The Church is plunged into the darkness of Good Friday (Part 2)

“There are men of the Church,” says Robert Cardinal Sarah, “some of them high-ranking, who have tarnished the Church, disfigured the face of Christ, but Judas must not lead us to reject all the apostles.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast May 17, 2016 in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Editor’s note: The following is the second 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 first half of the interview can be read here.

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What do you think about the book Sodom [by homosexual activist Frédéric Martel]? Do you think that we are presently witnessing an all-out offensive against the priest figure, who is a stumbling block for a hyper-sexualized society?

I have not read that book. But I think that there is a specially orchestrated plan to destroy the Church by cutting off her head: the cardinals, the bishops and the priests. There is a persistent campaign to destroy the priesthood, and in particular to destroy celibacy, which is supposedly impossible and contrary to nature: because if they destroy celibacy, they irreversibly affect one of the greatest riches of the Church. Abandoning celibacy would further aggravate the crisis of the Church and would diminish the position of the priest, who is called to be not only another Christ, but Christ himself: poor, humble and celibate. If celibacy disappears, what dies will be the witness the Jesus intended to give.

There are some who want to weaken the Church, to modify her teaching on sexuality. But when we see the enormous number of faithful priests in the priesthood, we should remain calm and continue our witness of total self-giving to God through celibacy. This witness is not understood. Is it detested? Jesus Christ himself was not accepted, since he died on the Cross. Jesus told us: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (Jn 15:20).

There are men of the Church, some of them high-ranking, who have tarnished the Church, disfigured the face of Christ, but Judas must not lead us to reject all the apostles. These serious failings do not condemn the Church: on the contrary, it shows that God trusts even weak persons, so as to show the power of his love for us. He does not entrust his Church to exceptional heroes, but to simple men, to show that He is the one who acts through them.

On the subject of pedophilia, you speak about a “mystery of Judas”, explaining that this abominable betrayal of the priesthood was preceded by many others: what are they?

A priest who has lost his bond with Jesus, does not pray, and does not take the time to be with Christ before the Blessed Sacrament, is a weakened priest. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Christ said (Jn 15:5). A worldly priest, who no longer has the time to meditate on the Word of God, who rushes through his Mass or celebrates it in a profane manner, who has no interior life, cannot stand. The reason why someone can stoop to such serious intrigues is because he first detached himself from Jesus, from the force [= strength, force, fortitude] that keeps us in contact with him. In order to avoid administering the sacraments like a mere official, as though they were simply human phenomena, one needs an energy that comes from our relation with the Holy Spirit. And unfortunately, many among us have lost this intimate relationship with Jesus. Priestly activism leads to clerical autism, the source of all the excesses.

What do you think of the condemnation of Cardinal Barbarin [, Archbishop of Lyon]?

I have been acquainted with him for a long time. I have a lot of admiration for him. He welcomed me very kindly when I came to Lyon to present my book La Force du silence [The Power of Silence]. I cannot help but suffer from the martyrdom to which he is being subjected, all the more because I am convinced that he is innocent. The whole Church is bearing this suffering collegially. The Pope really was right to make the decision not to accept his resignation so as to respect the presumption of his innocence while awaiting the judgment on appeal. And Cardinal Barbarin was courageous to withdraw, going off to a monastery, for the good of the diocese and to bring peace to the victims of those abominable acts. But I am shocked that people have condemned Cdl. Barbarin while the horrible priest who committed those unspeakable crimes has still not been judged…. I stand beside Cardinal Barbarin in prayer, just as I stand beside the victims.

Many of our contemporaries see the Church as a totalitarian organization, which is going to impose a way of life on them. You declare on the contrary that the Church is the rampart against contemporary totalitarianism.

I mean the new ideologies that impose a radical change of morality and of human anthropology, a new vision of the family and of sexuality, with considerable financial and media pressures. The Church imposes nothing; she only proposes. But it is her mission to propose God’s teaching to the world.

You go so far as to dismiss “Islamist barbarity” and “materialist barbarity” in the same breath, at the risk of shocking your readers.

In any case, that is my conviction! They are two devils which may have different methodologies but are acting toward the same end. Materialism separates us radically from God and from the interior life. Islamism does too. God cannot inspire barbarity. Killing someone because he does not share your faith? Setting off a bomb in a bus and killing innocent people in the name of Allah? Such things are impossible for God.

But materialist barbarity does not have destruction as its stated purpose; it claims to lead human beings to the happiness of liberation.

To say to a human being: “You are free to choose your sex,” is to destroy him. In reality it is the freedom to destroy oneself. But God alone makes us free! Nowadays how much human destruction there is, under the pretext of freedom! In the name of this same freedom, many young people have been destroyed by pornography. Man self-destructs; God, on the other hand, creates, so that men might have life and have it abundantly.

You also write that the modern world destroys by attacking [national and religious] identities. You, on the contrary, defend this rootedness that Simone Weil described as the first need of the human soul. That makes you a somewhat isolated voice in a Church that sometimes seems to have become a mere auxiliary of the pro-immigration party.

When I went to Poland [in October 2017], a country that is often criticized, I encouraged the faithful to affirm their identity as they have done for centuries. My message was simple: you are first Poles, Catholics, and only then Europeans. You must not sacrifice these first two identities on the altar of a technocratic Europe that acknowledges no fatherland. The Brussels Commission thinks only of constructing a free market in the service of the major financial powers. The European Union no longer protects the peoples [within it]. It protects the banks. I wanted to restate for Poland its unique mission in God’s plan. She is free to tell Europe that everyone was created by God to be put in a precise place, with its culture, its traditions and its history. This current desire to globalize the world by getting rid of nations with their specific characteristics is sheer madness. The Jewish people had to go into exile, but God brought them back to their country. Christ had to flee from Herod into Egypt, but he returned to his country upon the death of Herod. Everyone must live in his country. Like a tree, each one has his soil, his milieu where he flourishes perfectly. It is better to help people to flourish in their culture than to encourage them to come to a Europe that is completely decadent. It is false exegesis to use the Word of God to improve the image of migration. God never intended these rifts.

You write that Italy and the countries of the Visegrad Group [Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia] are going in the right direction, whereas many voices in the Church condemn them. Don’t you think that the Church in doing so is endangering its future: how can she evangelize the nations while condemning their concern about remaining themselves?

Are leaders who speak as I do in the minority today? I do not think so. There are many countries that are going in this direction, and that ought to lead us to reflect! All the migrants who arrive in Europe are penned up, without work, without dignity…. Is that what the Church wants? The Church cannot cooperate with this new form of slavery that mass migration has become. If the West continues down this disastrous road, there is a great danger that, for a lack of a replacement birth rate, Europe could disappear, invaded by foreigners, as Rome was invaded by the barbarians. I speak as an African. My country has a Muslim majority. I think I know what I am talking about.

Some people in the Church seem to have resigned themselves to crossing out Europe, writing it off as a loss. You, on the contrary, write that the paganization of Europe would lead to the paganization of the world.

God does not change his mind. God gave a mission to Europe, which received Christianity. Then the European missionaries brought Christ to the ends of the earth. And this was no accident, but rather God’s plan. This universal mission, which He gave to Europe when Peter and Paul came to settle in Rome, from which city the Church evangelized Europe and the world, is not over. But if we put an end to it by sinking into materialism, godlessness and apostasy, then the consequences will be serious. If Europe disappears, and with it the inestimable values of the old continent, Islam will invade the world, and we will totally change our culture, anthropology and moral vision.

You quote at great length Benedict XVI, when many people consider that interrupted pontificate to be a failure. In what ways was it fruitful, in your opinion?

God saw that the world was sinking into a disastrous confusion. He knows that no one knows any more where we are going. He knows very well that we are still losing our national identities, our beliefs, our vision of man and of the world…. In order to prepare us for that situation, God gave us solid popes: he gave us Paul VI, who defended life and authentic love, despite very strong opposition, with the Encyclical Humanae vitae; he gave us John Paul II, who worked on the marriage of faith and reason so that they might be the light that guides the world to an authentic vision of man—the life of the great Polish Pope was itself a living Gospel. He gave us Benedict XVI, whose written teaching has an unequalled clarity, depth and precision. Today he gives us Francis who literally wants to save Christian humanism. God will never abandon His Church.

This is why we should stay calm: the Church is not in crisis; we are the one who are in crisis. Her teaching remains the same; her clarity remains the same. It is true that Benedict XVI was neither understood nor accepted; because of his years at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he was regarded as a traditionalist, a reactionary, but he remained calm, serene and humble. He was a stronghold [socle] for doctrine, for the interior life, for the future of the Church.

In an address to Catholic young people, you quote this very beautiful line by the English poet T. S. Eliot: “In a world of fugitives, the person taking the opposite direction will appear to run away.” Are young believers dedicated to being part of a Catholic resistance?

It is necessary for us to be in every respect part of a resistance, to take the direction opposite that of the secularized world, in other words, the path of Christ, the one Savior of the world. I encourage young people to look to Christ. In Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea, we watch the hero try to tow into port a huge fish that he has caught. But he cannot lift it out of the water alone; by the time he arrives in port, the sharks have devoured the fish. Young people nowadays are weakened by so many demands that if they become isolated they run the enormous risk of being devoured. Today, if you are alone, there are many sharks that will devour your faith, your Christian values, your hope. Jesus created a community of twelve apostles, and when it was necessary to send them on a mission, he sent them two by two. From now on, in order to defend our beliefs, in order to be firm, we will have to support each other in the faith and walk as a community united around Christ: “Where two or three are gathered, I am in the midst of them.” From this presence we can draw our strength. The Day is Now Far Spent is a thoughtful, carefully argued response to this emergency.

(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.)


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14 Comments

  1. “Many of our contemporaries see the Church as a totalitarian organization, which is going to impose a way of life on them. You declare on the contrary that the Church is the rampart against contemporary totalitarianism.”

    Christian freedom versus freedom of the naturalist (secular), anti-Christian world. The two are not compatible. The follow sermon explains the difference. (We have to know the faith in order to defend it.)

    Sermon for Laetare Sunday: The Law cannot save us

    From the Epistle to the Galations: “But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”

    It is rare that all the Propers on a particular Sunday resonate with the same theme. The Introit sounds the theme for today: ” Laetare Jerusalem: rejoice, O Jerusalem; and come together all you who love her; rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow; that you may exult and rejoice in the breasts of your consolation.” The flowers on the altar, the rose vestments, the playing of the merry organ and sweet singing in the choir: all mark this Sunday, Laetare Sunday, that is the mid-point of Lent. This is not just a matter of looking forward to Easter. The Gospel is the feeding of the five-thousand, that miracle of Jesus that has always been understood as a foreshadowing, a symbol of the Eucharist, that sacramental gift that always is a source of strength and a cause of joy. This cause of joy is with us now; it is the greatest element of the Catholic sacramental life. O taste and see the real presence of the Lord in our lives, in our bodies, in our souls.

    The epistle sounds a different theme, announces another source of joy for the Christian in the midst of Lent and in the midst of this life. St Paul does a midrash, an explanation in allegorical terms, of the well known story of Abraham’s two wives, Hagar the slave, Sarah the free woman. We are not used to allegorical interpretations of the Bible, for we tend to be literalists. But the Church fathers, who form such an important part of Tradition, freely used allegorical interpretations of biblical stories, especially OT stories, to explain the Christian faith. This can bother us in an age whose sense is ruled by data and bytes and and so-calledfacts. But Jesus’ parables make extensive use of allegory, and people of his time seemed to have no problem in making the jump between the factual meaning and the spiritual meaning of the story.

    The cause of joy in the epistle is freedom: Therefore, brethren, we are not children of a slave-girl, but of the free woman—in virtue of the freedom wherewith Christ has made us free. St Paul’s understanding of Christian freedom is not much talked about these days. When Americans talk about freedom they usually mean the freedoms that are guaranteed by the constitution and the bill of rights; freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to congregate and form voluntary organizations—freedoms that are precious to all of us that should be supported and exercised. The source of these freedoms and the notion of freedom itself in the American understanding comes from the Enlightenment and from the natural law tradition.

    One of the most famous state mottoes is that of New Hampshire: “Live free or die.” This speaks to an assertive independence as historically found in American political philosophy. When we studied American history in high school, we encountered many similar sentiments like that of Patrick Henry’s famed and impassioned speech to the Virginia legislature that ends: “But as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” But this understanding and context of freedom based firmly on the individual is not peculiarly American. The motto of the French Revolution was, ironic in a sense: “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité, ou la mort.” The national motto of Uruguay is “Libertad o Muerte.”

    But what St Paul is talking about in the epistle is something quite different. It is not that Paul would dismiss the American understanding of freedom with its emphasis on individual rights. It is that he would insist that the freedom of the Christian supersedes this secular notion of freedom and that Christian freedom has nothing to do with any constitution or government. Christian freedom is not anything that any government can bestow or take away. The freedom that the Christian has also does not depend on the law, even the Ten Commandments, for the keeping of the Law does not provide freedom but rather a yoke that is a terrible burden that can kill and destroy. For the Law cannot save anyone from eternal death. The Law, while necessary and useful as a means to learn how to live a good life, and therefore must be obeyed, cannot, however, do what ultimately has to be done: the Law cannot save us.

    Perhaps this is why Christian freedom is not much spoken about today, either by the secular world of politics or by Christians themselves. Christian freedom is very specific: the Cross of Christ bought our freedom in the ultimate sense, that is the freedom to be freed from the bondage of sin and death, to be children of God in this life and to be with God after death in the bliss of eternal life. In this way the crucifix that is the mark of a Catholic Church is the symbol of Christian freedom: that this man who is God in the flesh was willing to suffer and die so that men can be truly free. You notice that this freedom, which should be the ultimate source of joy for the Christian, depends on no constitution, no bill of rights, no election, no government grant. It is never something that can be instituted or bought or given by anyone here on earth. It is, like the Eucharist, a precious and wonderful and awesome gift from the God who is the essence of sacrificial love. Christian freedom is based on the self-sacrifice of the one Lamb of God for the many, pro multis.

    The freedom the Christian has as a gift from God has nothing to do with religious freedom, that is, has nothing to do with the freedom to practice one’s religion. The latter freedom depends on the government and those who are in power. That freedom can be given and can be taken away. But the freedom of a Christian exists in the deepest sense even, or especially, in the labor camp, or in the Gulag, or in times of violent or subtle persecution. What has been bought by the blood of the Son of God, what has been given by God to those who believe in his Son, cannot, much to the dismay of those in power, be taken away even by force, for it is the freedom to live even in the midst of death.

    The bishops of this country have in the past two decades waged war against what they see as attacks on religious freedom, when the government presumes to force on Catholics, mostly notable in the area of health care, provisions that are contrary to the moral teaching of the Church. In these instances, the bishops have asked the laity to rally around this cause of protecting the moral teaching of the Church. Without downplaying the necessity to counter the amorality and immorality in today’s secular society, I would suggest to the bishops to start doing what they are called to do as bishops of Jesus Christ. And I suggest this knowing the terribly low esteem to which the bishops have sunk in the eyes both of Catholics and also of the secular world, due to the sexual scandals involving priests and the bishops’ refusal to acknowledge the deep corruption in the Church in which corruption they play an important role and which they so dishonestly deny.

    I would suggest that on this Laetare Sunday it may be a good idea for the bishops and priests to organize rallies within their own churches for Catholics to celebrate their Christian freedom with joy. Just imagine if Catholics were made aware that the freedoms promised by the American Constitution are always provisional and depend on who is in power; but that the freedom they have in the Cross of Jesus Christ depends on no man and can never be taken away from them and is the source of a joy that goes far beyond anything this world can provide. How many Catholics will even hear the introit for today that sings of the joy of that Jerusalem that is not a city made by human hands but rather that place we call heaven whose joys of which we can only get a hint in this life, in those special moments that speak to us of what will finally satisfy that longing we all have, that hole in our heart that aches to be filled?
    There is no doubt that Christians must always fight against the Leviathan of the state when the state acts unjustly. But that fight is not the point. That fight can turn our attention away from bringing back the joy of the Christian faith into a Church that often seems devoid of joy. Our own people need to know what so many of them do not know: that they are the children of God and the children of the promise, and that that promise comes from God himself, and it is the promise of salvation and eternal life in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, that Jerusalem is their mother who loves them and that love can never be taken away from them.

    Jerusalem, my happy home,

    When shall I come to thee?

    When shall my labors have an end?
    Thy joys when shall I see?

    O Christ, do Thou my soul prepare

    For that bright home of love
    That I may see Thee and adore
    With all Thy saints above.

    • This is a wonderful comment, Elaine. Too often we focus on religious freedom, in the limited sense of our religious “rights”, when true Christian freedom is not of this world.

      “In this way the crucifix that is the mark of a Catholic Church is the symbol of Christian freedom: that this man who is God in the flesh was willing to suffer and die so that men can be truly free.”

  2. Is there any possibility that Ignatius Press could move up the publication date from Sept 1st? It’s not an exaggeration to say that the world is dying to hear Cardinal Sarah’s words. Thank you.

    • I completely agree! I’m on my second reading of “The Power of Silence” and can’t wait for the new book to come out. Hurry up Ignatius Press!

  3. Cardinal Sarah writes: “If Europe disappears, and with it the inestimable values of the old continent, Islam will invade the world, and we will totally change our culture, anthropology and moral vision.” Likewise, this from Pope St. John Paul II:

    “Whoever knows the Old and New Testaments, and then reads the Koran, clearly sees the process BY WHICH IT COMPLETELY REDUCES DIVINE REVELATION. It is impossible not to note the movement away from what God said about Himself…. In Islam all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside . . . . He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God WHO IS ONLY MAJESTY, NEVER EMMANUEL, God-with-us. ISLAM IS NOT A RELIGION OF REDEMPTION. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection…” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, 1994).

    This clarity of witness (and of thought!) contrasts with the kind of pliable apologetics offered earlier by Melanchthon who elided all significant differences—-then between things Catholic and things Protestant—-in his supposedly bridge-building Augsburg Confession of 1530…

    Likewise, we have today a mutation (German again) toward undefined religious “pluralism” (said by some to be THE valid reading of “the signs of the times”). Likewise, the alluring and multi-scriptural “Common Word between us and You” proposed in 2007 by a collage of scholars and imams from a much more fractious Islam.

    INSTEAD of scriptural echo or congruence (“a common word”), the accurate comparison between Christianity and Islam is between faith in the person of CHRIST as the “WORD made flesh” (as then witnessed through Scripture and Tradition), on the one hand, and on the other, belief in the words of the KORAN as the very essence of ever-distant Allah, “dictated” in 7th-century Arabia.

    The elevated “dignity of the human person”—-the foundation for “freedom of religion” (as clearly proposed by Pope Francis in Morocco)—-is revealed/secured ultimately in natural law and the Incarnation, not in any less-grounded fraternity or kitchen-blender mixing of cultures. Ultimately, more than even “a common word between us and you,” but rather the very uncommon (!) “Word in our midst.” The real and historical “collision” (von Balthasar’s term) between the “majesty” of the truly Infinite God and (through the free “fiat” of Mary) His finite creation—“Emmanuel.”

    Otherwise, despite predictably ambiguous rhetoric in the future—-modern Europe will continue to slide into engulfing Islam and pre-modern DHIMMITUDE. “The whole world groaned and marveled at finding itself Arian” (Jerome).

  4. Is pedophilia simply an “excess” among “all the excesses?” Is there a “mean” with respect to pedophilia? Is it simply a lack of temperance?

    Cardinal Sarah assessment of deficient prayer life recalls one of the well-intentioned but ultimately Pollyanna prescriptions Fr. Benedict Groeschel made for sex addict/ priests and ministers (who in retrospect should have been completely removed from ministry promptly instead of “treated” in facilities or given therapy and then transferred here and there “based on the best psychological practices at the time” ): to make Holy Hours and sitting before an open Bible (for Protestants).

    This is NOT to devalue prayer. Cardinal Sarah’s response is really a generic “correct answer” evasion out of an spiritual theology/spiritual direction textbook that insists in the end, not unlike Bergoglio, of relating pedophilia to “worldliness” and “clerical autism.”

    There are plenty of “worldly” people who don’t make Holy Hours or have “an intimate relationship with Christ.” They do not have sex with children or minors or even involve themselves with pedophilic pornography. Nor do they need Holy Hours to prevent themselves or inoculate themselves from committing such acts. This is not to say that such people do not sin in many other ways or in danger of losing their souls.

    I am NOT here devaluing God’s Grace nor the severity of other sins.

    I will NOT accept a Cardinal however pious or traditional continuing to evade the specific sexual issues in our priesthood related to pedophilia no less than someone like Cupich but here with an alternate lexicon.

    Whether it’s Sarah or Cupich there’s not a lot of focus really on saving one’s soul. I stand by that.

    “This is why we should stay calm: the Church is not in crisis; we are the one who are in crisis. Her teaching remains the same; her clarity remains the same.”

    Is he speaking here of the Magisterium, a yet to be revised Catechism?” with nothing to say about Bergoglio beyond that he “literally wants to save Christian humanism?” Has Sarah read or heard Bergoglio in Cuba or before the United Nations?

    • I would encourage you to read the various books Cardinal Sarah has published for a more accurate and balanced view of his character and ministry. While we should certainly hold those leaders who are harming the flock accountable, we should support and encourage those who are remaining faithful to their call, their ministry, and to the truth. Cardinal Sarah is deeply committed to the truth and the church.

    • That’s an important point, Joseph. It’s an area where there can be NO blurring of the lines, whether by accident or design. All the more so because many on the Left – including some of the radical ideologues to which Cardinal Sarah alludes – seek to license (mere) “excesses” such as “pederasty”.

      In a seperate interview (Catholic Herald, 5th April), Cardinal Sarah said: “Homosexuality does not define the identity of persons. It describes certain deviant, sinful, and perverse acts. For these acts, as for other sins, the remedies are known….”

      True as this statement might be (recalling that Pope Francis asked, “Who am I to judge?”) it’s absolutely vital that there’s a clear distinction between what takes place consenting adults, versus CRIMINAL, deviant acts involving minors. (And criminal, non-consensual acts involving other adults, for that matter.)

      Otherwise, I have nothing but praise for Cardinal Sarah’s thesis.

  5. As anticipated Cardinal Sarah is correct right down the line. Throughout he associates Christ with priest and celibacy. Divest the Church of celibate priesthood in one place as the Cardinal alludes inevitably leads to all places. Roman Catholicism is providentially unique in this more than practical more than sacrificial charisma. A mystical union lived in this world as witness to what precisely all are called. Either we divest what ameliorates and is foreign to that call or it is excoriated in Purgatory. If what impedes is not divested then the eternal wrath of God. What draws us to redemption, saves us [not to exclude the sacrifices of the faithful] is God’s love drawn down from him by priests who emulate this pure love of Christ.

  6. What a voice! How strange it is to our ears in these times to hear power and clarity from a bishop. When we hear this man, are not our hearts burning within us?

    • “When we hear this man, are not our hearts burning within us?”
      My sentiments exactly! I love Cardinal Sarah and all he is. When I read his words my heart swells!

  7. Thank you for publishing this interview. A pearl of great price. It is not Cardinal Sarah’s voice. This is the Teaching Jesus.

  8. The Ten Commandments are like traffic lights on the roadways. Without them there would be societal chaos!
    Pray for the Church and America—-

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