Editor’s note: The following is the first half of a March 27, 2019, interview with Robert Cardinal Sarah, originally conducted in French by Laurent Dandrieu; it is reprinted here with kind permission of Culture à Valeurs Actuelles. The second half of the interview can be read here.
On the occasion of the publication of his new book, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, one of the strongest voices in the Church, met with us in Rome for an exclusive interview.
Fans of NewSpeak, read no further! Although books by Catholic prelates often inspire the same polite annoyance as lukewarm tea, The Day is Now Far Spent, the new book-length interview of Robert Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat, looks like strong drink. In recalling that a world forgetful of God is headed for ruin, dismissing both “materialist barbarity” and “Islamist barbarity”, exhorting the Church to put Christ back at the center, denouncing the Marrakesh Agreement supported by the Vatican or warning against the ordination of married men that some would like to experiment with on the occasion of the upcoming Synod on the Amazon Region, Cardinal Sarah invites his readers to participate in a genuine spiritual resistance, recalling that Christ alone is the Hope of the world.
Why did you choose such a somber title, which might frighten the reader? [The full title of the French edition is: It is Toward Evening, and the Day is Now Far Spent.]
This book is first of all a call to clarity and clear-sightedness. The Church is going through a major crisis. The winds are extraordinarily violent. Days without scandals, real or fake, are rare. The faithful can therefore legitimately wonder about it. I intended this book for them. I hope that they can come out of reading it with the joy that Christ gives: “Stay with us, Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent” (Lk 24:29). The resurrection of the Son of God is what gives Hope in the darkness.
Was your choice of this verse from the Gospel passage about the travelers to Emmaus a way of pointing out that the Church does not sufficiently put Christ and prayer at the center?
I firmly believe that the situation that we are experiencing within the Church resembles in every respect the situation of Good Friday, when the apostles abandoned Christ and Judas betrayed him, because the traitor wanted his own style of Christ, a Christ preoccupied with political issues. Today many priests and bishops are literally spellbound by political or social questions. In reality, these questions will never find answers apart from Christ’s teaching. It makes us more capable of solidarity and fraternity; as long as we do not have Christ as our older brother, the firstborn of a multitude of brothers, there is no solid charity, no true otherness. Christ is the only light of the world. How could the Church turn away from this light? How can she spend her time getting bogged down in purely materialistic issues?
Certainly, it is important to be sensitive to persons who are suffering. I am thinking in particular of people who leave their country. But why do they go away from their land? Because their nations have been destabilized by unbelieving authorities who have lost God, for whom money and power are the only things that count. These difficulties are immense. But, I repeat, the Church must first restore to people the ability to look toward Christ: “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). The crucified Christ is the one who teaches us to pray and to say: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It is by looking to the Son of God that the Church will be able to learn to bring people to prayer and to forgive as Christ does. This book means to try to restore to the Church the sense of her great divine mission. So that she can bring people to Christ who is Hope. This is the meaning of the title of our book: today everything is somber, difficult, but whatever difficulties we may be going through, there is only one person who can come to our aid. It is necessary for there to be an institution to lead to this person, and that is the Church.
To call the Church back to her true mission: that is a way of saying that she sometimes strays from it. You go so far as to denounce the shepherds who betray their sheep, which many Catholics find difficult to believe….
Your comment is not specific to our age: look at the Old Testament, which has an abundance of bad shepherds, those men who like to make a profit on the meat or the wool of their sheep, without taking care of them! There have always been betrayals in the Church. Today, I can say without fear that some priests, some bishops and even some cardinals are afraid to proclaim what God teaches and to hand on the doctrine of the Church. They are afraid of disapproval, of being seen as reactionaries. And so they say fuzzy, vague, imprecise things, so as to escape all criticism, and they espouse the stupid evolution of the world. That is a betrayal: if the shepherd does not lead his flock to the restful waters, toward the green pastures that the psalm speaks about, if he does not protect it against the wolves, that shepherd is a criminal who abandons his sheep. If he does not teach the faith, if he revels in activism instead of reminding people that they are made for prayer, he betrays his mission. Jesus says: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Mt 26:31). That is what is happening today. People no longer know where to turn.
Nowadays isn’t there for some people the temptation to align the Church with the world’s values so as to stop being a sign of contradiction to it?
Obviously, there is a large majority of priests who remain faithful to their mission of teaching, sanctifying and governing. But there is also a small number who give in to the morbid, wicked temptation to align the Church with the current values of the Western societies. Above all they want people to say that the Church is open, welcoming, attentive, modern. But the Church is not made for listening, she is made for teaching: she is Mater et magistra, mother and teacher. Of course a mom listens to her child, but she is there in the first place to teach, to guide and to supervise, because she knows better than her children what path to take. Some have adopted the ideologies of today’s world under the fallacious pretext of being open to the world; but instead we should bring the world to be open to God, who is the source of our existence.
In your book you talk about a crisis of moral theology: isn’t this above all the temptation to sacrifice doctrine to pastoral care, in other words, the content to the container, and a false concept of mercy, which is so concerned about vaunting its understanding that it thereby forgets to recall the rules for living well?
All pastoral care is like a house: if there are no foundations, the house collapses. Pastoral care must be built on the teaching of the Church. Too often people forget doctrine so as to focus exclusively on pastoral care; but then it is an empty, puerile, stupid sort of pastoral care. You cannot sacrifice doctrine to a pastoral practice that was reduced to congruent part of mercy: God is merciful, but only to the extent to which we acknowledge that we are sinners. In order to allow God to bestow his mercy, it is necessary to return to Him, like the prodigal son. There is a perverse tendency to falsify pastoral care, to pit it against doctrine and to present a merciful God who demands nothing: but there is no such thing as a father who demands nothing of his children! God, like any good father, is demanding, because he has immense ambitions for us. The Father wants us to be in his image and likeness.
Your speak about the faith of believers becoming insipid, what Benedict XVI called a “bourgeois Christianity” or what Pope Francis calls the “paganization of Christian life”. Aren’t these Christians, who no longer want to be the salt of the earth but prefer to be its sugar, an even bigger challenge than the heresies of the past?
This sort of softness or insipidness is part of contemporary culture: it is necessary to be tolerant, to respect people, to evolve with them. Certainly, we have the duty to be understanding, to walk alongside people, but at the same time it is necessary to help them to strengthen their muscles. It takes muscles to be a mountain climber. The same qualities are required to climb the mountain of God: it takes the muscles of faith, of will, or hope, of love. It is important not to deceive the faithful with a soft, undemanding, amoral religion. The Gospel is demanding. “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out! If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off!” (cf. Mt 5:29-30). Our role is precisely to bring people to this evangelical requirement.
You write that “the West is experiencing the radical, deliberately willed solitude of the damned.” How do you talk about God to people who, as you write, “do not feel the need to be saved”?
Look at Christ: do you think that the people whom he had in front of him wanted to listen to him? Opposition to God, to the Truth, has always existed. In the West it is difficult to talk about God, because the mollifying society of comfort thinks that it has no need of Him. But this material comfort is not enough. There is a hidden happiness that people are seeking confusedly without knowing it. The Church must reveal to man these interior needs, these riches of the soul that make him fully human, which make him fully happy. Saint Irenaeus says that “God became man so that man might become God”; the Church’s mission is to guide man in this ascent toward God. But if the priests are bogged down in materialism, they will not be able to guide the world toward true happiness.
True reform concerns our own conversion. If we do not change ourselves, all structural reforms will be useless. Laypeople, priests, cardinals—we must all return to God.
Catholic leaders often tend to blame this disaffection with the Church on the prevailing materialism or other developments in society. Wouldn’t it be more helpful for the Church to ask herself about her responsibilities too, about how she might have turned the faithful away by desacralizing the liturgy, by turning her back on popular piety or by making her preaching insipid?
I am convinced that the primary responsibility for this collapse of the faith must be taken by the priests. In the seminaries or in the Catholic universities we have not always taught doctrine. We have taught whatever we liked! Catechizing children was abandoned. Confession was disdained. Besides, there were no longer any priests in the confessionals! We are therefore partially responsible for this collapse. In the 1970’s and 1980’s in particular, each priest did whatever he liked during Mass. No two Masses looked alike: that was what discouraged so many Catholics from going to church. Pope Benedict XVI says that the crisis of the liturgy caused the crisis of the Church. Lex orandi, lex credendi: as we pray, so we believe. If there is no longer any faith, the liturgy is reduced to a show, a folklore display, and the faithful turn away. We have probably been guilty of negligence. The desacralization of the liturgy always has serious consequences. We wanted to humanize the Mass, to make it comprehensible, but it remains a mystery that is beyond understanding. When I say Mass, when I give absolution, I grasp the words that I say, but the intellect cannot comprehend the mystery that these words bring about. If we do not do justice to this great mystery, we cannot lead the people to a true relationship with God. Even today we still have an excessively horizontal pastoral practice: how do you expect people to think of God if the Church is occupied exclusively with social issues?
A reform of the Roman Curia is expected any day now. In your book you are rather skeptical about these structural reforms….
True reform concerns our own conversion. If we do not change ourselves, all structural reforms will be useless. Laypeople, priests, cardinals, we must all return to God. History witnessed two reformers: Luther, who wanted to change the face of the Church and ended up leaving it, and Francis of Assisi, who transformed the Church by living the Gospel radically. Today, true reform is a radically evangelical life. Mother Teresa discreetly and humbly reformed the Church by tirelessly proclaiming to the world: “Care for the poor, but before that, care first for God.” She knew by experience that we are too poor to care for the poor. As long as we are not enriched by the presence of God in us, we cannot care for the weakest among us.
There’s a lot of talk too about synodality, collegiality. In your book you point out the risk of bishops’ conferences contradicting one another. Do you fear that a reform of the centralism of the Roman Church endangers its unity?
Christ founded one Church; its mode of government is hierarchical. The first person responsible for the Church is the Pope. The first person responsible for the local Church is the Bishop in his diocese, and not the Episcopal Conference, which is helpful for exchanging ideas, but not for setting a course of action. I think that it is necessary to rediscover this primary responsibility of the Pope and of each bishop. The great bishops of history, for instance Ambrose or Augustine, did not spend their time planning meetings on the one hand, forming committees on the other, and traveling continuously. The bishop has to be with his people, teach his people, love his people.
An Episcopal Conference has no canonical authority, and no competence of its own in the area of doctrine. Moreover, I am sad to note that there are already contradictions among the episcopal conferences, which does not promote the peace of mind of Christians. “That they may be one,” the Lord said, so that this unity might inspire faith. If we continue along these lines, undermining doctrinal and moral unity, we will contribute to the growth of unbelief.
(Translated by Michael J. Miller with the permission of Culture à Valeurs Actuelles, which published the interview in French. The Day is Now Far Spent by Robert Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat is available September 1, 2019 from Ignatius Press.)
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!
Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.
Cardinal Sarah is “sad to note that there are already contradictions among the episcopal conferences, which does not promote the peace of mind of Christians.” We’ve been here before, in a big way:
In 1965 the Second Vatican Council expressed “admiration” for those who INDIVIDUALLY forego violence—without harm to others, but ALSO asserted the RIGHT AND DUTY for defense, and accepted “deterrence” if this was a step toward nuclear disarmament, and therefore in the end stopped short of demanding a “freeze” in ownership of weapon arsenals. (Gaudium et Spes, 78-82).
TRANSLATION: One can surrender one’s own throat to the knife of an assailant, but not the throats of those for whom one is responsible, say, a wife and children, or society as a whole.
In 1982 Pope John Paul II addressed the Second Special Session of the United Nations dedicated to disarmament (“Negotiation: The Only Realistic Solution to the Continuing Threat of War” [Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1982]): “In current conditions ‘DETERRENCE’ based on balance, certainly not as an end in itself but as a step on the way toward a progressive disarmament, may still be judged morally acceptable.”
HOWEVER, at least three national Episcopal conferences also produced varied pastoral letters on nuclear weapons. Major differences turned in part on even how the issue was framed:
(a) the risk of collateral damage or the “slippery slope” into Armageddon (American),
(b) the serious strategic imbalance of armaments (3:1 in tanks) on the eastern front and the need, therefore, for American tactically-offsetting and mobile cruise missiles (German), or
(c) the intrinsic threat of Marxist ideology itself (French). See “The Challenge to Peace” (American Pastoral Letter of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1983); and James Schall, S.J., “Out of Justice, Peace” (Joint Pastoral Letter of the West German Bishops) and “Winning the Peace” (Joint Pastoral Letter of the French Bishops) [Ignatius Press, 1984].
The naïve, sanctimonious, understandably-desperate and highly controversial proposal for “UNILATERAL DISARMAMENT” (!)—-at best a prudential judgment, rather than a doctrine, and therefore capable of debate—-claimed the letterhead of an early draft of the American pastoral, but under mandated review by the HOLY SEE was at least separated from the final document and relegated to the appendix as more of a side essay.
Now the darkness gathers,
Birds and flowers
Soon will sleep.
Birds and flowers
Soon will sleep.
Comfort every sufferer
Watching late in pain.
Those who plan evil
From their sin restrain.
When the morning wakens,
Then may I arise
Pure and sinless
In Thy holy eyes.
This book is now officially on my to get list for this year. I only hope I will be able to finish The Power of Silence before it comes out.
The primary duty of a Cardinal is not to write books bemoaning the reality of what has happened in the Church, which are merely symptoms of the primary reason for his writings as the reality is there is no true faith among any of the clergy, but to stand up and defend the true teachings of the Church and call out those who are teachers and preachers of heresies; reproach them in humility, call for their conversion, and demand their removal of office if necessary to protect the flock against the wolves in sheep’s clothing.
None of the conciliar church’s prelates have the true faith or they wouldn’t be the cowards they are, afraid to stand up to the lies of Satan, afraid to teach and preach the true religion, afraid to lose their status or wealth, afraid to be true Catholics.
Writing books alone isn’t going to save Catholicism which needs to be saved from its enemies both within and without. Action needs to be taken, particularly calling out Francis as the heretic/apostate that he is.
“The primary duty of a Cardinal is not to write books bemoaning the reality of what has happened in the Church…” And who said it was? Straw man.
“… which are merely symptoms of the primary reason for his writings as the reality is there is no true faith among any of the clergy…” Says you, the church of one.
“… but to stand up and defend the true teachings of the Church…” Apparently you need to actually read Cardinal Sarah’s various writings and addresses.
“…None of the conciliar church’s prelates have the true faith…” Says you, pope of one.
“…Writing books alone isn’t going to save Catholicism…” Again, who says it will? Then again, I recall that men such as St. Irenaeus, St. Augustine, St. Chrysostom, St. Thomas, etc., etc. wrote books, many of them directly addressing the dire problems of their times. Shall we chastise, say, St. Augustine for writing “The City of God”? Seriously.
I agree with your comment, Carl, Glad someone responded to Elaine.
Let us pray and have much hope for the future e of the One true catholic Church.
I believe you are far too hasty and unconvincingly one-sided in belaboring Elaine’s post.
Cardinal Sarah himself is quoted in the interview as follows: “Today, I can say without fear that some priests, some bishops and even some cardinals are afraid to proclaim what God teaches and to hand on the doctrine of the Church. They are afraid of disapproval, of being seen as reactionaries. And so they say fuzzy, vague, imprecise things, so as to escape all criticism, and they espouse the stupid evolution of the world. That is a betrayal: if the shepherd does not lead his flock to the restful waters, toward the green pastures that the psalm speaks about, if he does not protect it against the wolves, that shepherd is a criminal who abandons his sheep. If he does not teach the faith, if he revels in activism instead of reminding people that they are made for prayer, he betrays his mission. Jesus says: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Mt 26:31). That is what is happening today. People no longer know where to turn.”
Elaine’s point, as I understand it, is that priests, bishops, cardinals, and even popes have been wolves ravaging the flock of the Church for years and even decades and that action is urgently required to demand their conversion and removal from office, which has not occurred, as is self-evident. She faults Cardinal Sarah since he writes books and gives interviews like the one here bemoaning how these wolves are ravaging the flock but has taken no step to confront those responsible, apprise them of their errors, and demand their removal. His failure to do so makes him hoist upon his own petard since Cardinal Sarah himself declares: “[I]f he does not protect it against the wolves, that shepherd is a criminal.”
I fail to see how Elaine can be vilified repeatedly in your response as “a pope of one” by stating what is factual and true.
Elaine has submitted several comments lately, some of which are so slanderous in tone and content, we’ve not let through. So that, to some degree, informed my remarks. It’s quite clear to me that Elaine thinks Vatican II was not only invalid, but completely false; she uses a very broad and crude brush. As for her criticisms of Cardinal Sarah, does she somehow have inside information that the rest of us don’t have? I’m not saying that Cardinal Sarah is above reasonable and charitable criticism, but I do know that he has suffered for what he worked to do “behind the scenes”.
Paul: Thank you for coming to my defense but keep in mind Carl, believing some of my posts “are so slanderous in tone and content, we’ve not let through”, it is a miracle he has “let through” some and also, his livelihood depends on defending the conciliar church.
Carl, did you read what Sarah said: “I am convinced that the primary responsibility for this collapse of the faith must be taken by the priests. In the seminaries or in the Catholic universities we have not always taught doctrine. We have taught whatever we liked! Catechizing children was abandoned. Confession was disdained. Besides, there were no longer any priests in the confessionals! We are therefore partially responsible for this collapse. In the 1970’s and 1980’s in particular, each priest did whatever he liked during Mass. No two Masses looked alike: that was what discouraged so many Catholics from going to church. Pope Benedict XVI says that the crisis of the liturgy caused the crisis of the Church. Lex orandi, lex credendi: as we pray, so we believe. If there is no longer any faith, the liturgy is reduced to a show, a folklore display, and the faithful turn away. We have probably been guilty of negligence. The desacralization of the liturgy always has serious consequences. We wanted to humanize the Mass, to make it comprehensible, but it remains a mystery that is beyond understanding. When I say Mass, when I give absolution, I grasp the words that I say, but the intellect cannot comprehend the mystery that these words bring about. If we do not do justice to this great mystery, we cannot lead the people to a true relationship with God. Even today we still have an excessively horizontal pastoral practice: how do you expect people to think of God if the Church is occupied exclusively with social issues?”
Who did he say is primarily responsible for “the collapse of the faith”? Priests. If priest’s were faithful Catholics, why would they be responsible for the collapse of the faith, their own and those they are to shepherd? So why did you attack me when I said the same thing?
Why don’t you consider Sarah “a pope of one” and slanderous when much of his answers to the interviewer’s question are directly in contradiction to what both the conciliar church teaches and what Francis teaches?
One of the problems of a worldly Church conforming herself to worldly values is that it results in the Church engaging in spiritual unilateral disarmament. The whole armor of God is spoken about in Ephesians 6:10-17
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; 16 above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Too often Catholics who lack a firm grounding in the Catholic faith are sent out like lambs to the slaughter into a world that is hostile to the Catholic faith.
I hope this man becomes the next Pope – the sooner the better!
He can’t be elected on official conclave. He has minority. Except, if he wants to run his own church and makes his own conclave.
Yes. Yes. This good and holy man is emphasizing the truth of where we are. Let us live it. Post tenebras spero lucem.
With his continuous writings and denouncement of the course of pope Francis, Cardinal Sarah goes into secession from Rome, together with other high prelates. They are blinded by their pride. In passed centuries he and they would be excommunicated for less.
The Church is not living its Good Friday. We are not in the Great tribulation of the Antichrist. (or does card. Sarah imply the antichrist is among us, namely, pope Francis?)
Instead, the belief in the Resurrection is what motivates the billions of faithful, both today and throughout the centuries, including the millions martyrs. They didn’t shed their blood out of fanaticism but out of love.
The Judases in intellectual masks, maybe card. Sarah is one of them. The pride is a mortal sin too. Who else committed it at the beginning of time? Satan, who didn’t commit sexual sins either. The self indulged righteousness and the pride are sins exposed by Jesus himself. But Sarah is not concerned about Jesus, he is concerned about the papacy…maybe envisioning himself as the leader of the opposition to be elected on a next conclave…as a minority…in other words, an open schism after pope Francis steps down.
IMO, cardinal Sarah, bishop Schneider and a number of other prelates who repeatedly opposed pope Francis and the majority of the magisterium, who called pope Francis heretic, must be excommunicated without further delay. In order for the evil they have done to stop being propagated among the billion faithful. It would be good for the salvation of their own souls too, to realize their sin of pride. The pride of Satan created the Hell in first place.
St. Paul refuted St. Peter the first pope to his face. He didn’t become an heretic or schismatic for that. St. Catherine of Sienna contended with pope Gregory to return the papacy to Rome from Avignon ignoring the advise of his cardinals. History shows that the popes have been corrected or advised by saintly people to change their ways. Cardinal Sarah is doing the same thing. Thanks be to God for this holy and humble man. He is not schismatic or heretic. There have have been many critics of Pope John Paul II and Benedict VI recently who have undermined or tried to undermine their papacy. Have you ever called these progressive cardinals and other laymen heretics?
Who are you and where have you living these last many years? Underground?
Carl E. Olson, why is there no reply to this like your response to Elaine Biggerstaff?
Great, salient points made by someone whose passion for the Church is unmistakable. I however disagree with him on what lies at the root of the crisis. Rather than blame ‘divergent’ liturgy, I think the real culprit is lack of conviction (which in turn stifles real hunger for God). People pray and worship – in other words, participate in the liturgy – based on conviction, not the other way round. And it’s difficult to convince anyone if leaders in the Church combine, as they often seem to do, a shallow understanding with a constant distraction by material things and obsession with power and personal advantage.
How divided we Catholics are on just about everything – Lord have Mercy!
The why are those who cannot meet the requirements of clerical office still retained as clergy? Time to clean house.
I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire;
Save that the sky grows darker yet,
And the sea rises higher.
(The Virgin Mary to King Alfred, “The Vision of the King”, Book I in The Ballad of the White Horse)
Card. Sara makes an important situational analysis. He is not playing a blame game as some may think. He is addressing issues of relevance in the contemporary church not devoid of social, political and economic influence. Let us not play the blame game either but work and pray for the our beloved mother church. Incriminating our leaders,judging get them as heretics does not foster progress but doom.