London, UK: The well-known and much respected auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, Athanasius Schneider, has given a wide-ranging and hard-hitting interview during his week-long tour of England this past week.
Bishop Schneider spoke exclusively to me, taking on a number of controversial issues, including evangelization in relation to Jews and Muslims, the Pope’s recent comment on the Zika virus and contraception, Freemasonry within the hierarchy, and opening up about why refuses to let fear stop him from teaching all the truths of the Catholic Faith.
Bishop Schneider’s week-long trip, organised by the founder and editor of Ireland’s Catholic Voice newspaper, Anthony Murphy, included several Holy Masses, clergy retreats and talks at the Shrine of St Augustine in Ramsgate, and the thriving shrines entrusted to the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in New Brighton, and the Fraternity of St. Peter in Warrington. The bishop also stopped off at the Oxford Oratory.
The following is a transcript of our interview.
Daniel Blackman: You’ve been to England several times now. What do you like about coming here, and what’s distinct about the Catholics you meet here?
Bishop Athanasius Schneider: It is wonderful to meet the young clergy, and laity, including young people, it is encouraging for me, I think they are continuing to hand over the noble traditions of the English Catholics which were known throughout the whole world. They were persecuted, and gave up their lives for the Catholic faith.
So I think the situation today in the Church with this deep crisis, is met with good Catholic lay people and priests, especially here in England, as in those times of martyrs, confessors, and priests too, it is encouraging that English Catholics are faithful to their noble Catholic heritage.
DB: Tell me about your prayer life? What devotions are special to you?
BAS: Since my youth I have had a deep devotion to the holy Eucharist, especial adoration of Eucharist. I do it every day if I can. I consider it indispensable for the life of the Catholic priest. Of course we have the Holy Mass, which is the greatest thing each day, so I prepare very well, and we pray the breviary. Every priest, when possible, has to strive to make adoration every day. To be in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, to keep with him this intimate dialogue, it is a need, I like it.
DB: Within the Church there is a long history of Jewish converts to the Faith – Alphonse Ratisbonne, St Edith stein, WWII Chief Rabbi of Rome Eugenio Zolli, and more recently former Orthodox rabbi Jean-Marie Eli Satbon. Yet a recent document from the Commission for Interreligious Relations with the Jews, says the Church has no formal organised mission to convert the Jews (par 40-49). Is that now true? Is this a correction of previous teaching and practice?
BAS: This is truly wrong. It contradicts the words of Our Lord who said “Go and teach all people,” he did not say “all people except the Jewish people,” he said all nations, and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that If you don’t believe in me you won’t have life. He told this to the Jews also, and he continues to say this to the Jews of our days. They too need to be obedient to God’s covenant which Jesus instituted. Therefore the apostles preached to the Jews in the synagogue.
For 2000 years the Church has always prayed for the conversion of the Jews. This is an act of mercy and love. The church invites and encouraged the Jews to come to Christ. There were converts, even saints who were Jewish converts. Alphonse Ratisbonne founded a religious congregation to evangelize the Jewish people. So it is for me ever valid, and no Church document can invalidate this because it contradicts the words of Our Lord, it contradicts the Apostles, and all the unchangeable and permanent words of the Church for over 2000 years.
DB: This document has come from within the Church, from an official body in the Vatican, how is it possible?
BAS: This is very sad. This document has no infallible value and has no intention of being infallible, it is not an authentic expression of the Magisterium. There were in the history of the Church some documents of a pastoral character that had a temporal nature and contained errors, and this document contains errors. What is not infallible can be erroneous. I repeat, the Church has always taught only those statements which are taught ex Cathedra or taught by the Universal Magisterium – pope and bishops teaching for a long time, many centuries. The mentioned document however contains a new doctrine, an opinion, a theory.
DB: The English & Welsh and German bishops’ conferences have called for traditional rite Good Friday prayer for the Jews to be changed, to bring it into line with current inter-religious practice with the Jews. Would this be a good thing? Is there something wrong with the current prayer?
BAS: I don’t know what they want, but we have to see the truth. It’s against the charity and love against the Jews. When I love them I want them to know and love Jesus that they may be washed and cleansed by the most precious blood of Jesus, and know the most Holy Trinity. Therefore I have to pray for their conversion. I am questioning it, the German and English bishops, they are not the totality of the bishops. There are surely, I know bishops, who do not agree with this. I do not consider this opinion correct, it is invasive. It’s the administrative nomenclature which claims to represent all the bishops of a nation. This method of functioning of the bishops conference is itself very problematic, it is acting against the divine structure of the Church.
DB: You live in a country that is about 70% Muslim. What is your experience of living in a Muslim majority country? Is there cooperation or conflict? Do Muslims become Catholics?
BAS: Thanks be to God there is peace and harmony, the people are very tolerant, and there is no hostility. There has not been extremism in the mentality and culture of the people, and the government is very active in supporting inter-religious dialogue. They are very vigilant to avoid, and even expel from the country, those who are extremist.
The government organises meetings to share common values for society, there is nothing theological about these meetings, but only to make a contribution to improve the social life of the people, which I consider very positive. For example, in this current world-wide gender ideology which is now imposed on a world wide scale with dictatorial methods, thanks be to God, the Muslims share the same view on this issue. Together we condemn the gender agenda, and influences that are against the family.
DB: Does the Catholic Church have a mission to Muslims?
BAS: It is also our duty yes, they are redeemed by Christ, and they have to know Christ the same as the Jews do. But of course it is difficult to evangelise the Muslims in Islamic countries. It is very dangerous. But at least we can give, in those countries, our witness and presence. I have experiences of people with a Muslim background who start to seek Christ and ask for the truth, so I have witnessed conversion among my personal contacts. Since we have liberty and freedom, and since we are not yet in Islamic majority countries in Europe, not yet I say, as it can come, but since not yet, we can use and should use the mission to our Islamic neighbours, not proselytism which is not morally correct, but to evangelise.
DB: Europe has suffered several Islamic terrorist attacks –Paris, serious concerns in Belgium, and also the Middle East, parts of Africa, and Pakistan, among others. Why is this happening?
BAS: Well I don’t’ know exactly how ISIS arose, but we can see that it would be impossible for ISIS to have so many weapons and arms if they were not financed and supported by someone strong. They are doing business in arms on such a scale that it is not possible without a powerful state who gives, maybe through intermediaries, the finance and weapons they need.
Another point I would like to make is this – the international community – US, NATO – have enough power to finish off ISIS, and they could have done it in the beginning. They have good, very good, secret services that already knew about the rise of ISIS, but they have done nothing. The EU, NATO, USA, have done nothing, yet they had the knowledge. They did not prevent ISIS. They have enough power, yet they allowed the ISIS terrorist movement.
DB: Why do you think that might be?
BAS: I don’t know their intentions, the intentions of the powerful of our world, the Western states. I don’t know why they didn’t prevent it. You can say that indirectly, they supported it. It could be that they have political aims. Through ISIS, they have programmed to bring about the invasion of many Muslim people to Europe, to bring about a destabilization, even in the heart of Europe, not just the Middle East. Such a huge presence of people from another culture, with a more radical view of Islamic religion, will cause conflicts, with time, and tensions with the local population. It is and will cause a general instability and confusion. Maybe someone who is powerful would like to use this instability for a purpose.
DB: The Church has a long history, over a number of centuries, of denouncing Freemasonry. However, the new code of canon law has removed any reference to masonry, and we no long longer see documents or hear anything from Church leaders about this. It can give the impression Masonry is no longer a danger. The Masonic lodges have also warmly welcomed Pope Francis.
BAS: Freemasonry is in itself intrinsically not compatible with Christian or Catholic faith, it is intrinsically not compatible, because the nature of freemasonry is anti-Christian. They deny Christ, and they deny the objective truths, they promote relativism, which is contrary to the truth, to the Gospel. So they promote the doctrinal errors of the Masonic philosophy. This is incompatible with Christian and Catholic faith.
Freemasonry has also an esoteric aspect, which is not Christian. They have rituals and ceremonies which are esoteric, which they openly admit, and such ceremonials are contrary to the faith. Their symbols and rituals demonstrate that they are against the divine truths in the Gospel – these things transmit show that Freemasonry is another religion. I repeat, freemasonry is another religion, it is an anti-Christ religion.
Even when they do good works, philanthropy and so forth, these dangerous things remain. Their philanthropy is not a justification that we can accept freemasonry, just because of their good philanthropic work. I will never recognise their doctrines and rituals which are against the Divine truths of the Gospel. The Church can never accept this. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1983 declaration on freemasonry is still valid. According to this Declaration it is a mortal sin to become a freemason – even pope Francis has not changed this law. This teaching is official and still valid.
DB: Masonic websites and publications regularly speak favorably about Pope Francis. Recently, Why do they welcome Pope Francis?
BAS: Well, they have to tell us, concretely. It is not a clear sign what they want to do with their affirmations, what their intentions are.
DB: In 2013 on his return flight from Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis made reference to a Masonic lobby. Recently, Cardinal Ravasi, in the Italian paper Il Sole 24 Ore, called for new dialogue and shared values with Freemasonry. Has Masonry won in the Church?
BAS: Of course we know that Freemasonry is one of the most powerful influences at all levels of human society. This is manifest and clear. Theoretically, when one is a supporter, a leader in a very influential anti-Christian organisation, there is the tendency to infiltrate the organisation which is your enemy, it is very logical. So it is logical, over many centuries, that they would have tried and probably succeeded to infiltrate themselves into various levels of the Church – this is clear to me.
It is difficult to demonstrate concretely, to identify, who is a member. It is very difficult and dangerous, because someone may be accused of being a member, then it is proved the person is not a formally a member. It’s because of the secrecy and esotericism of Freemasonry that makes it very difficult.
One can assume that a cleric, a priest, bishop, or cardinal, has some connections with the masons by his speech. We hear clerics speaking like Freemasons, clearly, when they open their mouths, they use terms and concepts that are typically masonic. He could be a member, but you have to prove it, but at least when he speaks he has the spirit of the Freemason, maybe he is not a formal member, but some bishops and cardinals speak clearly with a Masonic spirit. I stress this does not mean they are formally members of the Freemasons.
DB: Pope Francis has just met the Orthodox Patriarch of Russia. What is your view about the meeting? Will it bring about unity with Rome, or lead to a synodal Church which allows Holy Communion for the remarried?
BAS: Firstly, the meeting itself is a cause for joy, that it took place, because the Orthodox are a strong Church with beautiful and authentic traditions, images, devotion to Our Lady, angels, devout liturgies, Holy Mass celebrating in a beautiful manner, penance, fasting, monastic traditions, they have so many true Catholic values they have kept.
It seems to me that this meeting was conditioned politically, it was very quickly made, more politically motivated. And, I don’t think that this meeting will have an impact on the Church becoming synodal, or make it easy for the divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion as they allow in the Orthodox Church.
I agree with the strong statements of the pope and patriarch on the family, and against gender ideology, and against persecution of the Christians, but what I don’t agree with is the statement on the Uniates. This is an injustice, because the Uniates wanted to be united to the pope in the past, since the Council of Florence in the 15th century. It was very positive with many fruits – saints, martyrs, so we can’t say it was wrong.
Also, the statement on proselytism, it was an accusation against the Catholic Church. I am living in an orthodox area and the Church does not do proselytism – this statement was unjust. And so I think the Holy See has ceded to the pressure of the patriarch. It seems the Orthodox dictated some points to accept, and this is against truth and against justice, such a dialogue is not a real ecumenical dialogue. Dialogue has to be fraternal, equal on the human level, so all these compromises, which harm truth and justice will not bear fruits for real unity.
DB: Pope Francis has again given a press interview on the plane back from Cuba. He made a comment on the Zika virus and using contraception. He cited the case of the Congo nuns, and discernment. Fr Lombardi SJ has clarified the pope’s comment. The bishops of the Philippines publicly called for a review of Church teaching in this area. Is this really a debate the Church needs to address, or manoeuvres by people inside and outside the Church who want the teaching on contraception changed?
BAS: This is part of an agenda, clearly, to change the truths of the Church in morality, in the topic of contraception. It is all a plan, a great pressure, and an agenda in the sphere in contraception. In the Church in our days there is the danger of a practical admittance of divorce and reception of Holy Communion, it is a practical denial of the indissolubility of marriage.
DB: Are you speaking about the reformed annulment process?
BAS: Yes, also the reformed process of annulment of marriage, for me, contains a danger of banalisation and superficiality in the process itself; it contains in itself, in the new norms, a danger of an attack against the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage. When you treat a holy thing in a superficial and quick manner, banal manner, it is irresponsible. Theoretically, the new norms are now contrary to the perennial practice of the Church, because in the process there was always the presumption of the validity of the marriage, this was always presumed, because of the defense of the sanctity of the sacrament. The new norms however presume the invalidity of the marriage from the start. This is a dangerous change in mentality.
It is the spirit of the world attacking, and so too with contraception. The truths of the church are unchangeable and will remain so. Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II in Vertatis Splendor and Familaris Consortio have taught that contraception is in itself always intrinsically evil. There are no circumstances and no exceptions that justify an intrinsically evil act. Popes Paul VI and John Paul II confirmed this.
DB: You speak out a lot on important issues, giving the faithful clear and true Catholic teaching. Aren’t you concerned attacks will come? You seem to be setting yourself up to be a target – bishops can be moved, media attacks are launched, reputations destroyed.
BAS: I have no fears and no concerns, about possible transfers or attacks, because the sense of my life and all my ambition is the truths of Christ and to be faithful to God, and to be acknowledged by God, not by bishops, mass media, and even not by the pope, but first by my conscience and by my vows I gave to Christ in Baptism and Episcopal consecration, to keep the truth pure and integral, and even to be ready to give my life for it. This is my desire and my aim, I don’t worry what people will say. It is ridiculous to fear human opinion because tomorrow it changes. I have to be concerned with what God thinks. People pass away very quickly, God’s opinion remains, so I am concerned to please God first.
I am an auxiliary bishop in a diocese, I am happy, and when the pope will transfer me, he shall do this and I shall obey, and I shall carry in every place the desire to defend the truth.
DB: Charity is the greatest virtue. What acts of charity, spiritual and corporal, are most needed today for Christians to practice?
BAS: First, in the hierarchy of values, what is most important is what is eternal and immortal, and this is the soul, eternal values, and eternal l life. Therefore those acts of charity which aim to transmit the eternal life to my neighbor and transmit to him everlasting values, to help him save his soul, these acts are more necessary. Of course we have at the same time to help immediately a person in need, hungry and so on, to help is very natural, it has to be done. But as Catholics we are not only thinking about giving food and clothes, but we have to give also the light of the Faith, we must not to forget it. This is true, authentic love for neighbor. Love God first, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
God asks us to love Him with all our mind, power, heart; He reserved this for himself. Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves, and to love others as He loved us. So, we have to love with the love of Christ. He came to us to save our souls, not firstly or only our body, but our souls, and to give us His divine truth. He shed His blood for the salvation of our souls.
So we have to love each other as Christ loves us. Our main task then, is to love God, prefer God and His truth even in our temporal lives, ready to be martyrs for Christ, and love others as we love ourselves and as Christ loved us – sacrificing ourselves for the good of others.
DB: Your Excellency, thank you for your time.
BAS: May God bless you and your noble work for the Catholic Truth. In Jesus and Mary.