Editor’s note: The following interview with Professor Roberto de Mattei was originally conducted by Hungarian journalists Norbert Filemon and Péter Heltai. Though it has already appeared in the Hungarian press, it has been made available to us through the graciousness of the interviewers to share here for the first time with the English-speaking world. We would like to thank Mr. Filemon and Mr. Heltai for their generosity in providing us with the use of this important discussion on matters of concern to all Catholics.
Filemon and Heltai: We’re here in Rome next to Cardinal Peter Erdő’s titular church. Have you ever been to Hungary, have you got any Hungarian connections?
Roberto de Mattei: I have only been there once, and I could only stay for a few days. As a historian I appreciate all the countries that lived under the Soviet oppression. Hungary stands out because Hungarians were brave enough to rebel against the dictatorship. Cardinal Mindszenty, who is a hero of the Catholic resistance in the 20th century, is particularly close to me.
F&H: At the end of March in your speech at Cosmos Club in Washington, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the apparitions of Fatima, you drew attention to three other anniversaries that define our present: 1517, 1717, 1917. How are these numbers related to each other?
RM: In my opinion insofar as the history of ideas is concerned these three dates are related and it points out how deep political, cultural and religious crisis we live in. It is very important to understand the roots of this crisis, because our present is the result of a long process. All this started in Italy with humanism, then continued with the protestant revolution in German territories up to Luther. Then came the French Revolution, and finally the Bolshevik takeover in Russia. 1717 may be striking because it is not the French Revolution but the foundation of the first masonic lodge. There is a close relationship between the spread of the masons and the revolutionary events. It is a common denominator of the movements connected to these dates that their aim was to destroy the united Christian world.
F&H: These “attempts” clearly failed. How do we arrive at the present?
RM: In the 21st century there is a new wind is blowing: instead of construction there is destruction. Instead of (re)building there is demolition. This is the immediate target of today’s revolutionaries. What I say is easily understood in the context of Communism. The Communist ideology has two sides: on one hand there is a (not good, but) positive notion about an equal society without classes. On the other hand, there is this destructive aspect that wants to destroy Christianity and its base, family, property, state, and religion itself, in order to achieve the previous idea. This nihilism is the essence of the new left. The failures of the 20th century, namely the utopian visions brought only death and wars, have completely killed the constructivist approach — chaos and demolitions remained, and they hope something new may be born from that.
F&H: Let’s talk a bit more about those dates. 1517. This year many people remember the Reformation that started 500 years ago. The Catholic Church has changed a lot in the 20th century and has started and is trying to maintain dialogue with the other Churches ever since. What do you think, is this process successful? What may be the future of the ecumenism?
RM: I don’t think it has a future. The root of the problem is that there is not a unified protestant belief system, whereas the Catholic Church has one which has not been changed for 2000 years. One of the essential characteristics of the Catholic faith is that it is permanent. The protestant reformation is the opposite. After Luther came Zwingli, then Calvin, after that the Anabaptists, and they were followed by thousands of groups since then. The history of the Protestantism is the history of changes. The French bishop, an excellent theologian, Bossuet already wrote a book with this title in the 17th century: The History of the variations of the protestant churches. Protestantism is similar to Islam in this respect. There is no unified Islam, either. There is no coherent teaching, there are only groups and religious trends. The only correct dialogue with protestants, just like with Orthodoxy or Islam, should be continued along the lines of the embodiment of unity, the papacy. With this we arrive to another crucial topic, that today’s crisis in the Church affects the centre of unity, the papacy.
F&H: What do you mean by the crisis of the papacy and the Church? Pope Francis seems to be a popular and open Church leader who, with the courage to use social media, can effectively communicate his message to the people.
RM: There is a crisis of faith and morals in the Church. A bishop who took part in the Synod on the Family told me that serious internal issues occurred during the meetings. Normally a situation like this should always be solved by the pope. He is the head, Christ’s earthly representative whose duty is to pronounce the last word in arguments and critical situations. But now, unfortunately, it seems that the papacy carries the symptoms of the aforementioned crisis, which, of course, has other, mainly historical reasons, as well.
F&H: You mentioned the Synod on the Family. A lot has been said about the crises of the institution of the family from a lot of people and from a lot of places in the 21st century. Based on this, Pope Francis convened a synod in order to find solution to the rising questions. What is wrong with this? Is this not a quick reaction that should be welcomed?
RM: Naturally, it is not a problem if the Pope seeks a solution in calling for a synod. But with or without a synod he could have said a few clear thoughts as the Head of the Catholic Church, that could show the path for the families in the middle of the crisis. What happened since 2014 instead? Utter chaos. The Pope’s apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia that was published after the synods is an extremely ambiguous document that causes huge confusion in the Church. Based on this document German bishop Müller said that the teachings of the Church have not changed a bit, the institution of marriage is still inseparable.
F&H: Why is it the Pope’s fault if bishops arbitrarily interpret a teaching?
RM: We are not talking about the opposition of just a few bishops. Cardinal Marx is not alone with his opinion. And most importantly, ordinary believers, in the meantime, do not understand what is happening. A Polish Catholic can hear from his bishops that the remarried can not receive Holy Communion, while if he goes go to Germany, the opposite will be told to him. The Catholic teaching must not be changed, it must be unified everywhere. The Pope, being the Vicar of Christ, is the only one who can publicly decide on this debate. We are talking about fundamental issues that are sensitive to us. Francis has not given any clear guidance in the past two years. His task, among other things, is to strengthen believers in their faith and to govern the Church. Instead, we find that he is saying something in an interview, then he takes half a sentence in one of his homilies, or in specific cases, writes a private letter to bishops of a particular country. These all create confusion and controversy. It is Pope Francis’ responsibility to manifest publicly and clearly on controversial issues.
F&H: If I understand it correctly, most of the debates are on a footnote of Amoris Laetitia, which some interpret as opening a way of distributing Communion to the remarried.
RM: In a letter, which was about this document and was addressed to the Holy Father by forty-five theologians, not just a single footnote was criticized. There are even more problems with the text. If four cardinals send a so-called “dubia” to the pope, with their concerns about the writing, it is not just about a footnote. Not to mention that those four cardinals, who have publicly taken up this, are just the face of all the others who are also concerned.
F&H: Since then, no response has been received from Pope Francis. Do you see the chance of breaking the silence?
RM: Solving such issues cannot wait. Perhaps, the Pope will soon take a manifestation on it. I do not know, but I am sure it will be clarified in the coming months.
F&H: Do you know about circles of Cardinals that are considering to take steps in this case within the foreseeable future?
RM: I know many cardinals who support this dubia, but their names are not in the document. I talked with them too. It is likely that there will soon be a move.
F&H: The last year out of three is 1917 you mentioned in your speech, which marks not only the Bolshevik Revolution but also the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Fatima appearances. In this connection, you pointed out that the messages received there are significant to humanity, even though they are private revelations. What is the message of Fatima in this hundred-year perspective ?
RM: Although the Virgin Mother appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century, it has perhaps become even more clear today what she had spoken to three simple shepherd children. The core of the message was, if Russia was not going to be offered up to her Immaculate Heart, their false doctrines were going to spread out to the world that was followed by wars and persecution of the Church.
These false doctrines, though the Soviet Union collapsed, are even more raging in the world than ever, since the center of Marxism is dialectical materialism and relativism.
In this ideology, there is no stability and constancy, but evolution only. Nowadays, dictatorship of the proletariat has been replaced by the dictatorship of relativism. This is the present of western societies. So our task is to bring in the Christian counter-pole into this situation.
F&H: At first sight, it appears, in the “Western world,” this battle has finished. In political and social issues the trend or stream of relativism became the absolute dominant direction, without any particular resistance.
RM: It might be so. Unfortunately, these mistakes affected the Catholic Church itself. Otherwise, here in Europe, there’s a false impression that every bad thing comes straight from the United States. The roots of every single false ideology is to be looked for on the “Old Continent.” In 1968, when the student riots in Berkeley, as one of the centers of the insurgency, had begun in California, its ideological background actually came from the Frankfurt School! Members like Adorno and the others took Marx and the Russian example as a basis. However, it’s also interesting that the LGBT’s agenda and the gender theory originate from Germany. Of course, the United States is the most significant propagators of all of this, but the source was always Europe and Russia. Abortion was legalized first in Russia, fifty years before it happened in the US. So I don’t agree with those views which imagine the US as the source of all trouble. I don’t even know considerable theorists in the above-mentioned subject. Gramsci, unfortunately, was Italian, Marx was German, and Lenin was Russian.
F&H: The solution, if there is one, could only come from Europe?
RM: The solution could come solely from Rome, from the Catholic Church. Perhaps during the papacy of Pope Francis or not, I don’t know for sure. Formerly when I was reading about the Messages of Fatima which says Russia will spread its false doctrine, I thought it this meant geographically. Now I clearly see that we cannot talk about just political and cultural spreading. This revolutionary process infiltrated the biggest counter-pole, represented by the Catholic Church. For me, this brought much closer the reality of the Messages of Fatima. Pope Francis uses Marxist style or rhetoric in his speeches. A few days ago, regarding the attacks committed against the Coptic Christians in Egypt [in an April 14 interview – ed.] the Pope emphasized the arms trade as the first reason and source of these types of attack. He was talking about material or financial interests, however it was clearly a terrorist attack carried out on religious basis. The Pope is not Marxist, but the rhetoric he applies, the conclusions are.
The only true answer may come from Christianity.
F&H: You mentioned multiple times the religion of Islam, which is one way or another, but more and more intensively present in Europe. You have five children. What kind of future do you picture for themselves?
RM: Merely on the basis of human aspects, Europe’s future is not too bright. The demographic crisis, which we talk about a lot, is a consequence of moral crisis. We have forgotten or have thrown our very values. Cases like this are always in favour of hedonism and relativism, the “fruits” of which we can already see. Contrarily, under the heading of migration, a Muslim inrush is happening towards Europe. This silent, peaceful Islam contains more dangerous risks than its violent version, because the latter – with suicidal terror attacks – is able to arouse shocking psychological reactions in the society and awake the people.
F&H: There have been many shocking terror attacks in the past few years all around Europe.
RM: And there will be more. There are two types of Islam. The first is the “Leninist,” violent direction, which attempts to take possession of power and make possible to hold it through violence. At the same time, there is another way which uses the change of demographic composition as a tool. From the European viewpoint both of them remained unsolved and we do not have the answers.
The religion of Islam hates Christianity. For more than fifteen hundred years Europe defined itself as Christian, and it also had strife with Islam within this definition. Due to lack of this now we experience the prominence and advantage of Islam.
F&H: There are plenty of European leaders and bishops who emphasize the “Christian response” when they stand behind the receptive migrant policy.
RM: Exactly, this is the problem. This attitude that the politicians and bishops represent is wrong and neglects the aforementioned bellicose mentality which, after all, contributes to the breakdown. I’m certain that the Church is strong enough to start off the action of resisting and fighting against progressivism, and the annihilators of the faith and the Church itself. If we take our part out of it, we’ll be able to change the mentality of Europe and organize the bout against external adversaries. Nevertheless, we know that this is an exceptionally uncertain period we live in. The situation in the Middle East and concerning the international associated with it represents a real threat which could end in a war that – in that case – could change the entire situation.
F&H: We are having this conversation in Rome right now, on Good Friday. If I correctly understand you, the “Western world” is also having its Good Friday. And what about the Resurrection?
RM: Falsehood can only prevail when the truth is hiding in the shadows. For the victory of the truth, there is no need for financial resources or power of numbers, only one thing: integrity. Fidelity. The Lord is never silent and passive on our things. The source of the problem is the infidelity of the western people. We need to rely on the divine grace, as Our Lady Fatima made her promise: “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” It’s a clear and firm promise. We don’t know exactly when will this happen, one year, or ten years in the future… We cannot make a prediction on this. What I do believe is that the centenary has an important significance.
Roberto de Mattei (1948):
Professor de Mattei is an Italian Catholic historian, writer and president of Lepanto Foundation in Rome. He studied political science and history at the University of Rome. He currently teaches modern history and Christian history at the European University of Rome. He also works as an editor at the newspaper Radici Cristiane and at the Correnpondenza Romana news agency. Between 2003 and 2011 he was the vice-president of the Italian National Research Council, and from 2005 to 2011, he was board member of the Italian Academy at the Columbia University in New York. He has published dozens of books and academic studies about the history of Europe and Christianity, which have been translated into many European languages. He is married with five children.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children. You can find more of his writing at his Substack, The Skojec File.