Andrea Riccardi is the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, an influential lay association active in more than 70 countries. He has been a history professor for many decades and served as minister for international cooperation without portfolio in Italy’s Monti Cabinet (2011-2013). In 2017 it was rumoured that Pope Francis planned to name him a cardinal, despite the fact that he is a layman – a sign of the high esteem in which he is held by the Vatican.
PAOLO GAMBI What is happening in the Catholic Church today?
Andrea Riccardi I think there is bewilderment among Catholics. This is not just a Catholic phenomenon but an aspect of the general bewilderment of women and men within the revolution of the globalised world. After all, in the last 20 years the cold winds of globalisation have arrived, together with communications, connections, the “digital man”, migrants and, above all, uncertainties. The world no longer has the order of the past – not even the worrying order of the Cold War.
Bewilderment is a European disease, because Europe is unable to shake the flavour of decline out of it, flopping around like a fish in search of water. Europe has become a periphery. A comfortable, rich periphery in big games. Catholic bewilderment is a chapter in this great bewilderment of man.
Have secular ideologies entered the Church?
AR Secular ideologies were absorbed into the Catholic world strongly after the Second World War up to 1989. It happened with Marxism, the socialist movement in Latin America and Europe, in Africa. Is it possible that at their end ideologies have found refuge in the Church, almost hibernated in a refrigerator? I think it is not. I think instead that our mind is very ideological, too ideological, and we read the things of the Church as related to ideology even if they are not.
I want to allude to the choice of the poor of Pope Francis: we find ourselves in a great Christian current of the centrality of the poor, which starts from the Gospel of Matthew, a meaning of life, a consideration of life and its values, of the family and of marriage.
I believe that the Catholicism of Pope Francis, with difficulty but also with creativity, is looking for a new synthesis, a new vision in which the new is linked to the old. Unfortunately we are in a time of scarce visions, so if only one tree remains, lightning goes on that tree.
What is your analysis of paedophilia scandals?
AR It is a very serious matter, above all because, as the Pope said, it touched children and young people who were entrusted to the Church. This has reduced confidence in the clergy and in a sense has weakened the clergy itself in its action. It is an element that is perhaps also behind the resignation of Pope Benedict, or at least behind the difficulties of his pontificate, even if he had addressed this issue in a very precise way since he was prefect [of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith].
What do you think about the perception of financial scandals?
AR Bad financial management – to which I would add the difficulties related to the functioning of the Vatican system – should be seen in a new framework: the Vatican has changed a lot. It is now an international organisation and often there is no common vocabulary in judging situations. There is a communication problem, a vocabulary problem. The Church is humanity. Before, it was one world. Today, there is a great complexity. There is the problem of what central administration of the Church means. Pope Francis’s reform is a beginning, and I believe we must immerse the Vatican again in the Church of Rome, of which the Pope is the bishop. The Vatican is not the UN headquarters in New York.
How is the Catholic Church perceived by the international community?
AR The international community has become aware of the difficulties and some have tried to take advantage of the crisis, but in this world the Holy See remains a solid reference, as can be seen from the fact that the Holy Father is much sought-after and visited.
Will there be a schism? Or has it already occurred, as some say?
AR No. There may be some silent “little schism”. Schism is a big thing, as between East and West. At most there may be Petite Églises, like after the French Revolution, or like the Old Catholics. Perhaps [Archbishop Marcel] Lefebvre’s is more interesting because they were the outer wing of something that remains in the body of the Church.
What would you say to those Catholics who have a conservative inclination?
AR I would say not to be afraid. First of all, we Catholics trust the Pope, whoever he is. There are popes that we feel are very close to our sensibility, others less close. But the beauty of Catholicism is to tune in with the Pope. This makes us more traditional and more contemporary together. Otherwise you risk crystallisation. I am frightened by those progressives of the past who crystallise in their positions and find themselves conservatives. I believe we should trust the Pope and walk with him. There may be an impression of confusion in the Church even for the freedom of debate. And let’s not forget that we are in the era of social media, of communicative hyper-subjectivism, which is a disease also of Catholics. I think that the great figure of Newman tells us a lot in this sense: fidelity to the Pope, to tradition, fidelity to the English culture, and also to the English ecclesial tradition. He knew how to work out a synthesis that still remains admirable and therefore marked by holiness. Not an airy, heroic, impossible sanctity for us poor everyday Christians; it is a very British sanctity, linked to daily life, to contemporaneity, to culture.
What would you say to those who prefer the Old Mass?
AR I received my First Communion in the Old Mass. As a boy I served Latin Mass in my parish, I knew the beauty of the Latin liturgy, its solemnity, the Gregorian chants,
I don’t reject all this. Then I experienced the discovery of the post-conciliar Mass of Paul VI as he introduced it, even with its uncertainties, with its downgrades, but with the joy of hearing my own language resound. I am not afraid of the multiplicity of rites – in Italy we also have the Ambrosian Rite and I do not know, for example, if it was a good idea for Pius IX to abolish the Gallican rites. But the multiplicity of rituals exalts the unity of the Church. It is not a path to sectarianism.
You have recently dealt with the phenomenon that you call “national Catholicism”. What do you mean by the term?
AR I note that in many countries on the fringes of the Catholic world there arises a demand for a “national Catholicism” which should preside over national identity. This is strange, because it happens in very secular countries, as in Hungary, but also in Italy, Spain or Brazil. This demand for “national Catholicism” reminds me of the Action Française of Charles Maurras, condemned by Pius XI: to be more Catholic and nationalist, less Christian and universalist. All the popes reminded us that Catholicism is universalism and have warned us against the temptation of a nationalism that imprisons the Church, even if they have recognised the value of the nation. [Karol] Wojtyła almost wrote a theology of the nation, but in the family of nations, and he persuaded Poles that the Polish nation should enter the European Union, even though the bishops did not want to. Francis, on this theme, is not such an innovator, as he is not about migrants. Pius XII wrote on the same subject in [the 1952 apostolic constitution] Exsul Familia, but in a more radical way. The historian sees things in continuity and many times what is new is not as new as we believe, even if the historical moment changes.
What is your vision of the future of Catholicism?
AR When I see our chaotic times I say that if the Catholic Church didn’t exist, we would have to invent it! It speaks of unity, of peace. It gives us peace in this anxiety-inducing world.
Paolo Gambi is a contributing editor of the Catholic Herald
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