The Church at a Post-Secular Crossroads (Part 1)
Interview With Cardinal Julián Herranz
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ROME, MARCH 22, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Some would say that the Catholic Church is in a moment of decline, but Cardinal Julián Herranz is affirming that it is in fact experiencing extraordinary growth and vivacity.
Cardinal Herranz has worked in the Roman Curia since 1960. He has been at the service of John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
In recent years the cardinal has served as president of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts and as member of the Congregations for the Doctrine of the Faith, for Bishops, and for Evangelization.
In his Spanish-language book "En las Afueras de Jerico: Recuerdos De Los Anos Con Josemaria Y Juan Pablo II" [On The Outskirts Of Jericho: Remembering the Years of St. Josemaría and John Paul II], which is in its fifth edition, he evokes with a wealth of data and personal experiences the years of the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent and current period of its implementation.
Here is the first part of an interview with "Temes D'Avui," a magazine in Spain of current pastoral issues, in which the cardinal speaks about the worldwide Church in the post-secular age.
Part 2 of this interview will be published Tuesday.
Q: Secularization seems to be advancing in the countries of the first world. How can one explain this growing atheism, anti-clericalism and indifference to religion?
Cardinal Herranz: It is worthwhile to distinguish between secularity and secularization or secularism.
It is a positive fact that in the last centuries there has been a growing awareness of the legitimate autonomy of secular, earthly realities, clearly recognized in a special way by the Second Vatican Council. An aspect of this reality is what today we call positive laicism and surmounting of old clericalisms.
Quite different is the secularism that desires a humanity without its most radical foundation, which is God, an atheistic humanism, which reveals itself a tragedy, as Henri De Lubac well showed.
Moving in this line are the sectors desirous of imposing, as a politically correct ideology, laicist fundamentalism, an atheistic dogmatism contrary to authentic laicism, which instead recognizes in religion a cultural and social factor to respect and even to promote.
At present quite a few sociologists specialized in the analysis of cultural tendencies and processes -- for example John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of The Economist, and Adrian Wooldridge, author of the bestseller "God Is Back" -- are not convinced that atheistic secularism or religious indifference is advancing in society; rather, the opposite is happening.
Decades ago some predicted the death of religion, above all of Christianity, but later they have had to rectify themselves and admit a return of the religious under very varied forms.
Not a few say that we are in a post-secular period, characterized by a growing interest and debate on fundamental human questions, with a patent religious dimension.
In a recent report titled "The Return of God," a non-confessional Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, was surprised by the boom of books on faith in Italian bookstores, where sales have increased by 27% in the past year.
Concretely, it stated that the sale of books on religious topics had increased by 196% in the large centers of distribution, such as supermarkets and commercial centers.
Another interesting fact is that the Pope's last encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate," with the first edition of 600,000 issues, surpassed in mid-July the sales of some leading bestsellers such as Faletti, Larson and Grisham.
I believe that these and other similar facts -- such as conversions to the Catholic faith of famous politicians, writers, actors, etc., manifests once again that, even in the midst of an undoubted materialistic environment, man's and woman's reason and heart are not indifferent to the great questions on the meaning and destiny of their existence.
There are few who are really at peace thinking that they are only a piece of flesh that passes from the hands of the midwife to the hands of the gravedigger.
Often some stereotypes -- such as faith being an enemy of science or religious indifference as intellectual fashion -- are delayed in changing in public opinion because of inertia and because interests have been created, also economic, in maintaining a certain ideological tendency.
But even the activism of groups promoting an intolerant laicism in different European political and financial environments -- national and community -- shows that in reality religious indifference does not exist or has diminished.
It seems that those who hoped to assist passively at the death of the Christian religion -- it is a question of time, they said, it will end on its own -- have now opted for a belligerent strategy, which is having the positive effect of waking up many Christians from a lazy somnolence.
After the negative response of the rich young man to join the group of disciples, Jesus says to Peter that God repays 100% on this earth and with eternal life, but "with persecutions."
Persecutions have never been lacking, but neither has Divine help been lacking to face them. Already the first generation of the followers of Christ needed the consolation of the fantastic book of Revelations, relevant in all ages, which brings certainty and joy in face of obstacles and the different forms -- violent or subtle and hidden -- of "Christophobia."
But it is fitting that Christians get used to acting in public life without complexes and with good doctrinal formation, to enrich civil coexistence and democracy, filling them with humanity and the profundity of love and liberty, which bring to reason and to society the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Q: In the book "On the Outskirts of Jericho" you say that humanity is at a "crossroads." You refer to a particular appeal that John Paul II made in the Jubilee of the year 2000, speaking to the bishops of the whole world. In what does this crossroads consist? Is that call to attention still current?
Cardinal Herranz: It is worthwhile to recall that famous affirmation of John Paul II: "Humanity possesses today unheard of instruments of power: It can make a garden of this world or reduce it to a heap of ruins.
"It has acquired extraordinary capacities of intervention on the very sources of life: It can use them for good, within the line of the moral law, or it can yield to the myopic pride of a science that does not accept limitations, to the point of trampling on the respect owed to every human being. Today more than ever in the past, humanity is at a crossroads."
It is a question of great progress in the scientific and technical means in so many aspects of existence -- and especially in the field of biology and genetics -- which obliges the women and men of today to reflect on the aims of that progress, more so because in an environment of relativistic totalitarianism the universal concept of the human being as bearer of a dignity and of inalienable rights tends to be diluted.
On the fundamental topics that put our humanity at stake, there is no room for a neutral attitude.
We are indeed in a crossroads situation. Two paths are opening: that of an ever greater humanization, with a science and technology at the service of persons (educational progress, improvement in the quality of life, ability to care well for the neediest, greater liberty and responsibility, etc.); and that of a progressive erosion of human dignity, caused by a use contrary to the nature of the personal being (techniques of genetic engineering and the manipulation of embryos used only for commercial interest and for individualistic well-being), which humiliates human dignity, weakens social cohesion and even damages a focus of renewal of the whole of society: the family.
The novelty of the present situation in relation to the past is that the path of humanization today calls for a strong ethical awareness, greater conviction, and a more profound education.
The human being is more frail faced to pleasure than faced to inevitable difficulties. We are at a crossroads in which the ordinary citizen is very exposed to following the current, letting himself be led by inertia.
Persons -- in the plural, as Robert Spaemann stresses -- are subjected to strong economic and ideological pressures that are opposed to profound anxieties to attain a more just society with more solidarity, and in many cases also the legitimate desire to exercise one's profession according to one's dignity: This is true not only for professionals of communication and for doctors, but also for lawyers and artists and for many jobs and professions.
When, for example, a pharmacist feels he is treated by legislation as a qualified businessman, his work at the service of patients and his long university preparation are deprived of liberty and responsibility, unless he opposes his liberty of conscience to that totalitarian abuse.
It is significant that Francis Collins, the North American biologist responsible for the "Human Genome Project," a Christian who converted at the age of 27, said, commenting on his book "The Language of God," a name that he gives to the genetic code: "I believe there is a divine plan that has passed through the Big Bang and evolution to reach human beings. And I believe that God has created us to infuse in us the concept of the correct and the mistaken, of free will, and to have a personal relationship with us through prayer" (Avvenire, June 15, 2009).
Q: There are those who accuse the Church of turning its back on society in topics of morality regarding marriage, contraception, abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality. There are also those who argue that it would be more 'evangelical' to insist on questions such as mercy and love rather than the condemnation of certain moral behavior. What do you think about this?
Cardinal Herranz: What is most evangelical is to act like Jesus, who teaches and practices at once and inseparably truth and mercy.
Jesus tells us "the truth will make you free" (John 8:32) and, faced to the harmful error of an absolute liberty separated from the moral norm, he teaches the salvific value of truth.
The truth about the dignity of the person -- man and woman -- created in the image of God and bearer of an eternal destiny. The truth about the exalted value of human life from conception until natural death. The truth about human love, the "beautiful love," which has a spiritual dimension of mutual self-giving and fidelity, vastly superior to the sole biological dimension of sex. The truth about marriage -- stable union of one man and one woman open to fruitfulness -- and the truth about the family founded on marriage.
And together with truth the Lord teaches love and mercy. Jesus forgives the woman taken in adultery and says to her: "Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again" (John 8:11). Luke, the evangelist of divine mercy, recounts how Jesus invites himself to dine in the house of the rich sinner Zacchaeus, is concerned about his soul, his eternal salvation, and the result is the conversion of that man: "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded any one of anything, I restore it fourfold."
Jesus comments: "Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:1-10).
St. John, the evangelist who insists so much on charity, recounts how Jesus Christ helps a Samaritan woman to order her family situation. Jesus answered her:"Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly" (John 4:16-18).
Jesus comes to teach the truth that frees and saves and, at the same time, he comes to remedy with love and mercy the inclination to egoism that also nests in the human heart.
That is why he invites to repentance and conversion, which brings peace and joy.
The Church is no other than Christ present among men in the course of history. That is why, despite the personal weaknesses of Christians, the Church with its teaching, with the sacraments instituted by Christ, says a great "yes" to the most profound vocation of every human being: to love and to be loved.
And thus helps people to live the splendid project of marriage and the family without lowering their dignity.
In regard to the topic of euthanasia, in addition to distinguishing it well from therapeutic aggression, it can be said that it is like litmus paper.
The degree of humanity of a social community is measured by commitment to the care of the sick and the elderly. They are not a burden, but something humanly precious, and in addition they are Christ.
It is an obligation that is worthy of the human being, that helps for mutual collaboration to come to the fullness of the human vocation to love: to give and to let ourselves be subject to the free care of others.
Q: You have traveled to China and have had contacts with Catholic environments. How do you see the development of the Church in that country? What solutions do you see to surmount the schism between the so-called Patriotic Church, more or less controlled by the Chinese political regime, and the semi-clandestine Church faithful to the Roman Pontiff and in communion with the universal Church?
Cardinal Herranz: In reality in China there is no "schism," nor is it right to speak of two Churches: one "patriotic" and the other "clandestine."
There is only one Catholic Church, with unity of faith and of sacraments and -- notwithstanding the difficulties originating in the lack of sufficient liberty -- also with unity of regime and in communion with the Roman Pontiff and the universal Church, if one excepts in practice the still confused situation of some bishops.
It is true that at the birth of the People's Republic of China in 1949 the Vatican -- the Holy See -- was considered a "political enemy," a "foreign power," ally of the United States. Hence the violent religious persecution of Mao, which culminated in the terrible decade (1966-1976) of the so-called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.
With the advent to power of Deng Xiaoping in 1976 Catholics were given a certain degree of religious liberty, but under the control of the state through some organisms, especially the "Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association," superimposed to the authority of the bishops whose appointments were no longer in the power of the Roman Pontiff.
The idea was to constitute an independent national Church. But the ordination of clandestine bishops, the robust Catholic faith and the spiritual communion of the people and of the great majority of the priests with the Pope, convinced the government of the need to reorient its policy.
Informal contacts and conversations then began with the Holy See (there are no diplomatic relations), above all in regard to the appointment of bishops and to foster respect for some founding principles of the nature of the Church, such as its catholicity, apostolicity and the spiritual character of its mission.
In fact, almost all of the "official" bishops have desired and attempted to be recognized by the Holy See, which did so once the necessary requisites of fitness were ensured.
In the end it is the faith of the Catholic people that dictates the law: The immense majority of priests, religious and laymen would not obey bishops who were not appointed or recognized and legitimized by the Pope.
As for the rest, it is obvious that, although some will delay in understanding it or would still like to hold the contrary view out of personal interest, one can be a good Catholic and an exemplary Chinese citizen.
It is true that, as has happened recently in the Diocese of Baoding 150 kilometers [93 miles] from Beijing, there are at times -- because of a lack of information and consequent ambiguities -- tensions between groups of faithful and conflicts of authority.
But I think that in the majority of dioceses the magnificent "Letter to the Church in China" of Benedict XVI, of June 30, 2007, is already producing slowly (patience is obligatory in China) the two fruits that were expected and that have been stimulated again by another letter of the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, of last Nov. 10.
It is in the first place about fostering with all means (pastoral charity and fraternity, doctrinal clarity and discipline) reconciliation within the Catholic community between those who still live in different conditions of liberty and civil legitimacy in religious practice.
And in the second place, it is about trying to establish a respectful and open dialogue between the ecclesiastical authority (the Holy See and the Chinese bishops) and the government authorities, to surmount misunderstandings and limitations that touch the heart of the faith and the free exercise of the pastoral ministry.
When will these difficulties be surmounted and the unity and expansion of the Church in that nation be fortified? Let us pray with faith and patience, very united to the Pope and to the Chinese Church, so that it will be soon.
Let us be certain that the Kingdom of God, as the mustard seed of the Gospel, grows, even more so in land that has been fertilized by the blood of so many martyrs, many yet unknown.
That small seed (some 10 million Catholics among 1.3 billion Chinese ) is alive and growing.
It is comforting to think, for example, in the slow but constant development of a small diocese, also of Hebei, in which I have some good friends. Some 150 years ago there was hardly a small group of faithful; in 1930 there were 54,000; in 2005 there were already 90,000; today there are 112,253, with 81 priests and 42 seminarians and a missionary diocesan religious congregation with 51 men religious and 90 women religious. Every year some 1,000 adults are baptized.
Q: How do you think the universal Church as an institution and the Christian faithful, each one in his place in the world, must act to contribute to the spread of the Kingdom of God in the forthcoming years?
Cardinal Herranz: I think the key can be summarized in the word "communion."
The Church is communion with Jesus, communion with its founder. That is why, as Benedict XVI continually says, what is essential is friendship with Christ: in the Eucharist and in the other sacraments, in the Word of God, in charity.
This communion has in addition a strong fraternal and missionary dimension: to live in the Church as brothers, very united to the Roman Pontiff and to the bishops in communion with him, and putting into practice responsibly the right or duty of all the baptized to evangelize, to make Christ's message known, with the humility of knowing ourselves as simple instruments of Divine grace and, because of this, with faith and audacity.
Communion is concern for one another: to give to others -- to place in common -- the best that we have.
And for a Christian, the most valuable thing is his encounter with Christ. In this sense, a profound work of catechesis, of cultural diffusion and I would add of information is necessary, to avoid misunderstandings that can impede a correct reception of the message of the Church.
Information is always a good. All this requires a great effort of formation that, as I said earlier, begins in the schools, in the parishes and pastoral and associative structures of different types, in the universities and other centers of higher learning, and in a particular way, in the seminaries.
Q: Don't you think that to speak in this way of the extension of the Kingdom of God is in contrast with the less optimistic vision of those who affirm that scientific progress, the change of customs and the influence of the prevailing secular fundamentalism in the media and in politics pose to the Church -- which they consider decadent -- serious problems of influence in society and even of survival?
Cardinal Herranz: Of survival certainly not, because Christ wanted his Church to be catholic, that is, universal, and he has sent it on a mission until the end of history: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ... and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
But even those who do not have faith must recognize the sure stability of the Church through the profound social and cultural changes of two thousand years of history.
Empires, government regimes, political parties, fashions and ideologies have passed but the Word and the Body of Christ, the Eucharist, root and vital center of his Church have not passed and will not pass.
Can one speak, instead, of decadence, of progressive loss of faithful and of social influence? Some, including Catholic sociologists or theologians, affirm this and propose more or less radical remedies, dramatic or extraordinary.
Many more, among whom I count myself, are not in agreement with this vision of the "Church in withdrawal," which with all respect I consider a pessimistic and not very objective view.
Cardinal [Carlo] Martini, a Jesuit [and the retired archbishop of Milan], who as a theologian is not usually described as "conservative," wrote recently: "The Church in decadence? I am of the opinion that history demonstrates how the Church on the whole has never been as flourishing as it is now. For the first time it has global diffusion, with faithful of all languages and cultures; it can exhibit a series of Popes of very high level and a flourishing of theologians of great worth and cultural weight."
And alluding to those who observe the contrary based on certain situations of crisis in regions of the Western world -- some moreover in a phase of being surmounted -- added that those observations "do not take into account the vivacity and joy that is found in the Churches of Africa, of Asia and of Latin America" (Corriere della Sera, Dec. 27, 2009).
Personally, I would also point out the vocational and apostolic vivacity of the new ecclesial realities that arose in the past century, above all in Europe, with a variety of charisms and canonical configuration, but all committed to vivifying Christian communities through the practical performance of the universal call to sanctity and the apostolate.
In regard to the reality of the expansion of Christianity in other continents, I would like to point out, for example, the situation of a country -- Vietnam -- where the Church has lived for a long time a regime of persecution. This year it celebrates 350 years of evangelization, and the mustard seed of the Gospel has fructified already in 26 dioceses, 2,900 priests, 11,000 men and women religious and 8 million faithful.
Baptisms are in the order of 100,000 every year and priestly vocations have grown by 50% over the past five years, reaching at present the number of 1,500 seminarians.
Similar data could be added of the Philippines and South Korea in Asia and also of numerous African nations.
[Translation by ZENIT]