Benedict XVI speaks about the positive message of Catholicism, the role of women in the Church and the burdens of papal office in the most candid interview of his pontificate so far
BY FREDDY GRAY
IN ONE OF the most candid and revealing interviews ever given by a pope, Benedict XVI has said he wants to present the Church as a "positive option", rather than as an institution that "always says no".
The Pontiff said that this shift in emphasis was necessary in order to prevent Catholicism from being consigned to "the trash of history".
During the interview — described as the "first papal press conference" — Benedict XVI addressed a wide range of themes, including some of the most challenging issues confronting the Church today.
The Pope. fielding questions from three Gentian journalists and a priest, was asked why, when speaking to the World Meeting of Families in Valencia last month, he avoided using the words "homosexual marriage", "abortion" or "contraception". He replied: "Christianity, Catholicism is not a collection of prohibitions: it's a positive option. It's very important that we look at it again because this idea has almost disappeared today. We've heard so much about what is not allowed that now it's time to say: we have a positive idea to often" Pope Benedict did, however, reiterate the Church's opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. "It is not a Catholic invention that man and woman are made for each other, so that humanity can go on living: all cultures know this.
"As far as abortion is concerned, it's part of the Fifth, not the Sixth Commandment: 'Thou shall not We have to presume this is obvious and always stress that the human person begins in the mother's womb and remains a human person until his or her last breath. But all this is clearer if you say it first in a positive way." The Pope explained that one area where Catholicism could show its beneficent force was in the field of international relations. The Church can act as a "religious centre-piece", he said, to help the secular West communicate with the developing world. "The African continent, the African spirit and the Asian spirit too, are horrified by the coldness of our rationality," he said. "It is important for them to see that that is not all we are.
"We must, and we can, show that, precisely because of the new intercultural environment in which we live, pure rationality separated from God is insufficient.
"We need a wider rationality that sees God in harmony with reason and is aware that the Christian faith that developed in Europe is also a means to bring together reason and culture."
During the one-hour question-andanswer session Pope Benedict addressed many other topics, including the situation in the Middle East, the spread of Aids, ecumenical relations and the role of women in the Church.
Discussing the conflict in Israel and the Lebanon, he called on politicians to "help people understand how the only solution is for all of us to live in peace."
He said: "We don't want any political power. But we do want to appeal to all Christians and to all those who feel touched by the words of the Holy See, to help mobilise all the forces that recognise how war is the worst solution for all sides".
On the subject of condoms and Aids, the Pope said: "If we only teach how to build and to use machines and how to use contraceptives, then we shouldn't be surprised when we find ourselves facing wars and Aids epidemics."
When asked about the Church's relations with other Christian denominations, Benedict XVI replied that "a lot has already been achieved" in ecumenical dialogue. "We already agree on the common Christian basics," he said. "Maybe we still won't reach external manifestations of unity quickly, but we will mature towards an interior unity that, God willing, one day will bring with it a form of exterior unity too."
The Pope made it clear, however, that on the issue of women priests, the Catholic Church would not follow the Anglican path. He said: "We believe that our faith and the constitution of the college of the Apostles obliges us and doesn't allow us to confer priestly ordination on women. But we shouldn't think either that the only role one can have in the Church is that of being a priest."
The interview was organised in conjunction with the papal trip to Benedict XVI's native Bavaria in early September, so the Pontiff also spoke about his travel plans for the future. "I have to say that I've never felt strong enough to plan many long trips," he said. "But where such a trip allows me to communicate a message or where ... it's in response to a sincere request, I'd like to go." He added: "I'd like to visit the Holy Land, and I hope to visit it in a time of peace."
The Pope also offered several insights into his personality. "I'm not a man who constantly thinks up jokes," he said. "But I think it's very important to be able to see the funny side of life."
At the end of the discussion the Pope is reported to have whispered: "Thank God that's over."
In a separate interview this week, Benedict XVI's personal secretary, Mgr Georg Ganswein said that the Pontiff's chief virtue was "tenacity", but also suggested that the Pope suffered from impatience.
The Interview In lull: Pages 4-5 Editorial Comment: Page 11