Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Vatican family czar says pro-life,peace and justice work a package deal

John L Allen,Jr.
National Catholic Reporter
March 27, 2013

When a brief mini-tempest broke out a few days ago over whether Pope Francis had, or had not, once signaled openness to civil registration of same-sex unions in Argentina, nobody in the Vatican was probably in a better position to appreciate where it might lead than Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

(Various media outlets reported that as Argentina was gearing up for a national debate over same-sex marriage in 2010, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had floated the idea of civil unions as an alternative. That claim has been denied by Miguel Woites, director of a Catholic news agency in Argentina.)

In his own way, Paglia had been down this road before.

Last February, just a week before Benedict XVI's resignation announcement, Paglia said during a Vatican news conference that while the church is opposed to anything that treats other unions as equivalent to marriage between a man and a woman, it could accept "private law solutions" for protecting people's rights.

In some quarters the line was styled as undercutting bishops in both France and the United States fighting off proposals for gay marriage, which he insisted he had no intention of doing. It was an experience Paglia would later look back on as an example of how seemingly innocent comments can be "derailed" in the context of fierce political tensions.

Paglia, 67, took over as the Vatican's family czar in June 2012. He comes out of the Community of Sant'Egidio, which is conventionally seen as center-left in the terms of Italian politics, and he's also the official responsible for the sainthood cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, a hero to the church's peace-and-justice wing. At first blush, that might seem a counterintuitive profile for the head of a Vatican department long been seen as the Vatican's "tip of the spear" for fighting the Western culture wars.

Paglia, however, sees his various commitments as part of the same deep passion for humanity.

"All these efforts – to defend the poor, to defend those on death row, to defend human life at its earliest stages – are applications of the same principle, which is the defense of humanity," he said.

One of his hopes is to reintroduce Catholic teaching on the family in a positive key, so that the emphasis falls more on what the church supports than what it opposes.


Pagila sat down for an interview with NCR on Feb. 9, and again on March 21 to bring things up to date with the election of Pope Francis. The interviews were in Italian; the following is an English translation of the combined text.

What's your first impression of Pope Francis?

My first impression is that of a man of God, a pope that not just the church but the whole world needed. Throughout history, the church has always had to reposition itself based on the times and the situations it faced. I believe that today, after the first decade of this new century and new millennium, Pope Francis can lead the church back to its role as the spiritual guide of the world, of all humanity.

Everywhere today, there's an extreme need for paternity, for a point of reference. The French psychoanalyst [Jacques] Lacan has spoken of our epoch as a time of the 'evaporation of the father.' More than ever today, there's a deep need for a paternal presence, and Pope Francis is that father figure.


Before and after the conclave, people have been talking about a reform of the Roman Curia. What kind of reform do you think we can expect from Pope Francis?

I'm convinced that a reform of the structures of governance here is indispensable. There's no doubt about it. At the same time, we don't need Swiss watches! Structures are not the real movers of history. The lack of a curia that runs like a Swiss watch isn't our biggest problem. The real challenge is to grasp who we're working for … is it for ourselves, or for others? This Pope certainly will lead a reform of the curia, but what's more important is to shape a curia that works for others, that leads the church to be ferment for the whole world, a church that assumes its responsibility for creation and respect for life, a church that helps all peoples rediscover the value of fraternity.

We need to get past a self-referential church, or a church that's on the defensive. We need a church that places itself at the service of others, and not in a feeble or weak fashion. The Pope has spoken of power, but a power that expresses itself in service. It's the power of stopping the car in front of a disabled sick man rather than in front of the powerful VIPs. That's a kind of power in itself, having the courage to say to the driver, 'We're stopping here: There's a weak person to help and to comfort.' It's what the Good Samaritan did in the Gospel parable. In sum, it's the power of staying in the street.


In the West, we live in a hyper-ideological culture in which defense of the family is typically seen as a right-wing concern. Does that bother you?

Yes, it bothers me, because the left needs the family too.


Speaking of private law, you recently created a small media frenzy by suggesting that nations could find "private law solutions" to protect the rights of unmarried couples, potentially including gays and lesbians. In some quarters, that was seen as softening the Vatican's line on gay marriage at a time when bishops in various countries are trying to resist a push for it. Did you learn anything from that episode?

Yes, that I have to be more careful in how I talk about these things, and more aware that words can be derailed. You may think they're going to take you to the station, but in reality they can carry you to the edge of a cliff! But to make clear to you what I actually meant at the time, I proposed what the church has maintained: it is a matter of [protecting] individual rights. Facing the explosion in various forms of living together today, I simply called on states to find solutions which help people and avoid abuses.

Among those who pay attention to church affairs, the Pontifical Council for the Family is usually seen as the Vatican's 'tip of the spear' for fighting the culture wars. Is that the reputation you want for it?

I hope our vision is bigger. The Jewish philosopher Hans Jonas wrote a small book several decades ago called The Edge of the Abyss, in which he talked about ecology. Well before it was fashionable, he criticized the absence of sound choices on the subject. He said that states, governments and individuals were continuing to do what they'd always done, without realizing that they stood on the edge of an abyss. The same thing is true of the nuclear age. For the first time in human history, we have the capacity to utterly destroy the planet. Today, I would say we also face an anthropological abyss, in which some so-called philosophers think that human beings are entirely constructible by themselves, in a manner that's total and absolute. Nature is irrelevant, all that matters is culture. When they say 'culture,' of course, they mean the culture of the 'I'.


Finally, let me ask a question on a different subject. In addition to your position at the Council for the Family, will you also continue to serve as the postulator for the sainthood cause of Oscar Romero?

No doubt, and with great enthusiasm.

Where do things stand?

I believe that the beatification of Padre Puglisi as a 'martyr of the mafia' opens some interesting lines of reflection. [Fr. Giuseppe "Pino" Puglisi was an anti-mafia priest in Sicily murdered in 1993 and set to be beatified May 25.]

John Paul II once said, 'Romero is of the Church.' Romero is an example of a pastor who gave his life for others. Beyond any canonical problems in terms of whether he died directly in odium fidei ["hatred of the faith"], Romero continues to be a point of reference for millions and millions of people, believers and non-believers alike. I was moved, and it made a deep impression on me, when a President of the United States, in this case Obama, stood before the tomb of Oscar Romero, made the sign of the cross and bowed. He did well, because that symbolism was more powerful than any speech.

Full article at National Catholic Reporter

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