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Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Text: interview with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
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¬†Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, had a private audience with Pope Benedict on Monday following a meeting in Moscow on 4 October with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II. In a wide-ranging interview with journalist Gerard O'Connell at the English College in Rome on Tuesday, he discussed those meetings and other issues. A full transcript follows. Q. Your Eminence, you have been to Moscow and met the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II for the first time. What is your impression of the man? I was very impressed with the Patriarch. He seemed to me not only very friendly but also very open and glad to see me - a cardinal of the Catholic Church. I had not met him before, but I thought the friendliness between us was very evident at the meeting, even though we had to talk through interpreters. I felt he was genuinely glad to meet me. He was eager to discuss the things we share as Christians and eager to talk about the way we should give common witness in Europe to the values we represent as Churches; the values regarding family, ethical and bio-ethical questions, and the question of being a Christian in a secular culture. Those were the main things we talked about. I was very impressed by the way he insisted that we have so much to share and that we need to support one another. It's quite clear that he wants better relationships with the Catholic Church. He told me he was very pleased that the presidents of the Catholic Bishops Conferences in Europe were holding their meeting in St Petersburg. He sent a message to that meeting, which we read out, and he also sent two observers to the meeting, the same two were also present at our meeting at his official residence in Moscow. In recent years, the Patriarch has always said that there are some issues blocking the development of Orthodox-Catholic relations: the question of proselytism and that of the presence of the Greek Catholic Church ≠ "the Uniates"- in the Ukraine. A. Yes, this did come up. He obviously feels that very strongly. I was able to understand what he was saying. With regard to proselytism, I don't think the Catholic Church would want to use that word in reference to the way it promotes the Gospel; it promotes the Gospel very freely. Proselytism isn't a word we would want to use, and so I was able to reassure him about that. With regard to question in the Ukraine about the Uniate Church, this is clearly a very real difficulty, a great difficulty for the Orthodox but also a difficulty for the Catholics. I said to the Patriarch that something like that cannot be solved overnight; it is going to take time. It will happen step by step. For better relations, it may take years. I said we do understand the difficulty, and persons like me, and also those in the Vatican would want that situation to ameliorate. Q. In which way? A. I don't know. The Uniate Church exists and you cannot simply disband it, and then there are the feelings of the people themselves in the Ukraine on this matter. I think it requires understanding and not just by the bishops but also by the clergy and the people. There's a lot at stake here. It's a very big question. Q. Did you get the impression that the Patriarch now understands that there is no strategy or desire by the Catholic Church to proselytize? A. I think so. And I would have thought if there is proselytism it is only done by a very few, and it may be more a question of attitude than desire. Of course they feel that Russia is Orthodox 'territory' and so I think we have to be very sensitive here. Q. I imagine you spoke about the Pope. Did you mention the Pope first of all? A. Oh no, he mentioned first of all his high esteem for Pope Benedict. And I was able to assure him that the Pope would say 'amen' to many things he was saying about the Orthodox and the Catholic Church because he certainly agrees on all those things, particularly about sharing common values in Europe and how we need to work together more and support each other in such matters as the family and bioethics, and standing up for the faith, strongly, in a secular culture. Q. Did you get the impression that he wants to meet the Pope? A. I got the impression that he's very open indeed, and would be glad to meet the Pope. Q. Did he say this explicitly? A. More or less, yes. Well obviously from his point of view he would want to have a real meeting with the Pope; not just shake hands and have a photo in front of the cameras. It would have to be more than that; it would have to be very well prepared. But if you say would he be willing to meet the Pope if there was a well prepared agenda for it, my answer is yes. Q. Did he give you any message to pass on to the Pope? A. Yes, he asked me to convey his warm greetings to "my brother the Pope". Q. How did Pope Benedict react when you passed on this greeting and told him about your conversation with the Patriarch? A. The Pope was very happy to hear all this. Of course, part of Pope Benedict's agenda is to develop a closer relationship with the whole of the Orthodox Church, and clearly the Patriarch of Moscow is a very important Patriarch and therefore the Pope was very pleased to hear what I had to say, and took on board the kind of things the Patriarch was saying. In other words, I think the Pope himself would like to meet the Patriarch, but from his point too he would want a well prepared meeting, something that is realistic and able to ensure a real rapprochement, a real step ahead in the quest for greater unity with the Orthodox. Q. Do you foresee this meeting taking place within the next two years? A. I very much hope so. Q. I'm glad to hear that because people have often said that the Patriarch meets cardinals from all over, but will not meet the Pope. A. Well I don't know how many cardinals he has met. I know he has met cardinals Kasper and Tettamanzi in recent times and in our conversation he did refer to his friendship with cardinals Etchegeray, Martini and Hume but those sort of people he would have met through the European bishops and through KEK ≠ the Protestant equivalent of the CCEE. So in the past, certainly he has met quite a number of cardinals and got on very well with them and I can see why, he's a very friendly and open man. Of course some of the difficulties he has relate to the fact that he has his own constituency to consider as well, his clergy and his people, and I understand that too. Q. Did he speak to you about the situation of the Orthodox in England? A. Well he is very worried about that. He's worried because he is concerned about the spiritual health of the Orthodox in London. So it's not just a question that the bishop there has transferred his allegiance to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. I think he feels that if there are difficulties at this level among the Orthodox in London, this might affect the pastoral care they are receiving and I think he would like a resolution of this matter. Q. Did you pray with him? A. We said a short prayer at the beginning, and we exchanged gifts at the end. He gave me a lovely cross. Q. Would it be true to say the meeting was historic? A. I felt it was an important meeting given where our churches are at present. I know it was important for me to meet the Patriarch and I sensed he was also very open to our meeting. Q. Could you explain the significance of the Presidents of the European Bishops Conferences holding a meeting in St Petersburg? A. I think the significance was that the meeting took place in Russia. Russia is now much more part of "Christian' Europe since the wall came down, although it always was to some extent. Russia now feels much more self-confident, and the Orthodox Church feels far more self-confident, they feel freer. Now they feel freer to engage in the wider Europe in a way they had never felt before, and they understand that this meeting is being held there and that you cannot just ignore the Church, not just the Orthodox Church but also the Catholic Church in the wider world. Q. What were the key issues that emerged at the meeting in St Petersburg? A. The challenges facing the Church in Europe with regard to the family, with regard to vocations, young people and to the kind of Church that is emerging and that is very different in the West and in Central and Eastern Europe. Cardinal Danneels led a discussion on why there are not more vocations and why young people find it difficult to make a life commitment. Then we discussed about COMECE ≠ the body that represents the Churches of the 31 countries linked to the European Union, but there are another 14 countries outside that, and so we talked about how to ensure greater integration between COMECE with the CCEE. A top level meeting of representatives from both bodies will be held to discuss this and to ensure greater cooperation between the two bodies. Q. The bishops met in St Petersburg soon after the controversy with Muslims that followed the Pope's lecture in Regensburg and his comments on Islam. Was there much discussion about that? A. Not much! The general feeling was that there was sympathy for the Pope and that his words were taken out of context. I suppose there was also a feeling that the points raised by the Pope in his lecture had been brought out precisely by the misinterpretation of his use of the quote. In other words, the big reaction to that particular paragraph has actually elevated the speech ≠ which was really an academic discourse, on a very important subject ≠ faith and reason and cultures. It probably would not have been given much coverage in the media if the paragraph hadn't been there. But at our meeting there wasn't really any round the table discussion on the Pope's speech and the aftermath to it. His speech was really about quite a complex but very important subject, and the controversy has now put it in the limelight. Q. This morning you had your first private meeting the Pope since he was elected on 19 April 2005. You asked for this meeting, why? A. I wanted to see him as the president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. I wanted to discuss with him the weaknesses and strengths of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the particular things that concern us today, our relationship ecumenically. When I first thought of asking for this meeting, I had been thinking also about the possibility of his visit to our country, but then I got a letter from the Vatican saying he would not be able to do so in 2007. So that question did not come up very strongly in our discussion. Q. So you didn't issue the invitation again. A. No, I just mentioned the invitation I had given him, and he smiled. I didn't feel it was right to re-issue the invitation, as I thought it might have been a bit of an imposition to do so this time, especially after he had made it clear that it was too difficult for him to come in 2007. Q. So what were the central topics discussed in your meeting with the Pope? A. The things I mostly talked about were my meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch and our relations with the Orthodox, and the situation of the Church in England and Wales. Q. How did you describe the situation of the Church in England and Wales? A. I described the weaknesses and strengths of the Catholic community. The weaknesses: that fewer people are going to Mass, there are less priests, the pressure and tensions of secular society. The strengths are that we count now more as Church than we did before and that, in a sense, if we could have more articulate lay people able to express their faith we are in a very good position to do so. People respect the Catholic Church, even if they do not agree with its teaching in the moral sphere. They recognize the rationality here and I think, increasingly they see that what the Catholic Church teaches, it teaches it because it is true. Q. What was the Pope's reaction to this? A. He was very interested in what I was saying. I found him very easy to talk to, very friendly, engaged, listening to what you I had to say, very encouraging, and sending greetings to the bishops of England and Wales and to their people. All in all I felt that the relationship between the Catholic Church in England and Wales and the bishops there ≠ obviously including myself, and the Holy Father is very warm and very close. Q. So he doesn't see any great problems in the Church in England and Wales? A. No. I mean, clearly there are problems but they are the problems that affect the whole of secular society and we all know them. On the contrary, the Pope was saying to me in different ways how he appreciates and respects what the bishops are doing, and their endeavours to deepen the prayer life of their people, endeavouring especially in the field of adult education to actually strengthen that. And when I told him we were discussing a lot the formation of our people, I think he was very pleased. The Pope wants people to have a deeper faith today, because without faith we cannot change the situation. The real crisis is ≠ I think - a crisis of faith. The Pope sees the need for people to express their faith in an articulate way; and for this there needs to be faculties which are actually able to teach lay Catholics ≠ men and women, to express their faith. He's not just talking about seminaries, although that is extremely important for the formation of priests; he is talking also about helping our lay people to express their faith in a fully articulate way in the secular culture today. I said to him that I think there is a "Christophobia" among many intellectuals, who think of putting religion on the periphery of society, saying religion is a neutral fact, whereas in fact they are trying to neutralize religion. He nodded and made clear he thoroughly agrees that you cannot separate faith and reason, you cannot separate religion and life. Q. I see that it is normal practice for the Pope to allow cardinals to stay on as pastors in their diocese for one or more years after they have completed their 75th year. Do you think that will happen with you too? A. I really don't know. I will offer my resignation when I reach the age of 75 and after that I will wait for the response of the Holy Father. I leave it all in his hands, and I am quite open to whatever decision he makes then. My task now is to be Archbishop of Westminster. Q. Some people have written articles over the summer alleging that the relations are not so good between you, together with the other bishops in England and Wales, and Rome. What do you respond? A. I don't know why people say that. The fact of the matter is that they have never been so good, and I speak from 30 years experience as a bishop. I don't think relations have ever been better. Certainly in my own relationships with all the Vatican congregations and other offices, with the cardinals who head these offices, I know them all, our relationships are very good and many of them are my friends. So I am able to be frank and open with them, and discuss any questions that come up regarding the Church in England and Wales, and I can say the same is true of the other bishops as well. I come out to Rome every year with the vice-president of the conference, Archbishop Patrick Kelly, and the General-Secretary to go around the different congregations and to meet them all, and if they have any problems with us we can discuss them. I have never found anything but appreciation by Rome for the work that the bishops in England and Wales are doing. So I am surprised when some journalists say that our relations with Rome are not good. This is just not true! Q. Recently the BBC broadcast a Panorama Documentary seeking to link Pope Benedict to a cover up of the sex-abuse by clergy scandal. Archbishop Vincent Nichols issued a statement on behalf of the conference. A. Actually we were together at a meeting of the bishops in Valladolid, Spain, at the time the documentary was screened and we were able to talk together about it before the statement was issued. Q. You then wrote a letter of complaint to the Director General. Have you received a reply? A. Yes, I wrote a letter, but so far I have not received a reply, to the best of my knowledge. My aim was not to deny the BBC the right to show evidence of the terrible thing that child abuse is. Rather, I questioned the reasons for transmitting such a documentary. The fact of the matter is that the research for such an important documentary, leading to this frontal attack on Pope Benedict accusing him of covering up child-abuse, actually produced no solid evidence to authorize such a terrible charge. So I have to ask why did they do it? It is of course quite evident that they wanted to attack the Pope, but the fundamental question is why did the BBC allow them to broadcast such a program? I did congratulate the BBC over one year ago on the coverage of the death and funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of his successor, Pope Benedict. The decision to broadcast this latest program was a serious error, and there have been other ones where the BBC, I think, has been biased and selective sometimes not just what they put on the air, but also in what they don't put on. One could mention the scant coverage given to the World Youth Day in Cologne, or the Pope's visit to his homeland in Bavaria. The BBC is highly respected throughout the world, and by and large does excellent work and I recognize that, and therefore when it falls down, as it has done with this Panorama program, it is a serious matter, and needs to be called into question as I have done in my letter. Q. In mid-November I understand you are going to have a truly historic meeting in Leeds, where for the first time since the Church of England came into existence all the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales will meet all the members of the House of Bishops. Could you tell me something about this event? A. The idea was there at the beginning of ARCIC, the same idea returned at the end of the 1990s when a new body was set up - the IARCUUM (International Anglican ≠Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission). Then four years ago, I asked the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, when I first met him if he could help arrange this bi-lateral meeting in England and Wales, and he agreed. So now we are having it. Q. Well it's good to have dialogue and to talk, but the reality is that the Anglicans, by their decision to ordain women priests and now bishops, have opted to travel down a road that is unacceptable to the Catholic Church, as stated clearly by three Popes: Paul VI, John Paul II and now Benedict XVI and against the advice of friendly people like Cardinals Cassidy, Kasper and yourself and so one could say that the dialogue has reached an impasse today. A. An impasse, a plateau yes, and the way ahead is very difficult to see. There isn't a central focus of authority in the Anglican Communion and that is a very big problem. At the same time one has to acknowledge that although we are on a plateau as regards the theological dialogue now, nevertheless that theological dialogue has revealed some very important things: the agreement on the Eucharist and on ministry, justification by faith so, if you wish, the quarrels of the Reformation period are theologically at an end. And yet we have these new questions that have come up. But I do think, particularly in our own country, there are matters in which we should be cooperating together in terms of Christian witness. As we did recently, for example, when we took a stance on the question of assisted suicide, and there the combination of Catholics and Anglicans and other Christians was very powerful. And there should be many other social issues on which we should stand together and give witness. So I think that the Archbishop of Canterbury and myself and others in Churches Together in England should speak out more and more on such issues. And we should do so particularly with the Anglicans, who are after all the established Church. I think that the Anglicans and Catholics are in a way by far the largest Churches in England today, in terms of each having about the same number of practicing Christians. This was something unthinkable 100 years ago. Q. When the Archbishop of Canterbury comes to Rome to meet Pope Benedict in November, you will come here too. What is the purpose of his visit? A. He is coming on an official visit to meet Pope Benedict. The Archbishop has met him before but not on a formal visit. He clearly wants to come, because he has a very high regard for the Pope and wants to talk with him. Secondly it would be very strange if he didn't some since all the other archbishops of Canterbury since Archbishops Fisher and Ramsey have made official visits to the Pope over the past 40 or more years. Q. I presume you talked about Canterbury's visit with the Pope this morning. What was his reaction? A. Yes we talked about it and the Pope is very open. I think he will enjoy talking with the Archbishop. After all Rowan Williams was also a professor of theology and they will have much to talk about together. Archbishop Rowan will get a very cordial welcome. Q. You know Rowan Williams, what do you think are his expectations of the visit? A. I think Archbishop Rowan recognizes the difficulty which he has and which the Anglicans are in regarding communion, if you like, between the various provinces. So he won't try and fudge the difficulties, but he will hope that the things of which we can share in common Christian witness that these will be reinforced by the Holy Father. Q. You have been in the whole ecumenical dialogue for many years now, in fact for most of your life as a bishop, so I wonder do you feel sad and disappointed that, apart from the fact that relations are probably better now than they have ever been, nevertheless there is now such a block to moving forward to unity? A. I have to admit it has been a great sadness for me. As you say, I have spent quite a lot of my Episcopal life in work for ecumenism, especially with the Anglican Communion because I was co-chairman of ARCIC for 16 years and when you pray together, when you meet together, when you become friends together it is very moving and there was nothing I wanted more than full communion, corporate unity with the Anglican Church. But that does now seem to me to be very far distant, and I don't know what is going to happen. But I do know, as I have often said, ecumenism is like a road with no exit. In the ecumenical document, the Vatican Council said we must all be engaged in the ecumenical movement to try and achieve the visible unity for which Christ prayed. Now that is my mandate and I will continue. Q. You are here for a meeting of the post-synod council, you have participated in many synods of bishops, what have you learned about the significance of synods in the life of the Church? A. I think the synod is a very important expression of collegiality, I think it can be improved and I think Pope Benedict has already demonstrated that he wants to improve it "as an organ of collegiality." It started as a result of the Second Vatican Council and I think work should continue on developing it, so that it becomes an even more effective organ of collegiality. Q. You are on record as saying that you think Turkey is not ready for entry to Europe, can you clarify what you mean? A. This was on a radio interview when we were talking about the reaction to the Pope's lecture in Regensburg, and the question of a clash of cultures and how this can happen. The interviewer said Prime Minister Tony Blair was very anxious for Turkey to enter into the European Union. I made it clear in my answer that I was not speaking for Pope Benedict, who as Pope has not spoken on this matter. I said there is another political point of view, however. Namely whether the entrance of Turkey into the European Union would be beneficial for all and how far can the European Union extend? Q. Do you think the Pope made a mistake in using the quote from the Emperor? A. Those dialogues, very fine dialogues in the 14th century actually took place between intelligent Muslims and intelligent Christians. What the Pope obviously regrets is that this example was taken out of context in a way he did not intend and caused controversy. As for the effect of this, well let us wait and see. I was pleased when talking about the dialogue with Muslims with the Patriarch that he mentioned how much interest and to a certain extent a priority this was in Russia itself, and the very good relations they have with the Muslims and that maybe there was something we could learn from them about ways in which we can progress in proper fruitful dialogue with Islam. Q How do you see the dialogue of the Catholic Church with Islam? Well one of the main problems is that Muslims do not have a central authority or leadership like we do, and so you are very much dealing with Muslims at the local level. So where Christians and Muslims live side by side in places, then I can see groups of Christians and Muslims getting together, not just to understand one another, but also to be together and give common witness on some issues. For example, after the bombings in London, the first thing I did together with the Archbishop of Canterbury was to be with the Muslim leader and the Chief Rabbi, and people were glad to see that here were four religious leaders standing together in a common witness against violence. Q. Do you see this dialogue between Christian and Muslims as a priority in the years ahead? A. Yes, it clearly is a priority, and people today see more clearly that religion and life go together Q. You will celebrate your golden jubilee as a priest on October 28. As you look back over these years what stands out in your mind, how do you see these fifty years of priesthood? A. I think they have enabled me to reflect on the mystery of life, on the mystery of Christ, on the mystery of his Church and the mystery of how the Catholic Church is with Christ yesterday, today and forever. My life as a priest is one which, like all good marriages, has had its ups and downs, its trials and its joys. It was what I expected when I made a commitment to be ordained as a priest, and said that I would serve the Lord as a shepherd in any way that I was asked to do. I never asked for any particular work. I worked for ten years as a parish priest, then I worked helping a bishop, and afterwards I worked as rector of a seminary for six years, and then a bishop for nearly thirty years. These particular forms of shepherding have been given to me and I have accepted all this as the will of the Lord, and beyond it all I see it as Providence that God has called me and wants me to live it out to the end in whatever way he wishes. It is a commitment to the work of ministry which is a service, not a power and I regard the work of a bishop as a kindly oversight for the benefit of others. I look on all these fifty years as happy years, with all their trials. I think they have helped to make me a more human person and perhaps a little bit wiser and more compassionate. Source: CCN
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