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Archived Online Discussion
Topic: Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times
Date: 5-6 pm (ET)
on Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Fr. Joseph Fessio
Editor-in-Chief of Ignatius Press

Tonight, the Knights of Columbus is pleased to welcome Father Joseph Fessio, Editor-in-Chief of Ignatius Press, as well as a former student and long-time personal friend of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.  He will be answering questions on Peter Seewald's new book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times.  We'd like to begin the discussion by encouraging you to submit your questions for Fr. Fessio if you haven't done so already.

Joshua Nugent
Oakville, Missouri
When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected Pope in 2005 many critics compared him unfavorably to Pope John Paul II. They claimed he lacked his predecessor's persomal charm and charisma. However, I discovered by reading "Light of the World" that Pope Benedict has an open spirit and honesty that is disarming and endearing. What do you think of this Pope's personality and willingness to speak openly to the world through this book? In a certain sense, has he answered his critics by showing us his ability to connect with Catholics?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:

I agree with your assessment, and I think all who read the book with an open mind will concur also. Yes, he's answered his critics. They might not want to hear the answer, though.

Ann Arbor, MI
I think most non-Catholics, and even a lot of Catholics, only get their impression of who Benedict is from the way the secular media describes him: dogmatic, old, professorial, etc. What in this book would surprise them about Benedict XVI?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:
Actually, even the media recognizes now (and did so beginning about two days after his election) that while he is "dogmatic" (= teaches what the Church has always taught), "old" (= he was 79 and will soon be 84),  and "professorial" (= he's an incredibly good teacher), he is gentle, humorous, a good listener, highly intelligent and perceptive. The book confirms that: first, the fact that he agreed to do this in the first place--give an interview to a journalist and answer all questions transparently; then, his answers themselves; then his remarks on his personal life and feelings: his prayer; what he thinks of following the charismatic JPII ("I am who I am. I don't try to be someone else....I am the person who happens to have been elected--the cardinals are also to blame for that--and I do what I can."

Leominster, MA
Much has been made about the Holy Father's comment on condoms. More coverage was focused on that one exchange than on any other portion of the book, or even the book as a whole. But it seems as though Pope Benedict's comments were not much of a departure from his teaching/from Church teaching - if a departure at all. Could you cut through the hype and provide some clairty?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:
I actually wrote two pieces on this very thing. The short answer: absolutely nothing was changed in Church teaching: 1) The book is not part of the magisterium. 2) Even so, he didn't say anything that departs from authoritative teaching. The use of condoms is "not a moral solution" = it is immoral. The *intention* to prevent disease *might* signal a movement toward more responsibility. This in no way equates to the headlines: "Pope approves condom use."

Alan Bitmer
Los Angeles, CA
Had the excerpt on condoms never appeared in the book, what do you think would have been its attention-grabbing aspect, beyond the novelty of a Pope granting a journalist a one-on-one interview? Would you argue, in this particular case, that "bad press" or "false press" was a good thing, in that it may have driven the book into the hands of some unlikely readers?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:

The book would have had plenty of publicity without the condom remarks. In fact, the release was going to break with a very large piece on Good Morning America. But when the embargo was broken 4 days early (by L'Osservatore Romano), it was cancelled and only a short piece was done on the condom issue.

The problem is that maybe 100,000 people in the US will read the book; 100,000,000 or more only read the headlines "Pope Approves Condum Use." That's a terrible disservice to the Church--and to people suffering from AIDS, and the interior damage of a life of fornication and sodomy.

Carol-Ann Foster
St, Louis
How do you think the Pope has handled balancing the attempt to modernize the Church to attract new members or keep its members, while not turning his back on centuries of tradition?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:
The Pope doesn't look at it that way. He presents Christ as the Church has presented him. He believes strongly in the continuity of tradition and in organic growth. He has no interest in changes in the Church "in order to" attract more members. If we are faithful to Christ, the Lord of the Harvest will do the rest.

Dr. Reg Gallop
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Dear Fr. Fessio,
I suspect that there is a strong connection between the opposition to Pope Paul VI's 1968 morally-crucial Encyclical "Humanae Vitae" by some prominent clergy, religious, and Church Media, and the subsequent grave sexual scandals in the Church. Has there been a serious study of this issue? Thank you.
Fr. Joseph Fessio:

You are right on target. And many (of us) were saying that as early as the 70s. The Pope himself says it in "Light of the World:" (pp. 32, 37-8). He says that there was a loss of the understanding of intrinsically evil acts, of the objectivity of right and wrong. And that seminarians were admitted who should not have been. When you separate the procreative (children) and unitive (sex) dimensions (which God has joined and no man should sunder), there is no basis for prohibiting any sexual activity. It's just a way of having pleasure.

Serious study? I don't know if one has been done. Whoever has eyes to see can see. Whoever doesn't, won't, even if the truth is standing like an elephant in his room.

Kyle Smith
You know Pope Benedict XVI better than most. Did you learn anything new about him and his views in this book? Were you surprised by any aspects of the discussion?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:
I know that he's always surprising. So I'm not surprised when he's surprising. E.g., referring to the Irish archbishop (p. 25ff) who explained to him that after the 50s, even though we had canonical punishments to deal with grave cases, they weren't used because of the attitude that punishment is not a loving thing to do. "The awareness that punishment can be an act of love ceased to exist."

Mark Sullivan
Londonderry VT
Father Fessio - Were you surprised, or maybe disturbed at how the media fixated on the contraception issue in the book while ignoring other issues? Or is this what should be expected in today's day and age?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:

I was not only not surprised, I predicted it would happen as soon as I saw the original German manuscript. We worked very hard with LEV (Libreria Editrice Vaticana: the Vatican Publisher) to make sure that the text was embargoed until the official presentation on November 23rd at 10:30am, so that the whole text could be presented and the context given. There still would have been inordinate attention given to this page and a half (actually just 15 lines of text in a 219 page book), but we could have given an explanation that would have perhaps avoided the false sensationalism.

I have to say that in my many conversations with Rachel Donadio (NYT Rome correspondent) and Nicole Winfield (AP Rome correspondent), they really made efforts to understand once there was time to discuss the text.

Raul Sanchez
Brooklyn NY
Father Fessio:
One could say that for Pope John Paul II, the solidarity movement and the fight against communism defined his papacy. What will define Pope Benedict's?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:

Sept 12th, 2006: His brilliant address in Regensburg. 07/07/07: The motu proprio Summorum Pontificum permitting the extraordinary form of the Mass and asking for "mutual enrichment". November 4th, 2009: Permitting Anglican converts their own juridical structure. His many writings before and after his election...

It will *not* be the sexual abuse crisis--though he led the way, even as Cardinal--in the only defensible response.

Burbank, CA
Why do you think the Pope is so comfortable with Peter Seewald as an interviewer?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:
He's comfortable with anyone and willing (if he has the time) to respond to anyone who would ask him a question. Seewald is a fellow Bavarian (I think; at least German), so he's able to speak in his mother tongue. Seewald is also recognized as an outstanding journalist, one who does serious background work and asks incisive questions. I think the Pope likes that. I certainly do.

Sherman Oaks, California
How would you say the Pope's thinking has developed or changed since "Salt of the Earth", or even the first interview book with him that I read, "The Ratzinger Report."
Fr. Joseph Fessio:
No change in principles or fundamental positions. He's now more experienced and wiser.

New Haven, CT
The book is filled with interesting insights into Pope Benedict, including his views on many of the controversies of the last several years - from the Williamson excommunication, to the Maciel situation, to the issue of condoms and AIDS to many other topics. If you could direct people to just one page, to just one topic, what would it be?
Fr. Joseph Fessio:
His description of how he prays: p.17

The Knights of Columbus would like to thank you for participating in this online discussion.  We hope you've enjoyed the conversation. We extend our heartfelt thanks to Fr. Fessio for offering further insight into the man that is Pope Benedict XVI and the interview that took the world by storm. We encourage you to join us for next month's discussion on Feb. 28 at 5:00 PM when we host George Weigel who will be answering questions on his most recent book, In The End and The Beginning: Pope John Paul II The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy.

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