Editor’s note: The following is an interview conducted by Italian journalist Lorenza Formicola with Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. As former head of the Vatican Bank, Tedeschi is one of the better -known signatories of the recently issued filial correction of Pope Francis.
Lorenza Formicola: It’s been a few months since the “filial correction” was published, and confusion remains. What is this letter, signed by 62 and delivered in August to Pope Francis?
Ettore Gotti Tedeschi: It simply is the natural outcome of all the dubia. It was submitted to the holy father as a filial and devout plea by laypeople who are faithful both to the pope and to the Magisterium of the Church but who are, at the same time, worried for those souls in need of doctrinal certainties. There are many faithful and priests – who have nothing to do with the caricature that depicts them as sinister, pharisaical traditionalists – who are struggling to face the confusion that comes from equivocal and manifold interpretations. Not everyone possesses the needed capacity of discernment. Not everyone has an adequately formed conscience, and many find themselves advised by confused and confusing priests. These priests are also creative, perhaps, in their anxiety to interpret the gospel and eternal truths in an evolutionary fashion, thinking this is the right way to do it according to the will of the Holy Father.
Formicola: You are one of the most well-known signatories. Why did you want to sign?
Tedeschi: Because my sense of responsibility demanded it. My love for the vicar of Christ demanded it. My conscience of what should be the mission of the Church also demanded it, as well as my witnessing – as a layperson – the applicability to the modern world of the Five Wounds of the Holy Church (by Rosmini) and the perception of the need for strong, clear, and absolute values among people, at all levels, conditions, and age. The understanding of what is happening in the world also demanded it.
This is an estimation of the matter I had the privilege of learning from and sharing with Cardinal Ratzinger, later to be Benedict XVI – a vision I also shared with other holy men, such as Cardinal Caffarra, for instance, and Cardinal Sarah. I do not let illusory strategies confuse me – neither those founded on a reality superior to ideas nor those about a different conversion policy to be enforced after having attracted the world to Catholicism by opening up a dialogue. I have strong doubts about the possibility of an easy communication with the “world guided by gnosis.” Who is able to do that?
Formicola: For a long time, there has been talk of “heresy.” But on reading the 25-page letter, it doesn’t seem as though anyone is accusing the pope of heresy. Or am I mistaken?
Tedeschi: On page 13, it is possible to read a specific note that declares the purpose of the letter.
If the pope wanted to understand who the real dangerous enemies of the Church are, it would be enough to read through some of the reactions to the letter – reactions written by people who probably did not even read it, and if they read it, they did not want to understand it. Such an attitude speaks volumes on the value of some non-official “interpreters.”
Formicola: The Vatican has still not answered. Rather, in dealing with its own house, it has raised a wall…
Tedeschi: Sometimes non-answers are clear answers. Clearly, someone thinks it is good to have doubts, to foment them, to create and distribute them. Isn’t this the way to prepare the ground for the proposition of new certainties?
Formicola: After a year since the publication of the dubia, Cardinal Burke recently spoke of an “increasing confusion about the ways of interpreting the apostolic exhortation.” From your point of view, why does such a climate of disorder still survive? Even after the pope asked everyone to “speak of it with a great theologian, one of the best today and one of the most mature, Cardinal Schönborn”?
Tedeschi: I can say I share the opinion of Cardinal Burke by direct experience, not by reading about it in newspapers. I can’t say anything about Cardinal Schönborn. I am not able to interpret his thoughts.
Formicola: It almost seems as if the media were looking forward to pillorying you again. Can you explain why your signature has been seen – and still is seen – as an “ironic coincidence”?
Tedeschi: Other things happened after my signature and after the media attack, which focused my name almost as the promoter of the correction. A really good bishop, with whom a conference had already been scheduled for two months, called the meeting off because of inappropriateness; another bishop immediately “discouraged” (and canceled) another conference already scheduled in his dioceses; and a third bishop asked the organizers of a roundtable to postpone it because of my presence. I also received a public correction (which hurt me greatly) by another prelate, who doesn’t know me, who doesn’t know the facts and the circumstances and who didn’t ever care to.
On the other hand, I received multiple expressions of esteem, consensus, and sympathy, not only in the Catholic community, but also in a more secular environment (and this is really remarkable). There are even people worried about the collapse of the Catholic education built on the values of the gospel, which they benefited from, and they’re afraid it may now disappear. …
Never forget that the values of Christian traditions aren’t lived, but they are greatly appreciated if lived by the people around us. Always remember that Voltaire claimed he wanted his servant, his doctor, and his wife to be Catholic to avoid being robbed, killed, and cheated on. And still he despised the Catholic religion.
Formicola: Can a son who asks his father for explanations expect the support of his siblings? Or does he deserve disdain?
Tedeschi: It turned out all the worse for Abel…
Formicola: A year ago, you wrote, “After meditation on the exhortation of Pope Francis, ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ I wonder if this document is not founded on the certainty that the Christian civilization has actually finished collapsing. If this is true, it explains why the exhortation indirectly suggests that the moral laws and the sacraments should be adapted to the practical reality according to different cultures and not according to authoritative ideals to which we were used.” Do you think this is still true?
Tedeschi: I don’t believe this is still true – I believe that this “must” be true. Because now all of this must be imposed, since it is not accepted by those to whom it was addressed.
All through this year, I perceived more of a refusal of doctrinal relativism rather than the wish to opening up to modernity. People with a sound conscience understood the greatness of the risk. All sacraments end up collapsing if we start questioning the sacrament of matrimony (not by denying it, but by relativizing it) and, as a consequence, that of penance and most of all that of the Eucharist.
Here there is a clear contradiction between Lumen Fidei and Amoris Laetitia, and I will confide it to you. Pope Benedict ended Caritas in Veritate essentially explaining that to solve the world’s problems, it is the hearts of men that need to be changed (not the instruments); in Lumen Fidei (signed by Pope Francis), it is said that changing the heart of men is a duty of the Church, which has three instruments to succeed: prayer, the Magisterium, and the sacraments. In order to see if the Church is attending to its mission, it is enough to see if it is accomplishing these three actions and how it is doing it. Most of all, it is enough to see if the Church is reinforcing or weakening the absolute value of the sacraments wanted by Christ himself.
Formicola: Professor Josef Seifert recently claimed that Amoris Laetitia really is a “theological atomic bomb that threatens to tear down the whole moral edifice of the Ten Commandments and of Catholic moral teaching.” Would you agree with this statement?
Tedeschi: I answer saying that it “could be,” as well as that it could undermine three sacraments, and all of them as a consequence. We hope, however, for an intervention by Pope Francis to prevent all of this – maybe by answering, even indirectly, the dubia.
Lorenza Formicola was born in the year that Poland took the words “communism” and “socialism” out of its constitution. She has always been a writer, but not with the purpose of persuading, because that would lead her to cowardice and dishonesty. Journalism has taught her that it is not possible to stir up emotion with mere emotion, ideas with mere ideas, hope with mere hope. Rather, for all of these to exist it is necessary to provide actual meaning, weight, and tangibility, otherwise they evaporate. She is firmly convinced that “tolerance means indifference” (Domenico Giuliotti).