Benedict to Swiss and German bishops

Sandro Magister posted an exceptionally good entry today, with excerpts from Benedict XVI’s second address to the Swiss bishops on their ad limina visit and, then following day, an address to a group of German bishops.

Remember that the Holy See’s information/news machine badly screwed up on the Pope’s first address to the Swiss bishops, publishing not what he actually said, but a never delivered speech by Benedict’s dead predecessor, John Paul II. They scrambled to correct their mistake, but bloggers were too fast for them.

Read what Magister posted of the Holy Father’s second address to the Swiss bishops. Here is the text, provided in translation by Magister (my emphasis and comments added):

“Our proclamation clashes with a sort of antimorality…”


by Benedict XVI. November 9, 2006

I often hear it said that people today have a nostalgia for God, for spirituality, for religion, and that the Church, too, is again beginning to be seen as […] a great repository of spiritual experience: it is like a tree in which birds can build their nests, even if they want to fly away again later […].

But what turns out to be very difficult for people is the morality that the Church proclaims.

I have reflected upon this – I had already been reflecting upon it for some time – and I see with increasing clarity that, in our time, it is as if morality has been divided into two parts.

Modern society is not simply without morality, but it has, so to speak, “discovered” and professes a part of morality that, in the Church’s proclamation over the past few decades and even farther back than that, perhaps hasn’t been presented sufficiently.

These are the great themes of peace, non-violence, justice for all, concern for the poor, and respect for creation.

This has become an ethical complex that, precisely as a political force, [this is clearly what is going on in, for example, the USA, when bishops and Catholic politicians are at cross purposes on social issues and defense of life] has great power and constitutes for many the substitute for religion, or its successor.

In place of religion, which is seen as something metaphysical and otherworldly [If it is not "concrete" or "measurable" it isn’t "real"] – and perhaps also as an individualistic thing [Your reality isn’t my reality…. "Well, that might be true for you…"] – the great moral themes enter in as the essential reality that then confers dignity and commitment upon man. […] [Themes can’t confer dignity. Themes are important because man has dignity.]

This morality exists, and also fascinates young people, who engage themselves on behalf of peace, non-violence, justice, the poor, creation. And these are truly great moral themes, which moreover belong to the tradition of the Church as well. Now, the methods that are advanced to solve these are often very one-sided and are not always credible, but we shouldn’t dwell upon this for now. […]

The other part of morality, which is not rarely viewed in a fairly controversial light by politics, concerns life.

Part of this is the commitment on behalf of life, from conception to death; that is, its defense against abortion, against euthanasia, against manipulation, and against man’s self-conferred authorization to dispose of life.

The attempt is often made to justify these interventions with the apparently lofty aims of using them for the benefit of future generations, and thus is made to appear moral even the taking of the very life of man into one’s hands in order to manipulate it. [Ironically, if today you are not in favor of killing an unborn child for the sake of "science", you are therefore "against life": "How dare you keep granny from getting the medicine she needs! You’re against life if you don’t favor embryonic stem cell research!"]

But, on the other hand, there also exists the awareness that human life is a gift that demands our respect and our love from the first moment to the last, even for the suffering, the handicapped, and the weak.

The morality of marriage and the family is also situated in this context.

Marriage is being increasingly marginalized. We are familiar with the example of some countries where the law has been modified to define marriage no longer as a bond between a man and a woman, but as a bond between persons. This obviously destroys the essential concept [of marriage], and society, from its very roots, becomes something totally different.

The awareness that sexuality, eros, and marriage as a union between man and woman go together – “The two shall be one flesh,” says Genesis – this awareness is continually weakening. Any sort of bond seems absolutely normal, and this is all presented as a sort of morality of non-discrimination and a form of freedom that is due to man. With this, naturally, the indissolubility of marriage has become an almost utopian idea that appears to be disowned, even by many people in public life. In this way, the family itself is gradually falling apart.

Of course, there are various explanations for the startling decline in birth rates, [Europeans are killing themselves.] but a decisive role is certainly played in this by the desire to possess life for oneself, by the lack of confidence in the future, and by the conviction that it is almost impossible to establish the family as a lasting community in which the future generation can grow up.

In these areas, therefore, our proclamation clashes with a contrary awareness within society, with a sort of antimorality that bases itself upon a conception of freedom as the ability to choose autonomously and without predefined guidelines, as non-discrimination, and therefore as the approval of any sort of possibility, situating itself as ethically correct by its own authority. [This is worthy of memorization.]

But the other awareness has not disappeared. It exists, and I think that we should exert ourselves in reconnecting these two parts of morality and making it clear that these must be inseparably united.

It is only if human life is respected from conception to death that the ethics of peace is also possible and credible; [There is the sound-bite version.] it is only then that non-violence can express itself in every direction; only then that we truly welcome creation, and only then that we can arrive at true justice.

I think that we are facing a great task here: on the one hand, we must not make Christianity appear as mere moralism, but as a gift in which is given to us the love that sustains us and provides us with the strength necessary to be able to “lose one’s life”; on the other hand, in this context of the gift of love, we must also progress toward concretization, the foundations of which are still provided for us by the Decalogue, which, with Christ and with the Church, we should interpret in a new and progressive way at this time.

Do you remember Pope Benedict’s sermon on the day he celebrated his "inaugural" Mass on 24 April 2005? At the very end he said….

At this point, my mind goes back to 22 October 1978, when Pope John Paul II began his ministry here in Saint Peter’s Square. His words on that occasion constantly echo in my ears: “Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!” The Pope was addressing the mighty, the powerful of this world, who feared that Christ might take away something of their power if they were to let him in, if they were to allow the faith to be free. Yes, he would certainly have taken something away from them: the dominion of corruption, the manipulation of law and the freedom to do as they pleased. But he would not have taken away anything that pertains to human freedom or dignity, or to the building of a just society. The Pope was also speaking to everyone, especially the young. Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great.


Now go to Magister’s site and read the text of the speech to the German bishops.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. John says:

    Thank you Father for this excellent presentation.

  2. Paul Haley says:

    To me, the picture of Pope Benedict XVI appears to be saying” Well, what do you have to say for yourselves – how did this unbelievable mess come about?” Hopefully, he’s getting fed-up like all the rest of us.

  3. Andrew says:

    I am currently reading the Pope’s “Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions”. There are certain themes in this talk that remind me of some chapters in that book. I think that this Pope is God’s providential gift to His Church (off course that’s true always, but in this case it appears to be particularly so): this is the man to unlock some blockages in the thinking/faith process of our age.

    The big question is: are people willing to listen?

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