Letter reveals Benedict’s praise for Francis booklets came with previously unmentioned caveats

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 12:36 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Amid accusations of concealment, the Vatican's communications department has released the entirety of a letter written by Benedict XVI, revealing a previously unpublished paragraph which contains Benedict’s comments about a theologian known for his “anti-papal initiatives.”
The Secretariat for Communications published the full letter March 17, after questions were raised following the letter’s presentation during a press event March 12 for the release of a newly-published series of booklets on the theological formation of Pope Francis.
The series is published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house overseen by the secretariat.


#Vatican has now released the full contents of Benedict XVI's letter to +Vigano, saying there was no intention to censor but parts were left out as it was confidential. Earlier today it emerged that more had been omitted from the letter (see end here: https://t.co/aXlyXH71Sg) pic.twitter.com/P6fld8eA21

— Edward Pentin (@EdwardPentin) March 17, 2018


The secretariat’s press release on the letter quoted portions of the letter praising the booklets, but included neither Benedict’s admission that he has not read them in full, nor the final paragraph published today.
In the paragraph, Benedict notes his “surprise” that an author of one of the new booklets is the German theologian Peter Hünermann, who, Benedict notes, “was highlighted for leading anti-papal initiatives” during the two preceding papacies.
In the letter, dated Feb. 7 and addressed to the prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, Msgr. Dario Vigano, Benedict also notes Hünermann's involvement in the release of the 1989 Cologne Declaration, which “virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on matters of moral theology.”
The previously undisclosed paragraph reads, as translated by Ed Pentin of the National Catholic Register, in full: “Only as an aside, I would like to note my surprise at the fact that among the authors is also Professor Hünermann, who during my pontificate had been shown to have led anti-papal initiatives. He played a major part in the release of the ‘Kölner Erklärung’, which, in relation to the encyclical ‘Veritatis splendor’, virulently attacked the magisterial authority of the Pope, especially on questions of moral theology. Also the ‘Europaische Theologengesellschaft’, which he founded, initially came to be thought of as an organization in opposition to the papal magisterium. Later, the ecclesial sentiment of many theologians prevented this orientation, making that organization a normal instrument of encounter among theologians.”
“I am sure that you will understand me for my denial and I greet you cordially,” the letter concludes. Earlier in the letter, Benedict acknowledged that he could not write a requested reflection on the booklets because he had not read them and had other, more pressing, commitments.
A March 17 press release from the Secretariat for Communications said there had been “much polemics” around its “alleged censorial manipulation of photography.”

“What was read out from the letter, which was confidential, was considered appropriate and related to the sole initiative, and in particular to what the Pope Emeritus says about the philosophical and theological formation of the present Pontiff and the inner union between the two pontificates, leaving out some notes regarding contributors to the series.”

“The choice was motivated by confidentiality and not by any intent of censorship,” the secretariat added.

The Vatican office wrote that it had now chosen to publish the letter in its entirety “in order to dispel any doubts.”
The National Catholic Register requested March 14 a copy of the letter Vigano sent to Benedict, but the request has not been answered.
Controversy about the letter heightened March 14 when the Associated Press reported that the Vatican had acknowledged obscuring two lines of the letter in a photo released to the press.
The AP's Nicole Winfield wrote that the Vatican has admitted “that it altered a photo sent to the media of a letter from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Pope Francis. The manipulation changed the meaning of the image in a way that violated photojournalist industry standards.”

The theological formation of Pope Francis

Vatican City, Mar 17, 2018 / 06:00 am (CNA).- A recent letter from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has become the subject of controversy, after a Vatican office admitted to releasing a photo of the letter blurring some lines.

The letter responded to an invitation to review a series of books detailing the theological perspective of Pope Francis. While Benedict declined the invitation, saying he wouldn’t have time to read the books, he noted “that Pope Francis is a man of profound philosophical and theological formation.”

The Pope Emeritus praised the series as an effort to “oppose and react to the foolish prejudice in which Pope Francis is just a practical man without particular theological or philosophical formation.”

While the letter remains the center of debate, it does raise an important question: what exactly is Pope Francis' theological formation?

Those who know Bergoglio well are quick to point out that he is not a “systematic theologian,” and that he cannot be called a theological expert in the academic sense of the word.

However, despite a lack of formal academic experience, biographers note that Francis has a sharp mind and an extensive knowledge of influential Catholic thinkers, especially in the Latin American context.

Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told CNA that the first Latin American pope cannot be identified exclusively with any particular theological movement or approach.

“People knew where John Paul II's philosophy school was, they could situation him because of his thesis, and because of his scholarly life, and the same with Benedict; Benedict could easily be located as part of a particular school,” Ivereigh said. But Bergoglio “is not a systematic theologian, so you can't really identify him with any particular school.”

However, Ivereigh, author of the authoritative English-language papal biography, “The Great Reformer,” told CNA that as a seminarian, studying at the Jesuit-run Colegio Maximo in Argentina, Bergoglio was the only student to ever get full marks in his classes.

“He was brilliant. Everybody recognized that he was intellectually brilliant from the beginning,” Ivereigh said.

Ivereigh said when Bergoglio was named seminary rector, years later, many of his students also commented that “he was incredibly widely read in literature of the world, European and Latin American, poetry, classics, the novels. He was very, very cultured in that broader sense of the word.”

Alejandro Bermudez, executive director of CNA and editor of the papal biography “Pope Francis: Our Brother, Our Friend,” said Bergoglio was “a Jesuit of the old-school,” and as such “he definitely had that very rounded formation, with several interests,” including poetry, classical literature, and writings from the influential thinkers of the day.

However, after being placed into administrative and leadership roles at a young age, the future pope “spent a lot of time doing practical things and in a practical position” which took him away from academic endeavors.

“The truth is, he did not have enough time to get into a deep theological formation,” Bermudez said.

“I'm not saying he's a lightweight,” he said, adding that Francis “has a well-rounded theological formation for sure.”

Bergoglio was tapped as the Argentine Jesuit provincial in 1973 at the age of 36, during a tumultuous period in which the nation was led by a violent military dictatorship. In 1980 he was named rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty at San Miguel Seminary in Buenos Aires, where he taught theology and oversaw Jesuit novices until 1986. He was removed from that role when his emphasis on traditional theology and spirituality clashed with the Jesuits' then-Superior General Hans Kolvenbach.

He was sent to the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany to begin doctoral studies, which were based on the writings of German-Italian theologian Romano Guardini. However, after just a few months he was sent back to Argentina as a confessor in Cordoba.

By the time he was named Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, he still had not finished his doctoral thesis. Bergoglio continued to ascend the ranks of Church hierarchy, taking on increasingly administrative roles that plunged him further into political and practical affairs, and farther away from his doctorate, which remains unfinished to this day.

However, according to Ivereigh, simply because Francis can't be attached to a particular theological school, “that doesn't mean that he's difficult to pin down, because actually his intellectual trajectory is very clear.”

Intellectual Influences

The Pope’s intellectual influences include several prominent 20th century thinkers.

Bergoglio was familiar with Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss priest considered to be among the most influential theologians of the 20th century. He was also familiar with Gaston Fassard, a French Jesuit priest and theologian who died in 1978, as well as other influential Jesuit thinkers of the time such as German-Polish theologian Enrich Przywara and Frenchman Henri de Lubac.

The Italian-born German priest Romano Guardini, whose theology formed the basis for the future Pope's unfinished doctoral thesis, was also influential on Bergoglio.

Guardini, who lived from 1885-1968, also influenced Pope Benedict XVI, who referenced Guardini frequently.

However, despite the frequent references to Guardini and the decision of Bergoglio to focus his thesis on Guardini's writings, Bermudez stressed the need to have caution when it comes to just how much influence Guardini had, since Bergoglio's thesis was never finished.

“We just know that he was incredibly impacted to the point that he wanted to do his doctoral thesis on him. But there is no trace of the Pope explaining himself in any kind of writing or interview or whatever about how much or how Guardini impacted him.”

Latin American Influences

Bergoglio's biographers say he was impacted especially by several prominent Latin American theologians who were influential in “teologia latinoamericana,” or Latin American theology, an approach that emphasized the Church’s closeness to ordinary people and their expressions of popular devotion.

According to Bermudez, those who had the biggest impact on Francis' thought were Jesuit Fr. Juan Carlos Scannone – who is still alive and was a professor of the young Fr. Bergoglio – as well as Argentinian Fr. Lucio Gera and Uruguayan Alberto Methol Ferre, who Bermudez said was “super influential on a whole generation of Latin Americans.”

Bermudez explained that the “teologia latinoamericana” intellectuals had a clear vision for the need to develop a theology “that would line up with the idea that Latin America, as a large continent with one language and one religion, had some kind of a 'manifest destiny.'”

“These were the people who understood that Latin America had a huge contribution to make to the world of theology, considering that close to half of Catholics were living on the continent,” he said.

This approach emphasized the preferential option for the poor, and that popular piety and devotion would play a major role in unifying Latin American, and in preserving and transmitting the faith across the continent.

“That's where the Pope's preference for the importance of Marian shrines, and processions and events of massive faith comes from,” Bermudez said, explaining that because of the way in which people gathered to celebrate their faith in this “popular” way, the approach later became known as the “teologia del pueblo.”

“What is known today as the ‘teologia del pueblo’ didn't exist at that time,” Bermudez said, explaining that the “theology of the people” was a later evolution of Latin American theology,

Bermudez stressed that these ideas were different from liberation theology, which sprung up in Latin America in the 1970s, and often emphasized a Marxist interpretation of the Gospel, viewing faith through the lens of class struggle, rather than giving primacy to spiritual freedom.

He explained that liberation theology largely rejected popular piety, believing it to be “some kind of backwards approach to religion that would keep people away from social change and structural change.”

Liberation theology was not relevant in Argentina at the time of Bergoglio's formation, Bermudez said.

When Bergoglio was being formed, Bermudez said, “there was a lot of hope in a Latin American future in which Latin America would play a huge role in the world,” he said, but noted that in the years since, “crisis and corruption and political squabbles pretty much put an end to any hope that Latin America would raise up as one single nation.”

However, the influence of the “teologia latinoamericana” can clearly be seen in Francis' words, actions and personal style, above all in his emphasis on community and solidarity, which Bermudez said stems from the belief that popular devotion “was a richness that allowed the people of Latin America to preserve and persevere in their faith.”

Another manifestation of this formation is the hope Francis has for Latin America’s role Church, since it covers such large swaths of territory, from the Rio Grande to the Tierra del Fuego.

“You can hardly find any other place in the planet when you can go through such a large territory and be celebrating the same faith and speaking the same language,” Bermudez said, adding that while he's not sure if Pope Francis has a specific belief in the “great future” of Latin America, he still has a tremendous hope for the continent.

Likewise, Ivereigh said this influence can be seen even from Bergoglio's time as rector of the San Miguel seminary in Buenos Aires, where he kept a strict spiritual and academic regime for the Jesuit novices, while also encouraging them to pray the rosary together and sending them out to minister in parishes on the weekends.

“His vision of the Church, I think, derives from his reading of the Spanish missionary experience in the colonial era of Latin America. He makes frequent references, particularly in Latin America, to that era,” Ivereigh said.

Bergoglio wanted the seminarians to “get out of their heads and have contact with the people; so study was important, but on weekends they were out there with the people ministering in the parishes,” which was unusual for Jesuits at the time, who typically placed a heavy emphasis on academics.

After the Second Vatican Council, Bergoglio was “very skeptical of progressive attempts to depart from core Catholic traditions,” such as, in his view, downgrading the importance of popular piety, Ivereigh said.

“He was very strong on maintaining that,” Ivereigh said, explaining that Bergoglio's approach was consistently about “going back to the original charism of the 16th century Jesuits,” which placed a strong emphasis on missionary outreach.

“He certainly didn't want to go back to the former time before the Council, but he didn't want a modernization that would dilute the Catholic tradition, and he wanted a deeper reform that returned the Jesuits to their deeper traditions.”

How his formation shapes his papacy

Both biographers noted that, while the Pope has limited formal theological training, his formation and intellect can be seen in his daily words and actions.

For Ivereigh, Francis' entire 5-year pontificate has so far been “one big lesson in what they call in Latin and Italian 'pastoralita' – it's one big lesson in how to be pastoral...putting people first, spending time with them, showing that everybody is valuable, showing that God cares about everybody.”

This is seen in Francis' homilies and travels, but also in his interaction with media and his general approachability, Ivereigh said, explaining that in his view, the Pope is constantly trying to remove “unnecessary blockages” getting in the way of reaching the people.

“Some of those blockages are the result of social and cultural change, which lead people for example to be suspicious of institutions or to see institutions as distant. But some of those blockages are also part of the Church's culture,” he said. “So the proclamation has to be simpler, humbler and more kerygmatic. That's been his big message of these last five years.”

In his view, Bermudez said the influence of Latin American theology, in particular, can be seen clearly in the Pope's continuous encouragement for priests to take on the “smell of the sheep,” as well as his ideas about how the priesthood and episcopate should be based on the “conviction that the faith of the people is very powerful.”

Since the beginning, Francis has preached the importance of popular devotions, the need for greater hope and solidarity, the importance of truth, a sense of good and evil and an emphasis on divine intervention, Bermudez said.

“All that has been influenced by this experience of the common people, your day-by-day Catholic who lives from Church feast to Church feast and experiences their faith [in this way],” he said, adding that this approach has “completely impregnated his preaching and his vision of how to live our faith.”


Pope Francis sends condolences for death of controversial German cardinal

Vatican City, Mar 12, 2018 / 12:58 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday Pope Francis sent condolences for the death of Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the retired archbishop of Mainz, Germany, who died March 11.  

Expressing his condolences for the death of the prominent cardinal in a letter to Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz March 12, Francis said he learned of Cardinal Lehmann’s death “with pain,” and is praying for him “who the Lord has called to himself after a serious illness and suffering.”

Cardinal Lehmann, who served as the bishop of Mainz for nearly 33 years, died in his home on the morning of March 11 at the age of 81. He retired in 2016, and in September 2017 suffered a stroke which left his health in serious decline.

His funeral Mass will take place March 21 at the Mainz Cathedral.

Cardinal Lehmann served as president of the German bishops’ conference for 20 years. Pope Francis said that in this long period of activity he “helped shape the life of the Church and of society.”

“He always had a heart open to the questions and challenges of the times, and to offering answers and orientations starting from the message of Christ, to accompany people along their path, seeking what unites…” he continued.

Lehmann was born on May 16, 1936 and ordained a priest for the diocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany in 1963. He was appointed bishop of Mainz in 1983 and served until his retirement in 2016. He was made a cardinal by St. Pope John Paul II in 2001.

While bishop of Mainz, he became a member of the circle for dialogue between representatives of the German bishops’ conference and the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany.

From March 1986-1988 he also became a member, and later president, of the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue between the World Lutheran Federation and the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

Lehmann was at the center of numerous controversies involving the Vatican.

During his tenure as president of the German bishops’ conference he clashed with Pope John Paul II over abortion. After years of political conflict, first-trimester abortion became permissible in Germany in 1995, as long as a woman received counseling first from a state-approved counselor.

Lehmann supported the Church's participation in that counseling through church counseling centers, despite objections from Pope John Paul II. In 1998, the pope banned the Church’s participation in the state’s counseling system.

In 1993, Lehmann was also one of three German bishops, alongside Walter Kasper and Oskar Saier, who issued a pastoral letter arguing that there should be room to allow divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive communion “in particular situations.”

The bishops also proposed that the decision to receive the Eucharist should be left to the individual's judgment, in discussion with a priest.

Following the promulgation of the letter, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, called the bishops to attend a series of meetings at the Vatican.

The CDF also issued a corrective letter in October 1994, reaffirming Church teaching that the divorced-and-civilly-remarried may not receive Holy Communion “as long as this situation persists,” unless the couple decides to live in continence.

In  2015 Lehmann was identified as having belonged to a group of progressive reformer cardinals, who are said to promoted alternative candidates at the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, and are rumored to have promoted the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis.   

It was dubbed the “St. Gallen Group,” after the host of their discussions, the Bishop of St. Gallen, Switzerland, Ivo Furer.

The group is said to have also included Cardinals Godfried Danneels, Walter Kasper, Ad van Luyn, and Achille Silvestrini, as well as the now-deceased Cardinals Basil Hume, Jose da Cruz Policarpo, Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Carlo Martini, and Lubomyr Husar.  

It met primarily between 1995 and 2006, discussing various topics, including papal primacy.

The group's meetings were first revealed in an authorized biography of Cardinal Danneels. At the book's launch in Brussels in Sept. 2015, Danneels said the group called themselves “the mafia.”

In 2005 Lehmann participated in the papal conclave that elected Benedict XVI, and in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.