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News Conference Remarks by His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

at the 125th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

In 2004 there was a great debate in the United States about those politicians who support abortion and whether they should be denied Communion.  In the 2008 election we may also see Catholics running for office, including those who support abortion.  Is this a debate beyond the United States and is this something where the Vatican may wish to issue guidelines to guide the bishops?


I don’t think that it is necessary to repeat new norms because the norms are well explained in the doctrine of the Church, and those norms which deal with the proper stance of individuals who want to receive Communion.

I don’t understand how a person in public office or one engaged in political activity can be obliged to renounce his Catholic identity because the party, be it in the U.S. or in other countries, imposes an ethical choice on the basis of the party’s program.

This, according to me, does not respect freedom of conscience.  It even seems to me to be an oppression of conscience.  Where is the freedom of conscience that is so proclaimed and defended in America?

I am speaking here about the question of abortion, about homosexual marriage, about embryonic research, all the points that were discussed so eloquently yesterday by the Supreme Knight, Mr. Anderson.

What are your impressions of the American Church in light of this visit?

First of all, I would like to say that this visit has shown me that the Church in the United States is really alive;  I would like to express two particular impressions:

• I met good bishops and good cardinals (of course, I am defending my own category!).

 • I have to speak about the vitality and the lively spirit of the people here, especially the Knights of Columbus, present not only in the United States but in other countries as well. I recognize in them a strong identification with the Catholic Church. 

Speaking about the religious life, I have just visited the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia.  I met some sisters who have recently celebrated their seventy-fifth jubilees and I met many more incredibly young sisters who are also very beautiful and very intelligent.  Two weeks ago, eleven of them professed their First Vows and, at the same time, another eleven made their Solemn Profession. They present a truly beautiful face of the Church and of the Church in the United States.

Regarding conversations with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and a possible visit of Pope Benedict to the United States.

The telephone conversation should really remain private – notwithstanding the fact that some of those conversations may be able to be tapped.  The conversations dealt primarily with the state of Christians in the Middle East.  I recognize the untiring efforts of the American Secretary of State in her work.  I told her that her travels by plane, in her efforts for peace, are accompanied by the angels.  If they weren’t accompanied by the angels, then she would never be able to knit back together all of these relationships that have been so fragile and difficult.  I think that we will be able to continue these discussions during a future visit of the Secretary of State of the United States to Rome. 

As you know, the visit of the Holy Father [to the United States] is a work in progress. Perhaps the Apostolic Nuncio, present here, will be convening meetings of the interested parties, as the planning stages go further for this particular visit, probably next year.

The situation in Iraq – what would a moral withdrawal look like?

I refer back to the words of the Holy Father who said we’re in a very critical moment of this discussion. I don’t want to say we’re in a blind alley; nevertheless, it is a very complicated situation and that’s the position where we are at right now. Perhaps we can begin thinking about some round tables or discussions where people are brought together to discuss this at a regional and at an international level.  I encourage all to search for a satisfactory solution in the Middle East.

The Church in China – What does the Vatican have to say about the invitation that was given and then taken back?

The situation of the Church in China was presented in a very accurate way in a letter that the Holy Father wrote to the Catholic Chinese people.

The areas that the Pope dealt with in that letter and the manner in which he dealt with them are the best possible way that we can address the situation in China, probably much more than many of the articles we have read in the newspapers. The letter was well received and widely discussed, not only at the religious level, but on many different levels in China. With regard to the question of an "invitation," I should say that this was not done formally by the Chinese authorities. The invitation was made by an individual, in his personal capacity, and not in the name of the Chinese government.

The question of a visit has been suspended for the time being, and we are waiting for some kind of move on the part of the Chinese government. At this time we are at a moment of reflection.

The letter of the Pope to the Chinese Catholics is an historical moment.  The letter constitutes a watershed between the past and the future in the relationship between China and the Catholic Church.

You have spoken very well and warmly about Father McGivney…

The very brief life of Father McGivney is a prophetic adumbration; he anticipated by many years the role of the laity in the Church as presented in Vatican II and in the successive documents of the Church.

You have to take into account the moment of Father McGivney’s life.  Historically, it was a moment in which the Church in the United States was suffering, and the witness that Father McGivney gave at that particular moment in history is very important to consider.

I can only hope that his life will be made known to many more people throughout the world, as it has been made known to people here in the United States.

It is not only the fact that his life revolved around questions of social concerns and social service to people, but his life should be made known in its fullness, for all that he represented.  His life should be made known for his commitment to catechesis and evangelization.  It cannot be presented only as a life that was merely for social concerns, but it must be considered from the perspective of a man of the Church.

As a Salesian priest you always had a strong connection to young people; what is your message to the Knights of Columbus and to others as they try to bring more young people into the fold?

It appears that many of the great organizations like yours, or Catholic Action in Europe, are suffering from the lack of young people. We have to think about the example of Pope John Paul II and how many young people responded to his invitations to come together, for example, to the World Youth Days.

I look over the panorama of World Youth Days and I consider how so many thousands of young people came together and rediscovered their faith through the Papal invitation to World Youth Day.

We have to take the approach of St John Bosco. His approach was to reach out to young people and to have great faith in them, a great confidence in them.  Pope John Paul II believed in young people.

I have seen among the Knights a very good representation of young people; however, the average age is a little bit high.

What do you think is the average age of the Dominican Sisters I just visited?   The average is 33 years old.  Write that down!  There are many girls with university degrees that are being attracted to this way of life. 

I think the Knights of Columbus will be able to attract young people as well.

With regard to the use of the media, a Vatican web site, for reaching young people – We hear all the time that that is the way they discover the Church again.  Does the Holy Father have plans to encourage even more use of Catholic media or secular media? 

Let me say I am not a specialist with the internet.  But I do not agree with a certain American star who said that we should suspend the use of the internet for five years.  Rather than suspend it, you have to reevaluate it and fill it with good content.

If St. John Bosco were alive today he would have chosen the best forms of media to reach out to people and to present the Church in this historic moment.

The pope doesn’t even use a typewriter.  He writes everything by hand.  But the pope splendidly uses the oldest way of communicating, which is the word.  The words of the Pope, the talks of the Pope, the writings of the Pope are becoming more attractive, even in the United States.

Text messages, with the Pope’s words, are being sent to cellular phones in Austria.

When I was the Archbishop of Genoa, I brought many young people to Rome; young people, even the smallest ones who were about to make their confirmation, were very attracted to the person of the Pope. 

While we were in Rome, all these kids were so enthusiastic about the Pope; they were sending back all these text messages and filling up all the boxes back in Genoa.

You expressed deep concern about the Sex Abuse stories in July. What is your message for the American Church, and if I may, what is your message to the Italian Church, which is undergoing the situation with Don Gelmini?

First of all, I would like to say the Church in the United States has suffered deeply because of this situation, has responded with great dignity, and invites everyone to truly commit themselves to a reversal of this situation. While I was still at the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith and as the Archbishop of Genoa, I accompanied the Church in the U.S. through the period of trial and, I repeat, they faced this trial with dignity and courage.

I would like to make two concrete observations:

First, the business which has accompanied the sex scandals has nothing to do with respect of the human person, with helping the victims, nor with the recovery of the guilty – whom we cannot abandon to hell. The business created in the United States around this scandal is really unbearable.

Secondly, I hope that other institutions and social agencies will face this same problem with their members, with an equal degree of courage and realism as the Catholic Church has done.  I wonder if the other agencies or institutions have also provided financial consideration for victims as the Catholic Church has done; if they have taken care of the victims and those who are guilty.

We must keep in mind that of the 44,000 priests here in the Unites States, the percentage of those who have been involved in this in these scandals is very small.  According to the information, it would seem as if the Catholic Church is the only organization that has been affected by this problem. This is unacceptable.

Regarding the Church in Italy and the situation with the particular person mentioned, I need to have more information, because much is not well founded and inexact.  I would like to see the clear picture.

Will you meet with the Holy and what will be your report to the Holy Father.

Of course I am going to see the Holy Father, it’s my job. I came with his permission, and I am going to go back and tell him what I did.

I will give him an excellent report of my visit to the United States. I am going to bring some written documents, particularly the report of Mr. Carl Anderson that was presented to us yesterday.

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