One of the major stories of international Catholic news this past week was the lengthy TV interview of Pope Benedict XVI -- broadcast last Sunday evening on German and Italian state television. (In Canada, the interview also aired on our Salt and Light Catholic Television network and will be rebroadcast over the next few weeks. See our website saltandlighttv.org for details).
The unique 38-minute encounter with the Pope had been taped Aug. 5 with four German reporters in the Pope's library at his summer villa outside of Rome, in advance of his scheduled visit to his native Bavaria next month.
Popes are not known for television interviews or free-flowing question and answer sessions, and the normally shy Benedict continues to surprise people with his clear, candid and warm approach to the media and the world.
He was asked about the tragic situation in Lebanon. The Pope said everyone has to realize that "war is the worst solution for all sides" and warned of the danger of the emigration of Christians from the region.
Asked why, during a recent visit to Spain, he didn't specifically address hot-button issues like gay marriage or abortion, the Pope said he wanted to present a positive message and not overemphasize the negative.
"Christianity, Catholicism, isn't a collection of prohibitions: It's a positive option," he said. "We've heard so much about what is not allowed that now it's time to say: We have a positive idea to offer, that man and woman are made for each other," and that marriage develops as a "joyful and blessing-filled encounter between a man and a woman."
When the church does oppose social or political developments, he said, it should "say it first in a positive way."
The Pope also stated the church's basic challenge in modern society is to try to bridge the gap between technological progress and morality. "If we only teach how to build and to use machines and how to use contraceptives, then we shouldn't be surprised when we find ourselves facing wars and AIDS epidemics," he said. "Because we need two dimensions: Simultaneously we need the formation of the heart."
In the battle against AIDS and other social ills, the Pope suggested that the church's role is misrepresented or misunderstood as negative. "We offer treatment, treatment to AIDS victims too, and we offer education, helping to establish good relationships with others. So I think we should correct that image that sees the church as spreading severe 'nos,'" he said.
He also stressed that women have always had an important role in the church, but said the faith does not allow their ordination as priests. While noting that women today carry out important functions at the Vatican, he said: "I believe that women themselves, with their energy and strength, with their predominance as it were, with their 'spiritual power,' will know how to make their own space."
The former German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 79, also revealed some personal insights into the burdens of walking in the shoes of the fisherman. "It really is tiring," he said of his daily schedule. But he said he enjoyed his continual encounters with bishops, politicians and other personalities. Despite having to live behind the Vatican walls, he said, "to tell the truth, I'm not that lonely."
Finally, "Papa Ratzi" (as he is being called in Italy and several other parts) ended with a note about humour in the life of a Pope. "I'm not a man who constantly thinks up jokes. But I think it's very important to be able to see the funny side of life and its joyful dimension and not to take everything too tragically. I'd also say it's necessary for my ministry."