Meet the Press
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Thomas Bohlin, Joseph
Bottum, Thomas Cahill, E.J. Dionne, Joseph Fessio, Jon Meacham and Mary Aquin
O'Neill discuss Pope Benedict XVI and the future of the Catholic Church
MR. RUSSERT: But first,
this was the scene in Rome as hundreds of thousands gathered for Pope Benedict
XVI's inaugural Mass as he begins the 265th papacy of the Catholic Church.
There he is, leaving the celebration, waving to the faithful. We're here to talk
about the church under his leadership, his potential impact in the world and
certainly here in the United States.
Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me start
with E.J. Dionne and something you wrote in a New Republic Column, E.J.
"...as a Catholic, I was petrified [at the Ratzinger choice]. Pope
Benedict's vision of the Church is that it should comprise a tough band of
orthodox believers who confront modernity and uphold the truths the Church
teaches, without any hesitations. If that means a smaller Church, with squishy
doubters of dissenters left by the wayside, so be it."
MR. E.J. DIONNE: Right. I
think there's a lot of fear on the part of moderate and progressive Catholics
that‑‑I keep wanting to say Joseph Ratzinger, because he made such
a name for himself with that name‑‑that Pope Benedict does have a
vision of the church that is not so much in kind of conversation with modernity
as really quite hostile to modernity. And I think many see it as a shift from
the spirit of Pope John and the Second Vatican Council, where the church said,
"Yes, we have much to teach modernity, but we have also much to learn from
Now, in saying that, none
of that says this is not a brilliant man, a brilliant theologian. And he has
written some things‑‑his record is a little bit ambiguous in the
sense that, for example, he has written in praise of the American approach to
religion, the American government's approach to religion, that leaves open a
wide space for religious diversity, but accepts religion's role in the public
square. But I think for a lot of moderate to progressive Catholics this is
going to be a testing time.
MR. RUSSERT: An interview
that then‑Cardinal Ratzinger, Father Bohlin, went like this:
"Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally
Catholic cultures ... Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in
the church's history ... where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant
groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the
good into the world‑‑that let God in."
Is that his vision?
REV. THOMAS BOHLIN: I think
it's hard to say exactly what's going to happen in terms of the future of the
church and how the Holy Spirit's going to develop things. But I think what
we're going to see in Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, is continuity with Pope
John Paul II. I think that that's the big message we're going to see. I think
when the cardinals gathered in Rome, so many of them from all over the world,
that they were shocked and even staggered by three million, four million people
there, gathering there. And I think in that moment they heard the Holy Spirit
speaking that what they wanted was continuity with John Paul. And so that's why
they turned to his closest theological adviser for the last 24 year, a man they
all recognized as a great spiritual leader for 24 years and looked to him for
his wisdom, as a man who was right at the side of John Paul II.
So I think we're going to
see the message of these cardinals is continuity. Already Ratzinger has
stressed, in his first homily as pope, "I'm going to continue the mission
of John Paul II: humanism as a priority, evangelization, young people, working
with the bishops, implementation of Vatican II." I think that's going to
be what we're going to see: more continuity. That's what the cardinals wanted.
MR. RUSSERT: Continuity.
Father John McCloskey, who was also an Opus Dei with you, was on this program.
He has a Web site where he predicted basically in 2030 that the number of
Catholics would go from 60 million to 40 million; almost a smaller and purer
church. Is that, do you think, the vision of our pope?
REV. BOHLIN: I don't think
so. I think one of the reasons he picked Benedict is because he wants to launch
the re‑evangelization of Europe that John Paul II was stressing. If you
go to Subiaco, Subiaco in Italy, where St. Benedict lived, you see up on the
wall a plaque of all the Benedictine monks who left Subiaco for hundreds of
years and where they went to throughout Europe, evangelizing. I think he sees
Benedict, who's also one of the patrons of Europe, as‑‑part of his
mission is not to forget Europe, not to just see the future of the church in
Latin America, but he wants to take it to Europe.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Fessio,
you studied under Cardinal Ratzinger and published his writings. You were
quoted Wednesday as saying the following. "Cardinal Ratzinger will present
the truth. He will not impose it, but some will dislike it and may dislike him
as a result. ... But the friends of Cardinal Ratzinger will be the friends of
Jesus Christ, and those who are hostile to Cardinal Ratzinger will be hostile
to Jesus Christ, because Cardinal Ratzinger will continue to preach the fullest
of truth, which is Jesus."
Is that a suggestion that
if you disagree with the pope, you cannot, in fact, be loyal to Jesus Christ?
REV. JOSEPH FESSIO: Tim,
Jesus told us that he who hears you hears me. The glory of the Catholic Church,
which we accept humbly, is that God has revealed his truth to us through human
instruments. And Jesus appointed Apostle Peter the head to maintain that
through its integrity. And so, yes, the Catholic Church, when it speaks
authoritatively, is giving us the truth of Christ, and those who rebel against
the church's authentic teaching are rebelling against God.
MR. RUSSERT: In terms of
authentic teaching, what would be characterized as authentic teaching?
REV. FESSIO: Well, Tim, the
church‑‑when the church agrees with the culture, I mean, that's
just a confirmation of the culture, but the church also disagrees sometimes
with the culture. So, you know, we just saw a young woman who was not sick, who
was not dying, who was allowed to starve to death and to be put to death by
lack of water, the church‑‑because Jesus was a man, because God
became flesh, tells us all human life is precious. And so the Pope Benedict,
the bishops are going to say, "We can't do things like that."
God created us for love and
for community, for a marriage, for example, which is fruitful, and has children
and it creates culture. Homosexual marriages can't do that. And so the church,
while loving those people and recognizing them in the image of God, says,
"No, that what you're doing is not consistent with God's plan."
So Cardinal Ratzinger, who
listens very carefully to God's Word and is one who promotes it and will
proclaim it, is going to say, as Jesus himself would say, "These things I
affirm, these things I must tell you are not consistent with God's will."
One of the most important things he said today in his homily, typical Ratzinger‑‑look,
I've known the man for 33 years. The man is a listener, a very careful
listener. He says, "I want to put myself (foreign language spoken), at the
listening of God, hearing God"; not my ideas, not my plans, but God's will
and God's plan.
And so I think you're going
to see in Cardinal Ratzinger just like you saw in John Paul II, someone who's
totally given to Jesus and the church that Jesus founded. And that, therefore,
we expect the master to have disciples like him. Jesus predicted this. Those
who followed him will be persecuted like he was. I think Cardinal Ratzinger's
going to make very deep friends and arouse a lot of loyalties. He's also going
to make enemies, because he is going to be‑‑have the courage to
speak out against those things which really harm human dignity and harm human
MR. RUSSERT: Thomas Cahill,
you wrote an op‑ed piece in The New York Times a few weeks ago, and let
me read part of it. "Sadly, Pope John Paul II represented a different
tradition, one of aggressive appalls. Whereas Pope John XXIII endeavored simply
to show the validity of church teaching rather than to issue condemnations.
John Paul II was an enthusiastic condemner. ...he was not a great religious
figure. How could he be? He may, in time to come, be credited with destroying
You heard Father Bohlin
talk about the continuity. Explain what you're saying.
MR. THOMAS CAHILL: I think
that John Paul II was a great political figure. He freed Eastern Europe to a
large extent. I think he'll be remembered probably as the most important
political figure in the second half of the 20th century. I don't think he will
last as a religious figure because I think he was more divisive than he needed
to be. I think that Christians as a group often make the mistake of
exclusivism, of trying to draw the circle that much tighter and that much smaller
of excluding rather than including, which I think is an extremely basically un‑Christian
Jesus said, "We must
include everyone just as God does." I think that in many ways, John Paul
made mistakes in that direction, and though the piazza was full for many days,
the churches are largely empty in many parts of the world and they will not
fill up simply because of the phenomenon that we have noticed over the last few
I think the kind of, what I
would call, recidivist theology of someone like the previous speaker is, A,
historical. It is not based on the true history of Christianity, it's fanciful,
and it is lacking in compassion for millions and millions of people who can't
meet the supposed standards.
When Jesus sat down next to
the woman at the well and talked to her for a very long time, then he said,
"Why don't you go and bring your husband out." And she said, "I
don't have a husband," and he said, "You're right. You've had five
husbands and the man who you're living with right now isn't your husband."
And she said, "Wow." And she went into the town and said, "I've
just met the Messiah." Now, he didn't say to her, "Before you have
communion with me, you must go back to your first husband." No, he didn't
talk about her div‑‑he kind of engaged her on the subject of her
divorces, but a church that says, for instance, of divorce people know they may
not commune with Jesus I think is making the terrible un‑Christian un‑evangelical
mistake and I think it does it in many other areas, largely related to either
sexuality or women.
MR. RUSSERT: Sister Mary
Aquin, let me bring you back to 1962. This is Pope John XXIII about to open the
Vatican Council in October. And in this speech on October 11, he said the
following, "Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of
the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she
meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teacher
rather than by condemnations..."
Is that a thesis, a theory
that you subscribe to and could you image Pope Benedict XVI saying the same
SR. MARY AQUIN O'NEILL: As
a sister of mercy, of course, I respond to it, and, in fact, I think the whole
world responded to it. We know how the world responded to Pope John XXIII. I've
been impressed by a line in a wonderful work by Karen Armstrong, "The
Spiral Staircase," her latest book, where she says, "We must make
room in our minds for one another." And so I've been trying to do that
since Pope Benedict XVI was elected. Certainly his reputation prior to election
caused me and others like me to have great concern, but since his consecration
and election, I've been trying to follow that admonition. And one of the things
that I found was that this is what he put on his holy card when he was named
priest. "We aim not to Lord over your faith but to serve your joy."
Now, what a priest puts on his holy card is like what a sister puts in her
ring. We have mottos we put in our rings. They're...
MR. RUSSERT: What is yours?
SR. O'NEILL: "The
truth will set you free." And that's a standard for your whole life, and
often in moments of great consequence, you return to that motto or the line you
put on your holy card. So it is my great hope that this pope will remember that
that's what he chose, to serve our joy, and I think everything is possible.
That's what Scripture teaches us is that all things are possible. So that's
where I stand right now.
MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham
and Joseph Bottum, let me bring you into the conversation. A lot of discussion
about what Pope Benedict XVI will mean to other faiths in the world. The New
York Times Wednesday had this article: "He has repeatedly condemned
`religious pluralism' and relativism, the idea that other religions can hold the
way to salvation, and he has been instrumental in blocking the advance of
priests who support such view. In 2000 the Vatican document `Dominus Jesus,' in
which Cardinal Ratzinger was the driving voice, called for a new Catholic
evangelism and described other faiths as lesser searches for the truth. `This
truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the church has for the
religions of the world,' the document said, `but at the same time, it rules
out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism characterized by a
religious relativism which leads to the belief that "one religion is as
good as another."'"
What's your sense of what
Pope Benedict XVI will mean in terms of ecumenism around the world of other
MR. JON MEACHAM: Well, his
early words from‑‑as pope has been rather contrary in spirit to his
written works on this question. You know, in the words of the Elizabethan
Prayer Book, we are all seeking the means of grace and the hope of glory, and
the road by which we‑‑the road we take to attempt to do that can be
different and obviously have been throughout history. I would draw a
distinction between the teachings of the church and ultimately the broader
force of Christianity. There is a sense, I think, of‑‑as God said
to Job in the Old Testament in the longest sustained monologue from the Lord in
the Bible, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?"
So he should not be presuming to act as though we know everything and that we
understand all truth.
In fact, St. Paul said,
"For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face‑to‑face.
Now, I am known in part, soon I will be known in full." So we are all on a
journey. St. Augustin defined this as the soul's journey back to God. And my
sense is the more that Benedict XVI can speak in the spirit of the past week as
opposed to the past generation he will become a force for at least an
ecumenical spirit if not reconciliation.
MR. RUSSERT: Jody Bottum,
let me bring you into this on this very subject. John Allen, who's covered the
papacy for a long time, wrote this about six years ago: "In October of
1986, John Paul II assembled 200 leaders of the world's great religions in
Assisi, Italy ... `to be together and pray' on behalf of peace. ... On that
fall day in the birthplace of St. Francis, John Paul joined a circle with the
Dalai Lama, Orthodox bishops, Hindu swamis and a Crow Indian medicine man in
full feathered headdress, saying little but offering a powerful symbol of
solidarity. ... Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope's top doctrinal officer,
told a German newspaper: `This cannot be the model!' John Paul, however,
insisted on the propriety of the event: `Diversity is the nature of the human
family. ... We must go beyond [Catholicism] to persons of goodwill who do not
share our faith.' It was a striking overture, considering Catholicism declared
in 1217 at the Fourth Lateran Council that `there is indeed one universal
church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.'"
Where are we on this issue?
MR. JOSEPH BOTTUM: It may
be the job of the pope in variety of ways to reach out to other people,
particularly in the situation which this pope finds himself. The church had a
thousand years or more to understand how to try and rein in the characteristic
abuses of monarchies, of absolute monarchies and their characteristic abuses of
violence and authoritarianism. And the church had a thousand years to try and
figure out how to do that. Democracies, too, have their characteristic abuses.
There's a demand for freedom that wants to kill the babies and kill the weak
and old, for instance. And the church has to figure out‑‑and from
Pius XII, who was, in fact, a modernist, but then John XXIII and through John
Paul II, we have a church that is trying to figure out how to live in a
democracy and how to rein in the characteristic abuses of democracies. It's
hard work, and we somehow think that it should be solved as quickly as the‑‑you
know, the completed system that we had to deal with the monarchies. But
actually that took a thousand years to work out.
This pope, it seems to me‑‑or
rather, John Paul II looked to draw others into his project to help him do
that, but he was never going to say to people, to faithful members of the
Catholic Church, "Oh, go become Buddhists, or no, Islam really would be
just as good for you." He's the keeper of the church. It's his job to say
and indeed we have to believe if you're Catholic, that though everyone is on
this path there is the way, the truth and the light and this is the best path
or the path to which we are called and believe offers the fullness of humanity.
It's the job of the pope to say that. It can't be the job of the pope to say
all religions are pretty much the same.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Bohlin,
you would never expect this pope to say, however, that you must be a Catholic
in order to find salvation.
REV. BOHLIN: Well, one has
to understand what that phrase means, that all salvation comes through Christ,
which is a mysterious thing. All salvation comes through the death and
resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it can come through many ways, the church has
always taught, because many people do not have access to Christ, the full
teaching of Christ, but all salvation is through Christ, through his mercy,
through the grace that he won for dying for us on the cross. But it's applied
by God in mysterious ways to many people. And the Holy Father John Paul II always
saw man as the way of the church: the great truth that's in each person created
by God. There's a great truth. And there's a certain truth in every culture.
What he wanted to do was to build on cultures, to build on the good in every
society. And there's a spark of the divine, spark of God, in every religion, in
every man's search for God, every culture's search for God. And he saw that
goodness there and he wanted to build on that.
And that's what we have to
do, and I think this new pope is going to do it too, to reach out and to build
on the good that's in every culture, but at the same time to point out the
evil, to point out the things that are not leading in the right direction. And
he has to say that clearly.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you
are, in fact, Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim and Jewish or Protestant or whatever,
and you live a good and decent honorable life, you can achieve salvation?
REV. BOHLIN: True. This is
what the church has always taught.
MR. RUSSERT: Not always.
REV. BOHLIN: Well, it depends
how you understand it‑‑how you understand it. It was clarified in
Vatican II, but it's been the teaching of the church.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Fessio,
Hans Kung, who used to be a mentor to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and has
obviously had a rather strained relationship with him‑‑he's a
theologian‑‑said that the new pope is "very sweet but very
dangerous." You have worked with Cardinal Ratzinger. How would you respond
REV. FESSIO: Well, Tim,
first of all, I've been listening to these comments and I'm kind of bewildered,
because it's hard to know how to respond to them. My experience of Cardinal
Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, is of a man who is very gentle, extremely
gracious, a wonderful listener and with a great sense of humor, always that.
And I realize he's got bad press because he's had to be the one to oversee the
documentation of the church. But I think even the press and the media are
already surprised. They're saying, "Gee, he seems so much nicer than we
thought." But there was a false image that was presented before of this
man. And remember, for Catholics it's not so important who the pope is, but
that we have a pope at all, that if there's going to be unity in the church
there must be someone who's a visible sign and a guardian of that unity.
So Cardinal Ratzinger is
going to be "conservative," as the media likes to call him, because
every Catholic has got to be someone who receives a message and passes it on.
If Benedict XVI, Tim, gave you a message for me and you deliver it to me and I
say, "Well, Tim, is that just what he told you?" You say, "Well,
no, Father, I made a little change here. I thought I would improve this and
that was a little outmoded." I say, "Wait a minute, Tim, I want to
know what he said to me." And we believe, as Catholics, that God himself
has revealed himself in Jesus Chris to us, and given us the fullness of truth,
truth which we cannot invent on our own. And so we believe, by the very nature
of our faith, that it's very important that we receive these truths, we
understand them, we cherish them, we try to pass them on to others and live
them, but not to change them or dilute them or modify them.
So any person who is a
priest or a bishop or a pope or a Catholic, for that matter, is going to have
to be conservative in the sense of trying to maintain this beautiful revelation
that Jesus, who is God, died for your sins, died for my sins, died for all
men's sins, and loves us all, but that's the fullness of truth. So we're going
to respect Buddhists. We're going to respect people who have no belief at all,
because they're in the image of God. At the same time, if we're Catholics, we
believe that God has enlightened us. He's given us the knowledge that he does
love everyone, and we have to pass that on.
So for Kung to say he's
dangerous, I think he's dangerous the way Jesus was dangerous. You know, Jesus
came; he was rejected by many. But for those who did respond to him, he was the
source of eternal life. And I love Sister's reference to her motto, "The
truth will set you free." You see, I believe that was one of Ratzinger's
greatest abilities, was to listen to all kinds of people, all kinds of
positions, and then, in the light of the Gospel, present a fullness of response
which enlightened people and which energized people. And that's why, again, in
his own motto, he serves our joy. I think we have here a pope who'll take the
name of Benedict who's going to try and re‑Christianize our culture and
reach out to everyone through prayer, through the Eucharist.
MR. RUSSERT: Sister?
SR. O'NEILL: I'm grateful
for an opportunity to return to the question of truth. Truth is another name
for God and so it cannot be something that we possess. It's something that we
hope to dwell within. The truth is always larger than we are, greater than we
are. And it is not something that we can attain by ourselves. This is why we
need the community.
Now, another quote I found
from Cardinal Ratzinger, or at least it was reported that he has written that
"The three major forces for the development of church doctrine are the
Christian and human experience of the church at large, the work of scholars and
the watchful attention, listening and deciding undertaken by teaching
authority." Now, all those three are important, and the first is the
Christian and human experience of the church. I believe that some of us around
this table have been pleading for that.
especially the experience of women has got to be brought into this church,
listen to, respected and given‑‑put on a plane with those who have
developed the teachings out of their perspective and experience, which, by and
large, has been male. So there is great room for us to deepen our understanding
of the truth and I believe to discover new aspects of the truth. We must not
talk about the truth as if it were some kind of package that is fixed and
stayed and can be handed on from one generation to the other without anything
of ourselves entering into it.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to
take a quick break. A lot more of our conversation right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next,
the Catholic Church of the United States, particularly involving Catholic
politicians, right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we're
Sister, you talked about
broadening the church in terms of input. Mr. Cahill, I want to refer you and
our viewers to a piece again you wrote in The Times. "John Paul II's most
lasting legacy to Catholicism will come from the episcopal appointments he
made. In order to have been named a bishop, a priest must have been seen to be
absolutely opposed to masturbation, premarital sex, birth control (including
condoms used to prevent the spread of AIDS), abortion, divorce, homosexual
relations, married priests, female priests and any hint of Marxism. It is
nearly impossible to find men who subscribe wholeheartedly to this entire
catalogue of certitudes; as a result the ranks of the episcopate are filled
with mindless sycophants and intellectual incompetents."
So where do you stand?
What's the solution?
MR. CAHILL: The solution I
think is to return episcopal election to the people which is where it was in
the early church. You could not‑‑if Peter were to rise from beneath
his grave in the Vatican and come upstairs, would not be able to recognize this
church as his. In fact, Peter, who was martyred about '63, was certainly not a
bishop and he certainly was not bishop of Rome and he's certainly not pope. He
was one of the leaders of the early church.
The idea of episcopacy in
the sense that we now use it really comes into play toward the end of the first
century as a response to heresies and the need to create some form of doctrinal
order. But it takes almost 2,000 years to put us in the position that we are
now in where the papacy or the pope makes all of these appointments so that
these bishops are not really bishops of their people. They are simply
appointees of the pope. That was never the idea. It really is a theological
mistake, and it is responsible for the horrendous scandal in American
Catholicism and in many other countries.
I refer to the pedophilia
scandal. If we had bishops who were not head in the sand yes men, this could
have been dealt with, but the pedophilia was bad enough in itself and really
had to do with internal psychological immaturities in the celibate clergy but
what was much worse was the cover‑up which happened‑‑it seems
to me that Bernard Law, cardinal cover‑up himself, is a perfect example
of the mistakes that John Paul II made in his appointments. The people of
Boston would never have elected Cardinal Law.
MR. RUSSERT: You would have
married priests, female priests?
MR. CAHILL: I would have
what the church would like to have, what the church would wish to have. I
believe the church, that is to say, the people of God, the assembly, has not
been consulted on these matters.
MR. RUSSERT: Joseph Bottum?
MR. BOTTUM: I'm not sure
that there's any solution in all of that. Certainly the Anglicans have it all.
The Lutherans have it all. And, you know, if the Catholic churches in Europe
are empty, if only 23 percent of Catholics in England, mostly Irish immigrants,
are in church on a Sunday, only 4 percent of Anglicans in the national country
are in church on a Sunday. So I'm not sure that's any solution to the problems
the church faces internally. But more, I'm not sure it's any solution to the
problem the church faces addressing the concerns that arise in a democratic
experiment like the United States. We have characteristic abuses, as I said,
that are going to happen in these places. And the church needs to be to some
degree countercultural, to stand against that and to speak out and say,
"We can't kill our babies." So just speak out on economic issues.
You know, one of the great
problems here is that in that litany, for instance, that Mr. Cahill gave, of
things that he wants, only the very last item and that understated a hint of
Marxism had anything to do with economics. The great narrowing of the liberal
tradition has come down to almost all having to do with sex and gender. One of
the great underreported facts about the new pope is that he actually stands to
the left of his predecessor on economic issues. He came out of Germany where
they always thought they were going to split the significance between Marxism
and capitalism anyway...
MR. RUSSERT: A social
MR. BOTTUM: Right. And he
is to the left of him. If the 1991 encyclical from John Paul I, Centesimus
Annus, might be described as three cheers for democracy, two cheers for
capitalism. Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, would have gave only one cheer, but
you wouldn't know that from all of the coverage that describes him as hard‑liner,
conservative, authoritarian because the great liberal tradition even within the
church, even Mr. Cahill speaks for, has been narrowed down until it's all just
MR. DIONNE: I agree with
this last point Jody made about the‑‑Benedict's teachings on
economics and I think it's going to be interesting to see if that's where his
emphasis goes. But I also want to go back to‑‑it relates to
something that Father Fessio said. He's talked about the coverage being
negative. I don't think the coverage has been negative. And I‑‑20
years ago‑‑I've had a fascination with Cardinal Ratzinger for a
long time‑‑20 years ago I wrote a very long‑‑I think
one of the first long pieces on Cardinal Ratzinger, and I am impressed, as
everybody is, by his integrity and his certainty and I suspect that this‑‑one
of his favorite passages in the Bible is from St. Paul: "If the trumpet
give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself to the battle?"
But I think there are two
problems here. The first is, Catholics go into church every Sunday and recite
the Nicene Creed. We are not arguing in the church about the Nicene Creed. We
are arguing about matters such as whether the priesthood should be confined
only to celibate males. Should women become priests, what are their roles in
this? And I think there's a kind of creeping effort to broaden and broaden the
definition of truth so that people who may have a different view of this‑‑I
mean, after all, Paul and Peter disagreed with each other. Why can't there be
some debate inside the church?
And the last point is on
women, and I'm glad Sister brought it up. My friends Peter and Peggy Steinfels
once made the point that in the 19th century the Catholic Church lost a lot of
ground in Europe because it did not recognize the rise of the working class and
it took until Leo XIII at the end of that century to recognize them. And Europe
went much more secular. I think the same thing could happen with women now if
the church isn't careful and that would be a great loss to Christianity.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Fessio,
the Catholic Church, in fact, could alter its teaching on birth control, the
use of condoms or on married priests or on female priests, true?
REV. FESSIO: Well, you put
several things on that list, Tim, and the answer is three are false and one is
true, and the one that's possibly true is married priests, but not on condoms,
not on contraception and not on the ordination of women.
MR. RUSSERT: Why not? Why
REV. FESSIO: First of all,
I want to say this, that...
MR. RUSSERT: Why are those
three not true?
REV. FESSIO: You know, Tim,
I'd love to‑‑you want to give me an hour to explain that, or maybe
MR. RUSSERT: Well is it...
REV. FESSIO: I mean, this
is‑‑we are‑‑we have a difficulty here. First of all I
want to encourage all the listener‑watcher‑viewers here, for every
hour you spend watching television, please spend five hours reading good books,
because we really can't have a serious discussion on these very deep, deep,
mysterious issues with a bunch of sound bites. So all I'm saying is...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, I think
devoting‑‑Father, with all respect, I think devoting a full hour to
this discussion is a very serious attempt. And my question was, why would those
three issues‑‑the use of condoms, birth control and women as
priests‑‑why could they not be altered? Have they, in fact, become
doctrine to the church or have they been taught infallibly by a pope?
REV. FESSIO: The answer to
that is they've always been the truths taught by the Catholic Church. They may
not have been defined until later just like the church has not defined yet that
God exists but we must believe that as Catholics. So the church‑‑not
everything we believe has been defined yet.
But let's take one issue as
an example, ordination of women. Now, obviously to us who see society more in
egalitarian terms, it seems kind of obvious, a point of justice. But the point
is if Jesus Christ is the bridegroom of the church, if God has sent his son to
us as a man to unite himself in a marital act, a nuptial act to his whole
people, to make us one flesh and one body with him, there's something very deep
and mysterious about that. It's what the church has always taught is that not
that men are better than women, not that men should be given more honor than
woman, but that men image forth the bridegroom because Christ is essentially
someone who's married to us, and therefore you can't have a woman who gives that
iconic image of Christ who's the bridegroom of the church.
So there's an example of a
teaching which has never been taught by the church that women can be priests.
It would be a change in our tradition and one which would be totally contrary
to this beautiful tradition we have of marriage being such a sacred reality and
marriage being embodied and exemplified by Christ's relation to the church,
Ephesians Chapter 5.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me bring
Sister into this. Sister, you remember back in 1979...
REV. FESSIO: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...when the
president of your order, the Sisters of Mercy, met with Pope John Paul II here
in Washington, and this is what she had to say‑‑Theresa Kane.
(Videotape, October 7,
SR. THERESA KANE: Our
contemplation leads us to state that the church must respond by providing the
possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of our church.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you like
to be a priest?
SR. O'NEILL: No, I've never
felt called to be a priest.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think
women should be able to be priests?
SR. O'NEILL: You know, Tim,
I really have not reached that conclusion. I think that the‑‑Frederic
Herzog wrote many years ago that the two things that distinguish Catholicism are
the sacraments and the Blessed Mother, Mary. They are both under siege right
now. And the sacraments are in trouble because we don't have ministers. That's
the question for me. We must find a way to solve that. The people are hungry
for the sacraments, and without the sacraments, we don't have the church. Now,
one proposed solution is to ordain women, but my concern about it is that too
much of the argument makes it seem that in order to prove our equality, we must
be ordained. And that would mean that the ordained are somehow higher and
better than the laity. That's a theology I do not accept.
I believe that one of the
most important things for this church now is to really act on Christici Fidelis
Laici, where we were told there's a complementarity between the laity and the
ordained. Complementarity means one cannot trump the other. And so, in all the
questions that the church faces, the laypeople and their experience and their
insights have to have an equal place at the table with those who are ordained.
It may be that we decide to ordain women. It may be that we decide to ordain
married men. As Thomas Cahill said, he wants the church, the assembly, to be
involved in it, and so do I.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Bohlin,
do you see a day when there will be married men or women as priests in the
REV. BOHLIN: Personally, I
don't foresee it. I think there's another way of looking at this whole issue,
which is the way that John Paul II has looked at it, coming out of Christici
Fidelis Laici, the great document on the laypeople in the church, which is
that, really, talking about priests, bishops, Catholic professionals, is
talking about an infinitesimal portion of what the church is, and really, the
forefront of the battle of the church is waged by every baptized person. And
that's what's has to be‑‑that's the battle. That's where the battle
is, where those people are.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you're
a sacramental church, you need priests to administer the sacraments.
REV. BOHLIN: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: And if there's
a shortage of priests, what do you do?
REV. BOHLIN: I think the
shortage of priests will be cured by people living their faith, ordinary
people, in their families, in their place, without leaving their place in the
world, discovering their path to follow Christ there, living it seriously,
engaging the world‑‑each baptized Christian, called to engage the
modern world, to bring solutions of the gospel there, that‑‑this is
what's going to energize the church. And I think John Paul II made a difference.
I think his life made a difference, had an impact. And I think he sowed many
seeds around the world, and just with the outpouring of affection at his
funeral‑‑extraordinary‑‑I think we see that he's
beginning to energize many people, ordinary people, the laypeople, to follow
Christ more closely.
MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham.
MR. MEACHAM: I think the
father's right, particularly in the sense that, if you are a person of faith,
particularly in the United States, you live in hope. You live in the hope that
one day there will be a God who will wipe away all tears from your eyes and
there'll be no more pain, an image from Revelation that's drawn from Isaiah.
And if people of faith are to play a role in the public square, they must, I
believe‑‑a humble layman's opinion‑‑they must practice
humility and be‑‑understand that the peace of God does passeth all
understanding and that no one has, I believe, a monopoly on truth.
John Henry Newman, who
started out as an Anglican priest and ended up a Roman Catholic Cardinal, has a
prayer attributed to him which says, "O Lord, support us all the day long
until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed
and the fever of life is over and our work is done, and then, in thy mercy,
grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest and peace at the last." Whatever
one's faith‑‑Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian,
Jewish‑‑that seems an appropriate prayer, and should be our common
MR. RUSSERT: I want to get
you in here, Jody Bottum, but I want to put on the table Cardinal Ratzinger's
memo in June of 2004, which was entitled "Worthiness To Conceive Holy
Communion and General Principles," by Joseph Ratzinger. "In the case
of a Catholic politician" as his‑‑"consistently
campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws, his pastor
should meet with him, instructing him about the church's teaching, informing
him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an
end an objective situation of sin, warning him that he will otherwise be denied
the Eucharist." He went on, "Not all moral issues have the same moral
weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds
with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the
decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to
present himself to receive Holy Communion."
Do you believe that
Benedict XVI will be a much more activist pope in terms of instructing Catholic
politicians here in the United States?
MR. BOTTUM: No, I don't
think he will be personally. I think he's going to be concerned with internal
church matters. But I think under his pontificate, we will see a little bit
more of this. We've had talk here about the necessary humility with which a
believer has to live and present himself in the public square, and it's all
absolutely true. But there are certain places where a marker is simply laid
down that cannot be crossed over. And the church has increasingly come to see
that abortion is such a marker; that really no matter what changes we want
elsewhere, it's not going to happen on abortion. And that there has to be some
place not for all of us, because not all of us live public lives, but for those
who do live public lives and yet claim to be Catholic, here's one place where a
marker is simply laid down. The teaching on abortion is not going to change.
This is an objective wrong being done to unborn persons, and something has to
be said to those who present themselves to the public either through politics
or in other ways through media stardom to make them not be able to have it all,
to say, "I'm Catholic and I should gain all the benefits electorally and
politically that come from making that claim, but I could also be for
MR. RUSSERT: What happens
to Catholic politicians?
MR. DIONNE: I think it's
very problematic. I think if you go back to that original letter, there was
still some muddiness that I don't think we fully clarified, which is on the one
hand, those words you put up on the screen are quite ambiguous. On the other
hand, Cardinal Ratzinger left it to local bishops, and I think especially
Cardinal McCarrick here in Washington, negotiated some room on this, because
he, among others, did not think it appropriate to use communion as a sanction
against the politician.
I think the problem for the
church is twofold. One, in European countries, a lot of Catholic politicians,
genuinely Catholic Christian Democratic politicians, do not propose completely
rolling back laws that have abortion legalized. They tend to push at the
margins, because that's what they can get. Secondly, there is a great debate
among Catholics, and I think a legitimate debate, over the ordering of various
issues. Do these issues of abortion and stem cell research utterly take so much
precedence that all of the other issues connected to social justice, war and
peace and the death penalty are washed out in their importance? Forty percent
of church‑going Catholics voted for John Kerry. That suggests a real rift
in the American church.
MR. RUSSERT: Many topics
for a further discussion. We thank you all for your time. We have to take a
quick break. We'll be right back with our MEET THE PRESS Minute.