meet.
And that was his reaction. He had to order water. He probably thinks I'm just some big clown anyway.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes. Finally, in seriousness, how do you remember the late pope? Because you knew him...
LORENZO ALBACETE: I don't feel he's gone. I feel him closer than ever. You don't have to remember him.
CHARLIE ROSE: He's there for you.
LORENZO ALBACETE: He's here, yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: A presence.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I am very happy. It's a presence. And when I'm getting ready to pass the big one, or to quote Fred Sanford, The Big One, when I'm getting ready, it will be thinking that he is there, will be one of the things that will help me stretch my hands.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you so much.
LORENZO ALBACETE: Thank you very much.
April 22, 2005
MONSIGNOR LORENZO ALBACETE is National Director of the ecclesial movement Communion & Liberation. He is a columnist for the New York Times and the Italian weekly Tempi, and has written for The New Yorker and many other publications.
This interview is from THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW (www.charlierose.com), broadcast on April 19, 2005. Published with permission. (c)2005, THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW. All rights reserved.