Here are some more Fr. Fessio interviews with more great information on our new Holy Father Benedict XVI:
I. The following will appear on the Ignatius Press website and are the answers to questions posed by Valerie Schmaltz of Ignatius Press:
1.You have a longstanding relationship with Pope Benedict XVI. Can you describe when you first met him?
I first met Fr. Joseph Ratzinger when I arrived in Regensburg, (then West Germany) in the fall of 1972. I began my doctoral studies there and he was my doctoral director.
How that happened is a story in itself. I had begun my theological studies in France at the Jesuit Theologate in Lyons. There I was befriended by Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J., a wonderful man of the Church and a renowned theologian. When the time came for me to decide upon the subject for a doctorate I asked his advice. He immediately told me that I should do my doctorate on Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar whom he considered one of the greatest theologians of the era, if not all time. When I asked him where I should do it he immediately said, “Go to Regensburg and do it under Fr. Joseph Ratzinger; he’s a fine young theologian.” Fr. de Lubac graciously wrote to Fr. Ratzinger on my behalf and Fr. Ratzinger who was not accepting many new graduate students since he had so many already, accepted Fr. de Lubac’s recommendation.
Joseph Ratzinger was then as he is now, a very quiet and gracious person, always willing to listen; but when he speaks, he speaks with great clarity and depth of understanding. Even then one felt a presence because of his goodness, his openness, and his wisdom.
2.How has your relationship continued through the years?
The doctoral students of Cardinal Ratzinger once they had received their doctorates, found a Schulerkreis (or student circle) that had yearly meetings. Those meetings were usually two to three days long, held at a monastery, and had a specific theological topic and one or two invited speakers. We celebrated Mass together, ate together, listened to lectures and discussed them together. In the evenings, we would often sit around a table and have conversation accompanied by glasses of white wine.
In the period 1987-1989, four priests, working with the then Cardinal Ratzinger, planned and established the Association de Lubac, Speyr, von Balthasar whose main work was a house of formation in Rome called Casa Balthasar. The four priests were Fr. Jacques Servais, S.J. another Jesuit who remains rector of Casa Balthasar, Fr. Mark Ouellet who is now the Cardinal Archbishop of Quebec, Fr. Christoph Schönborn, OP who is now the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna and myself. (Jesuits are by rule required neither to seek nor to accept ecclesiastical preferment. Fr. Servais and I did not seek any nor were any offered us!) Once Casa Balthasar was established, in 1989, we all met once a year to review the progress and plan the coming year. This gave us an opportunity to spend some time with Cardinal Ratzinger who would come to Casa Balthasar for a meeting, dinner and recreation after dinner. I also had the occasion to visit him in his apartment or in his office a number of times throughout the years.
3.How did you choose to publish his works and why did he choose Ignatius Press to publish so many of his works in the English translation?
Ignatius Press was begun in 1978, with our first books published in 1979. The original intent was to make available in English the works of the great contemporary Catholic theologians of Europe. We began with Louis Bouyer and Hans Urs von Balthasar. We soon added Cardinal Ratzinger to our list of authors. He very graciously accepted Ignatius Press as his English language publisher.
4.What is the impact of Urs Von Balthasar on the new pope?
The reason Fr. de Lubac directed me towards Fr. Ratzinger to do my dissertation on von Balthasar was that Fr. Ratzinger was both a personal friend and a student of the works of von Balthasar. Certainly von Balthasar has had a profound effect on Pope Benedict just as he has on any one who has spent time studying his massive and rich corpus.
5.Which of his works would you recommend to those wondering about the direction of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy?
For those who would like an idea of the direction of this new papacy, I would recommend starting with the Ratzinger Report. It was an interview he gave to Vittorio Messori in 1985. Cardinal Ratzinger comments very openly there on the strength and weaknesses of the Church at that time. Not too much has changed except for the increase in enthusiasm generated by the vibrant papacy of John Paul II; the major challenges remain.
6. What is Pope Benedict XVI like as a person? What about his reputation as an enforcer?
As a person, Pope Benedict is courteous, kind, gracious, soft-spoken, with an ever-present sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye. I’ve never heard him express anger or raise his voice. He listens very attentively to people and while clear and firm in his expression of the truths of the Catholic Faith, he always speaks or writes with profound courtesy and respect. He has a reputation as an enforcer because he had that task assigned to him. Even in treating dissident theologians, he was always open and fair, thorough and objective. Although there are still lingering complaints about the “secrecy” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, there is simply no basis for that. The Congregation has worked with complete transparency. I can’t think of anyone in the Vatican who has been more open to being interviewed or being questioned on any topic than Cardinal Ratzinger. Of course, when he is obliged to tell someone who considers himself a Catholic of good standing that what that person is teaching or advocating is incompatible with Catholic truth, that is often not well received. In trying to explain the hostility toward Cardinal Ratzinger, I can only think that it is a projection of the anger of those who are being corrected upon the one who has to administer the correction.
7.Comparisons will be inevitable with Pope John Paul II. Would you venture a comparison and a few thoughts on the relationship between then Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II? Why do you think he was chosen so quickly?
Certainly Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II were the closest of collaborators. Pope John Paul II brought Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome in 1981 to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and he stayed there until he was elected Pope in 2005. No other prefect of a Vatican congregation has stayed so long in the same position. It was customary that Ratzinger would see the Holy Father once a week to discuss whatever matters were important at that time.
They both have “charisma” but of different sorts. Pope John Paul II was an actor on the world’s stage, very outgoing and with a personal magnetism that was palpable. But Pope Benedict, while quieter and more serene in his demeanor, also has a warmth and a presence which all those who have come into contact with him have remarked. I think that John Paul II, especially in his prophetic role, proclaimed Christ to the whole world. Pope Benedict will do the same but I believe he will turn his attention more towards the Church hierchy. Just as St. Benedict through his monasteries penetrated and informed a rising Christian civilization in Europe, Pope Benedict will focus on the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, on solemn and properly celebrated liturgies, so that the Church herself will be better able to go forth into the world and be a light to the nations.
I can only speculate on why Benedict was chosen so quickly but I do think that the following elements had a role to play. In the synod which elected John Paul II in 1978, all or virtually all of the cardinals hand ample opportunity to get to know each other during the four years of the Second Vatican Council which ran from 1962-1965. Therefore they had a much better personal knowledge of their peers. However, with the expansion of the College of Cardinals, and with the emphasis on new cardinals in far-flung parts of the world, I think it’s true that going into the conclave most of the cardinals did not know most of the other cardinals. In such an important decision, I doubt that anyone, especially someone with experience in administration, would want to elect someone who was not well known to him. Since cardinals get to know each other when they come together, and that’s normally done in Rome, obviously cardinals who are living in Rome or near Rome, and those visiting often in Rome such as those in Italy and in Western Europe would know each other better. They’d also have more access to each other’s writings. For these reasons I think that the most likely candidates were in those groups.
But Cardinal Ratzinger was certainly the best known of the cardinals. He was older and he had published many books, spoken around the world, and acted in a very public way as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Divine Faith. He was also extremely respected even by those who disagreed with him. So, while there was much suspense during the conclave, now that the choice has been made, it almost seems like it was a necessity. Despite the fact that there were cardinals with wonderful qualifications, there really was no one that had his depth of knowledge and experience, including experience with the Curial offices of the Vatican.
8.Critics have said that Benedict XVI is “backward-looking” instead of “forward-looking” and that he is at heart opposed to the Second Vatican Council. How would you respond to the charge?
Every Pope, and every Catholic, must be both backward-looking and forward-looking. The truths of the Catholic Church are God’s message entrusted to fallible human beings by God Himself through his Son Jesus Christ. Our task is to receive that message and contemplate it, appropriate it, explain it, defend it and then pass it on intact. John Paul II did that. Cardinal Ratzinger did that, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and I have no doubt that Pope Benedict XVI will do the same. As for the Vatican Council, Pope Benedict was a theological peritus or advisor for the Council and was very influential at the Council; he’s one of it’s architects. And he made it very clear in his first public statement as pope the day after he was elected that he fully supports the Second Vatican Council. He says powerfully: “I too declare, as I start in the service that is proper to the successor to Peter, wish to affirm with force my decided will to pursue to the commitment to enact [exsecutionem] Vatican Council II, in the wake of my predecessors and in faithful continuity with the millennia-old tradition of the Church [duorum milium annorum].” This is a statement typical of Cardinal Ratzinger. He affirms in unmistakable terms that he is a pope of the Council. But he also says that he is going to pursue its implementation. The implication is that the Council has not been or at least has not been fully implemented yet. Further, he affirms he will implement the Council in continuity with the tradition. A clear statement that he does not read the Council as a break with tradition but as an extension of tradition.
9.To those wondering about the spiritual life of the new pope, do you have any insights? Does he have particular devotions to Mary, any other saints?
The Cardinal was born on Holy Saturday, and was brought by his parents to the parish church and baptized at the Easter Vigil Mass. So he was born both naturally and supernaturally in the midst of the great Paschal Mystery of the Church. I’ve heard him say very candidly that his life has been liturgical from the beginning; that he always feels nourished by the celebration of the Mass and the praying of the Divine Office. He admired his fellow theologian von Balthasar for promoting kniende Theologie (kneeling theology) and his works could not have been produced by a man who was not a man of deep personal prayer. His devotions are Catholic devotions, to the saints, but particularly to saint St. Joseph his patron, and of course to the Blessed Virgin Mary.
10.Do you have any personal stories about the new pope you can share with us?
I don’t know what his favorite foods are but Mozart is his favorite composer. While he leads a simple life, He’s a Bavarian who enjoys a good meal, and he does love to listen to classical music. He also plays the piano.
11.Finally, do you know what his favorite foods are? What is his favorite music?
There are many stories I could tell but let one suffice. He was asked by a very skeptical and agnostic journalist, Peter Seewald for a book-length interview. The cardinal, generous as always, agreed to this and made himself available to answer all his questions, even the most hostile ones. After that experience – the results of which were published as The Salt of the Earth – Peter Seewald became a Catholic! Later he did another book-length interview which became God and the World. The man sarcastically called God’s rotweiler or the panzer kardinal is a man who in real life can touch the hearts of the most hardened skeptics. He has given his life and all his gifts to the service of the Lord and the Church. And when he speaks he speaks with a power that comes from beyond him but that works marvelously through him.
II. II. The following are Fr. Fessio’s answers to questions proposed by Business Week and will be published in the next issue.
1.What kind of a manager is he?
Cardinal Ratzinger has famously written that what the Church needs is not managers but saints. This is because the Church, while a social organization is much more than that. It is the sacramental continuation of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And therefore what the Church has needed in all ages is leaders who devote themselves entirely to the person and teaching of Christ and gather others and communicate that to them. At the same time, Joseph Ratzinger was an archbishop and cardinal in Munich and later the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 until he was elected Pope Benedict XVI. He was always very cordial and deferential in his dealings with colleagues. He always informed himself fully on whatever matters needed discussion. He scheduled regular meetings and assigned tasks.
2.What time does he get up in the morning?
Pope Benedict the XVI when he was a cardinal normally went to bed relatively early and got up early and celebrated Mass quite early in the morning.
3.Does he delegate? Examples.
He does delegate. One excellent example is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. John Paul II gave him the task of overseeing a committee of cardinals and a committee of bishops to put together a compendium of all the Catholic Church’s teachings. It required input from various regions and language groups and Cardinal Ratzinger delegated the task of overseeing this to then Fr. Christoph Schönborn, O.P., who has since become the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna. While Cardinal Ratzinger kept in touch with Fr. Schönborn, and worked directly on some of the text, and read the text of the Catechism, he gave wide latitude to Fr. Schönborn who himself oversaw a committee of very diverse people. Also, my friends on the staff of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith say that he runs a well organized operation. While prayer is important and they stop during the day to pray the Angelus for example, meetings are scheduled regularly, tasks are assigned, the results are evaluated and whatever action is appropriate is taken.
4.When you studied under him, what was he like as a mentor and as someone to whom you reported?
As a mentor he was very easy to talk to and very understanding. He gave me excellent guidance in my thesis research and writing. He is a brilliant theologian in his own right and he has wonderful perceptive abilities, but he listens very attentively and patiently. However, once he’s heard a person out and been asked for his opinion or a decision he expresses it very calmly, clearly, and decisively and in a synthetic manner he has the ability to gather up into one sentence almost all the elements that are needed.
5.Give me some anecdotes that describe him as a manager, as a communicator? About his character and his personality?
Perhaps the best way to know what kind of a manager he is is to ask those who actually work with him from day to day. Three good priest friends have been in that position. They all revere him and consider him a saint. They love the man who has so much respect for them, and they would do anything for him. I would call him more a leader than a manager. He inspires others to give fully of themselves and he encourages them to develop their talents. Despite the way he is often portrayed, he is warm and gracious. He has a wonderful sense of humor that is manifest almost continuously. Despite the fact that he had the responsibility of insuring doctrinal orthodoxy among Catholics and especially among Catholic theologians and teachers, I’ve never seen him lose his temper or raise his voice. He has always objectively considered the writings in question, consulted widely, and then made a clear and judicious decision. When Walter Kasper was a bishop in Germany, Kasper publicly opposed Cardinal Ratzinger in a way that was quite inconsiderate. Years later, when it was proposed that Kasper be made a Cardinal, Cardinal Ratzinger, who could have clearly blocked it, did not do so. He holds no grudges and has a genuine love even of those with whom he seriously disagrees.
6.How trumped up is this charge that he’s tough as nails? Is this true?
He may be characterized as “tough as nails” and in one sense he is. I’m confident that he would die for the truths that he holds. No one could dislodge from him the faith which he’s made such a part of his life and his being. At the same time that’s not how he treats people. There is no person I’ve ever met who is any more gentle, gracious or cordial than Cardinal Ratzinger. There is no difference between his public and private persona. That’s one of the endearing characteristics of Joseph Ratzinger. Whether as bishop or cardinal or even now as Pope, he will speak openly and transparently. He will listen carefully. You will always know that you are talking to the person and not some mask or some diplomatically disguised personality.
7.How does he unwind?
The Cardinal loves music and art. I believe he played piano, and his brother, also a priest, was the director of the Domspatzchor, or young boys choir, at the cathedral in Regensburg. He loves to read and he does so widely. He is very cultured with tremendous knowledge both of antiquity and the classics but also the modern period and contemporary authors and artists.
8.What were his formative experiences? Who are/were his favorite theologians? Why?
His formative experiences were mainly in war-time Germany and war-torn Europe. He saw first hand the results of the ill-fated attempt to create a humanism without God. He saw that the attempt to build a perfect earthly city or a pure race or a worker’s paradise would only lead to mass destruction and the debasement of man. So the experience of Europe under Fascism, National Socialism, and Communism taught him, as it taught John Paul II, that society without Faith in God becomes a death camp. His favorite theologians are, among the ancients, the great fathers of the Church especially the Greek fathers and St. Augustine; also St. Bonaventure who was the subject of his doctoral thesis as a young student of theology. As to contemporaries he was very close to Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J. and Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar as well as Fr. Louis Bouyer. Along with them he ranks as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th Century. His particular interest in these authors I believe was that they all went deep to the roots of Christianity and Western Civilization and were imbued with the spirit of Sacred Scriptures, Greek philosophers and writers, and the Fathers of the Church. These theologians were all able to have a much more mature perspective on contemporary events by virtue of their immersion in the long and rich history of man’s conversation about God, the world and himself.
9.Does he have any personal heroes at all? If so, whom?
I’m not sure he has any personal heroes other than the saints. Of course he has a devotion to his own patron saint, St. Joseph whom he imitates in being a quiet masculine, fatherly presence in the Church.
10.What’s he like with numbers? Does he think conceptually in terms of finance at all? If not, who does he depend on for this?
I’m not sure how he is with numbers. I know he can count to seven because that’s how many Sacraments there are. He can probably get to ten and twelve too because that’s the number of Commandments and the number of Apostles. But I’ve never seen him talk about or discuss anything related to finance. I suspect he leaves that to others more qualified and interested.
11.Where was he in World War II? Much was made of John Paul II’s experiences in Nazi-dominated Poland. Where was the Cardinal during this? Was he in a seminary or with his family? What did his dad do and did this influence him at all?
He was born in 1927 so that he would have been eleven or twelve when World War II began. He was required to be in Hitler youth groups as a young boy although he was opposed to it even at that age. Later on when he joined the seminary he was able to remove himself from such groups. But later in the war he, along with a lot of other young Germans of his time, was forced into military service. He was assigned to an anti-aircraft battery around Munich, although it was so repulsive to him that he actually deserted it.
12.How much has Vatican II influenced him?
As a young theologian, Joseph Ratzinger was a peritus or theological advisor to two influential German Cardinals during the Second Vatican Council. Although some look back at those days and consider him a liberal, the fact is really that against the background of the pre-Vatican II Church he seemed like a liberal. Against the background of the post-Vatican II Church he seems like a conservative. In fact, is he has always been himself a loyal son of the Church one of tremendous brilliance and wide culture and education. His positions haven’t changed, but the surrounding society and even some aspects of the Church have.
13.How have the events of 1968 influenced him?
He certainly saw and experienced then that violent revolution is not the way to achieve beneficial social change. Nor does it lead to spiritual maturity. I believe that he took Benedict for his papal name precisely because St. Benedict was the Father of Europe. St. Benedict was a young man in a corrupt super-power that had become hedonistic and self-centered. In addition to this moral corruption from within there was the attacks from the barbarians from without. So Benedict left Rome where he was a magistrate and went out into the woods to pray. Others joined him and from that experience arose the great Benedictine monastic movement. By the year 1200 there were 40,000 Benedictine monasteries scattered throughout Europe. (Too bad Benedict didn’t have the prescience to think of an IPO.) These monasteries preserved the cultural riches of Greece and Rome as well as the growing wisdom accumulated by the Church herself. They educated men and women who formed the great European culture. They were the ones that turned swamps into arable land. Made the woods into fields. Helped to build convents and monasteries and churches and towns. It was through Benedict’s flight from a corrupt and corrupting society and his seeking of God alone through prayer and work (ora et labora) that he transformed culture and transformed Europe. He is rightly called the Father of Europe. I believe that Cardinal Ratzinger feels a call at this time, when demographics are trending towards the demise of European culture and the rise of Islamic culture in old Europe, that he wants to bring Europe back to the sources from which it derived all its energy and strength and glory: faith in Jesus Christ and His Church.