For the first time since he became pope, Benedict XVI has cited and criticized in public the movement of ecclesial
opposition most widespread and active in German-speaking countries. He did so in an off-the-cuff speech to seminarians in Freiburg. Here are his words
ROME, September 30, 2011 – On just a very few occasions, in the speeches and
homilies of his recent voyage to Germany, Benedict XVI departed from the written text.
The quip that he improvised while speaking to the Bundestag, on September 22 in Berlin, is the one that made the biggest impression.
In citing Hans Kelsen, a philosopher of law who in 1965, at the age of 84 – the same age as the pope now – had argued for a certain idea, the pope added off the cuff, smiling, "I find it comforting that rational thought is evidently still possible at the age of 84!"
Nonetheless, among the eighteen speeches that Benedict XVI gave over the four days he spent on German soil, there was one in which he did not read from any written text. And its contents were written down and made public only after the pope returned to Rome.
It is the speech that he gave to seminarians in the chapel of St. Charles Borromeo at the seminary of Freiburg im Breisgau, on the afternoon of Saturday, September 24.
Benedict XVI has always dedicated special attention to candidates for the priesthood.
One year ago, on October 18, 2010, he addressed to seminarians all over the world one of his most touching open letters, with autobiographical passages about his youth:
> "Dear seminarians, when in December 1944..."
Reflecting on this letter, the seminarians of Freiburg had sent to the pope a response, which Benedict XVI, in meeting with them, called "beautiful" and "serious."
The improvised speech that the pope gave to the seminarians of Freiburg on September 24 was the continuation of this dialogue.
A complete transcription of it, translated into six languages from the original German, can be found on the Vatican website:
> "It is a great joy for me to be able to come together here..."
Like all of his improvised speeches, this one also provides a direct view of the thought of pope Joseph Ratzinger, and of what is most important to him.
But there is one passage in it that deserves special attention.
It is the paragraph in which Benedict XVI reflects on the name – "We Are Church" – of the movement of ecclesial dissension most widespread and active in German-speaking countries, mobilized with special intensity at the approach of the pope's third voyage to Germany:
"We can only ever believe within the 'we'. I sometimes say that Saint Paul wrote: 'Faith comes from hearing' – not from reading. It needs reading as well, but it comes from hearing, that is to say from the living word, addressed to me by the other, whom I can hear, addressed to me by the Church throughout the ages, from her contemporary word, spoken to me the priests, bishops and my fellow believers. Faith must include a 'you' and it must include a 'we'. And it is very important to practise this mutual support, to learn how to accept the other as the other in his otherness, and to learn that he has to support me in my otherness, in order to become 'we', so that we can also build community in the parish, calling people into the community of the word, and journeying with one another towards the living God. This requires the very particular 'we' that is the seminary, and also the parish, but it also requires us always to look beyond the particular, limited 'we' towards the great 'we' that is the Church of all times and places: it requires that we do not make ourselves the sole criterion. When we say: 'We are Church' – well, it is true: that is what we are, we are not just anybody. But the “we” is more extensive than the group that asserts those words. The 'we' is the whole community of believers, today and in all times and places. And so I always say: within the community of believers, yes, there is as it were the voice of the valid majority, but there can never be a majority against the apostles or against the saints: that would be a false majority. We are Church: let us be Church, let us be Church precisely by opening ourselves and stepping outside ourselves and being Church with others."
As can be seen, Benedict XVI drew on the name of "We Are Church" to reverse its meaning: from a separate and contrasted "we" to a "we" that embraces the Church "in all times and places."
The movement "We Are Church" was created in 1995 with a collection of signatures in support of an "Appeal of the People of God" that proposed the democratic election of bishops, sacred orders for women, the removal of the division between clergy and laity, the elimination of the requirement of clerical celibacy for the clergy, a new sexual morality, etc. The collection of signatures, which came to two and a half million, began in Austria and was then extended to Germany, Italy, Spain, the United States, Holland, Belgium, France, England, Portugal, Canada. The first document was followed by many more. The epicenter of "we are Church" is still in Austria and Germany, with a vast following among the clergy, with a certain capacity to exert pressure on the bishops themselves, and with an aura of approval in various seminaries.
This would appear to be the first time that Joseph Ratzinger, as pope, has cited "We Are Church" in a public address.
The program and complete texts of the voyage of Benedict XVI, including the improvised speech given to the seminarians:
> Apostolic Journey to Germany, September 22-25, 2011
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.