A landmark in the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI

On Tuesday, publishers around the world released the first-ever book based on a face-to-face interview with a pontiff. The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano printed the first extracts days earlier, generating what one commentator called “the world’s most successful pre-book launch hype”.

That hype, of course, focused on Benedict XVI’s remarks about Aids and condoms. But there is so much else besides in Light of the World. The interview by the veteran German journalist Peter Seewald offers arguably the most intimate portrait of a serving pope in history. The figure that emerges is compelling: Pope Benedict possesses an all too rare combination of humble faith and sparkling intellect, which enlivens even the most commonplace topics. He also displays a bracing realism about the challenges facing the Church, both from within and without.

We want, in particular, to draw your attention to the Pope’s words on the abuse crisis. We hope that these will help the faithful who watched in dismay when, as the Holy Father puts it, “a tremendous cloud of filth” descended on the Church earlier this year.

Benedict XVI’s comments about condoms have disappointed some Catholics and elated others. We believe that, correctly understood, they should be welcomed. The Pope was not, of course, altering Catholic teaching on contraception or setting aside the Church’s conviction that condoms are not a moral solution to the Aids crisis.

Nevertheless, as the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said, Pope Benedict was making an important and original contribution to the debate about what the Church should say to those with HIV whose sexual activity exposes others to mortal risk. In speaking of a “first step in the direction of a moralisation” of sexuality the Holy Father is offering us a new language with which to explain how Church teaching applies to such cases. We encourage everyone to reflect deeply on the Pope’s precise words and to recognise that Benedict XVI is seeking, above all, to show those who are living far beyond the Church the path that leads to God.

No one who reads Light of the World will be left in any doubt about the Pope’s top priority: to make God known to everyone alive today. This book is an important landmark in that mission.