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Meet the Press

Sunday, April 24, 2005



Thomas Bohlin, Joseph Bottum, Thomas Cahill, E.J. Dionne, Joseph Fessio, Jon Meacham and Mary Aquin O'Neill discuss Pope Benedict XVI and the future of the Catholic Church



MR. RUSSERT: But first, this was the scene in Rome as hundreds of thousands gathered for Pope Benedict XVI's inaugural Mass as he begins the 265th papacy of the Catholic Church. There he is, leaving the celebration, waving to the faithful. We're here to talk about the church under his leadership, his potential impact in the world and certainly here in the United States.


Welcome all.


Unidentified Panelist: Thank you, Tim.


MR. RUSSERT: Let me start with E.J. Dionne and something you wrote in a New Republic Column, E.J. "...as a Catholic, I was petrified [at the Ratzinger choice]. Pope Benedict's vision of the Church is that it should comprise a tough band of orthodox believers who confront modernity and uphold the truths the Church teaches, without any hesitations. If that means a smaller Church, with squishy doubters of dissenters left by the wayside, so be it."




MR. E.J. DIONNE: Right. I think there's a lot of fear on the part of moderate and progressive Catholics that‑‑I keep wanting to say Joseph Ratzinger, because he made such a name for himself with that name‑‑that Pope Benedict does have a vision of the church that is not so much in kind of conversation with modernity as really quite hostile to modernity. And I think many see it as a shift from the spirit of Pope John and the Second Vatican Council, where the church said, "Yes, we have much to teach modernity, but we have also much to learn from modernity."


Now, in saying that, none of that says this is not a brilliant man, a brilliant theologian. And he has written some things‑‑his record is a little bit ambiguous in the sense that, for example, he has written in praise of the American approach to religion, the American government's approach to religion, that leaves open a wide space for religious diversity, but accepts religion's role in the public square. But I think for a lot of moderate to progressive Catholics this is going to be a testing time.


MR. RUSSERT: An interview that then‑Cardinal Ratzinger, Father Bohlin, went like this: "Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures ... Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the church's history ... where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world‑‑that let God in."


Is that his vision?


REV. THOMAS BOHLIN: I think it's hard to say exactly what's going to happen in terms of the future of the church and how the Holy Spirit's going to develop things. But I think what we're going to see in Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, is continuity with Pope John Paul II. I think that that's the big message we're going to see. I think when the cardinals gathered in Rome, so many of them from all over the world, that they were shocked and even staggered by three million, four million people there, gathering there. And I think in that moment they heard the Holy Spirit speaking that what they wanted was continuity with John Paul. And so that's why they turned to his closest theological adviser for the last 24 year, a man they all recognized as a great spiritual leader for 24 years and looked to him for his wisdom, as a man who was right at the side of John Paul II.


So I think we're going to see the message of these cardinals is continuity. Already Ratzinger has stressed, in his first homily as pope, "I'm going to continue the mission of John Paul II: humanism as a priority, evangelization, young people, working with the bishops, implementation of Vatican II." I think that's going to be what we're going to see: more continuity. That's what the cardinals wanted.


MR. RUSSERT: Continuity. Father John McCloskey, who was also an Opus Dei with you, was on this program. He has a Web site where he predicted basically in 2030 that the number of Catholics would go from 60 million to 40 million; almost a smaller and purer church. Is that, do you think, the vision of our pope?


REV. BOHLIN: I don't think so. I think one of the reasons he picked Benedict is because he wants to launch the re‑evangelization of Europe that John Paul II was stressing. If you go to Subiaco, Subiaco in Italy, where St. Benedict lived, you see up on the wall a plaque of all the Benedictine monks who left Subiaco for hundreds of years and where they went to throughout Europe, evangelizing. I think he sees Benedict, who's also one of the patrons of Europe, as‑‑part of his mission is not to forget Europe, not to just see the future of the church in Latin America, but he wants to take it to Europe.


MR. RUSSERT: Father Fessio, you studied under Cardinal Ratzinger and published his writings. You were quoted Wednesday as saying the following. "Cardinal Ratzinger will present the truth. He will not impose it, but some will dislike it and may dislike him as a result. ... But the friends of Cardinal Ratzinger will be the friends of Jesus Christ, and those who are hostile to Cardinal Ratzinger will be hostile to Jesus Christ, because Cardinal Ratzinger will continue to preach the fullest of truth, which is Jesus."


Is that a suggestion that if you disagree with the pope, you cannot, in fact, be loyal to Jesus Christ?


REV. JOSEPH FESSIO: Tim, Jesus told us that he who hears you hears me. The glory of the Catholic Church, which we accept humbly, is that God has revealed his truth to us through human instruments. And Jesus appointed Apostle Peter the head to maintain that through its integrity. And so, yes, the Catholic Church, when it speaks authoritatively, is giving us the truth of Christ, and those who rebel against the church's authentic teaching are rebelling against God.


MR. RUSSERT: In terms of authentic teaching, what would be characterized as authentic teaching?


REV. FESSIO: Well, Tim, the church‑‑when the church agrees with the culture, I mean, that's just a confirmation of the culture, but the church also disagrees sometimes with the culture. So, you know, we just saw a young woman who was not sick, who was not dying, who was allowed to starve to death and to be put to death by lack of water, the church‑‑because Jesus was a man, because God became flesh, tells us all human life is precious. And so the Pope Benedict, the bishops are going to say, "We can't do things like that."


God created us for love and for community, for a marriage, for example, which is fruitful, and has children and it creates culture. Homosexual marriages can't do that. And so the church, while loving those people and recognizing them in the image of God, says, "No, that what you're doing is not consistent with God's plan."


So Cardinal Ratzinger, who listens very carefully to God's Word and is one who promotes it and will proclaim it, is going to say, as Jesus himself would say, "These things I affirm, these things I must tell you are not consistent with God's will." One of the most important things he said today in his homily, typical Ratzinger‑‑look, I've known the man for 33 years. The man is a listener, a very careful listener. He says, "I want to put myself (foreign language spoken), at the listening of God, hearing God"; not my ideas, not my plans, but God's will and God's plan.


And so I think you're going to see in Cardinal Ratzinger just like you saw in John Paul II, someone who's totally given to Jesus and the church that Jesus founded. And that, therefore, we expect the master to have disciples like him. Jesus predicted this. Those who followed him will be persecuted like he was. I think Cardinal Ratzinger's going to make very deep friends and arouse a lot of loyalties. He's also going to make enemies, because he is going to be‑‑have the courage to speak out against those things which really harm human dignity and harm human development.


MR. RUSSERT: Thomas Cahill, you wrote an op‑ed piece in The New York Times a few weeks ago, and let me read part of it. "Sadly, Pope John Paul II represented a different tradition, one of aggressive appalls. Whereas Pope John XXIII endeavored simply to show the validity of church teaching rather than to issue condemnations. John Paul II was an enthusiastic condemner. ...he was not a great religious figure. How could he be? He may, in time to come, be credited with destroying his church."


You heard Father Bohlin talk about the continuity. Explain what you're saying.


MR. THOMAS CAHILL: I think that John Paul II was a great political figure. He freed Eastern Europe to a large extent. I think he'll be remembered probably as the most important political figure in the second half of the 20th century. I don't think he will last as a religious figure because I think he was more divisive than he needed to be. I think that Christians as a group often make the mistake of exclusivism, of trying to draw the circle that much tighter and that much smaller of excluding rather than including, which I think is an extremely basically un‑Christian format.


Jesus said, "We must include everyone just as God does." I think that in many ways, John Paul made mistakes in that direction, and though the piazza was full for many days, the churches are largely empty in many parts of the world and they will not fill up simply because of the phenomenon that we have noticed over the last few weeks.


I think the kind of, what I would call, recidivist theology of someone like the previous speaker is, A, historical. It is not based on the true history of Christianity, it's fanciful, and it is lacking in compassion for millions and millions of people who can't meet the supposed standards.


When Jesus sat down next to the woman at the well and talked to her for a very long time, then he said, "Why don't you go and bring your husband out." And she said, "I don't have a husband," and he said, "You're right. You've had five husbands and the man who you're living with right now isn't your husband." And she said, "Wow." And she went into the town and said, "I've just met the Messiah." Now, he didn't say to her, "Before you have communion with me, you must go back to your first husband." No, he didn't talk about her div‑‑he kind of engaged her on the subject of her divorces, but a church that says, for instance, of divorce people know they may not commune with Jesus I think is making the terrible un‑Christian un‑evangelical mistake and I think it does it in many other areas, largely related to either sexuality or women.


MR. RUSSERT: Sister Mary Aquin, let me bring you back to 1962. This is Pope John XXIII about to open the Vatican Council in October. And in this speech on October 11, he said the following, "Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. She considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teacher rather than by condemnations..."


Is that a thesis, a theory that you subscribe to and could you image Pope Benedict XVI saying the same thing?


SR. MARY AQUIN O'NEILL: As a sister of mercy, of course, I respond to it, and, in fact, I think the whole world responded to it. We know how the world responded to Pope John XXIII. I've been impressed by a line in a wonderful work by Karen Armstrong, "The Spiral Staircase," her latest book, where she says, "We must make room in our minds for one another." And so I've been trying to do that since Pope Benedict XVI was elected. Certainly his reputation prior to election caused me and others like me to have great concern, but since his consecration and election, I've been trying to follow that admonition. And one of the things that I found was that this is what he put on his holy card when he was named priest. "We aim not to Lord over your faith but to serve your joy." Now, what a priest puts on his holy card is like what a sister puts in her ring. We have mottos we put in our rings. They're...


MR. RUSSERT: What is yours?


SR. O'NEILL: "The truth will set you free." And that's a standard for your whole life, and often in moments of great consequence, you return to that motto or the line you put on your holy card. So it is my great hope that this pope will remember that that's what he chose, to serve our joy, and I think everything is possible. That's what Scripture teaches us is that all things are possible. So that's where I stand right now.


MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham and Joseph Bottum, let me bring you into the conversation. A lot of discussion about what Pope Benedict XVI will mean to other faiths in the world. The New York Times Wednesday had this article: "He has repeatedly condemned `religious pluralism' and relativism, the idea that other religions can hold the way to salvation, and he has been instrumental in blocking the advance of priests who support such view. In 2000 the Vatican document `Dominus Jesus,' in which Cardinal Ratzinger was the driving voice, called for a new Catholic evangelism and described other faiths as lesser searches for the truth. `This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the church has for the religions of the world,' the document said, `but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that "one religion is as good as another."'"


What's your sense of what Pope Benedict XVI will mean in terms of ecumenism around the world of other faiths?


MR. JON MEACHAM: Well, his early words from‑‑as pope has been rather contrary in spirit to his written works on this question. You know, in the words of the Elizabethan Prayer Book, we are all seeking the means of grace and the hope of glory, and the road by which we‑‑the road we take to attempt to do that can be different and obviously have been throughout history. I would draw a distinction between the teachings of the church and ultimately the broader force of Christianity. There is a sense, I think, of‑‑as God said to Job in the Old Testament in the longest sustained monologue from the Lord in the Bible, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world?" So he should not be presuming to act as though we know everything and that we understand all truth.


In fact, St. Paul said, "For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face‑to‑face. Now, I am known in part, soon I will be known in full." So we are all on a journey. St. Augustin defined this as the soul's journey back to God. And my sense is the more that Benedict XVI can speak in the spirit of the past week as opposed to the past generation he will become a force for at least an ecumenical spirit if not reconciliation.

MR. RUSSERT: Jody Bottum, let me bring you into this on this very subject. John Allen, who's covered the papacy for a long time, wrote this about six years ago: "In October of 1986, John Paul II assembled 200 leaders of the world's great religions in Assisi, Italy ... `to be together and pray' on behalf of peace. ... On that fall day in the birthplace of St. Francis, John Paul joined a circle with the Dalai Lama, Orthodox bishops, Hindu swamis and a Crow Indian medicine man in full feathered headdress, saying little but offering a powerful symbol of solidarity. ... Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope's top doctrinal officer, told a German newspaper: `This cannot be the model!' John Paul, however, insisted on the propriety of the event: `Diversity is the nature of the human family. ... We must go beyond [Catholicism] to persons of goodwill who do not share our faith.' It was a striking overture, considering Catholicism declared in 1217 at the Fourth Lateran Council that `there is indeed one universal church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved.'"


Where are we on this issue?


MR. JOSEPH BOTTUM: It may be the job of the pope in variety of ways to reach out to other people, particularly in the situation which this pope finds himself. The church had a thousand years or more to understand how to try and rein in the characteristic abuses of monarchies, of absolute monarchies and their characteristic abuses of violence and authoritarianism. And the church had a thousand years to try and figure out how to do that. Democracies, too, have their characteristic abuses. There's a demand for freedom that wants to kill the babies and kill the weak and old, for instance. And the church has to figure out‑‑and from Pius XII, who was, in fact, a modernist, but then John XXIII and through John Paul II, we have a church that is trying to figure out how to live in a democracy and how to rein in the characteristic abuses of democracies. It's hard work, and we somehow think that it should be solved as quickly as the‑‑you know, the completed system that we had to deal with the monarchies. But actually that took a thousand years to work out.


This pope, it seems to me‑‑or rather, John Paul II looked to draw others into his project to help him do that, but he was never going to say to people, to faithful members of the Catholic Church, "Oh, go become Buddhists, or no, Islam really would be just as good for you." He's the keeper of the church. It's his job to say and indeed we have to believe if you're Catholic, that though everyone is on this path there is the way, the truth and the light and this is the best path or the path to which we are called and believe offers the fullness of humanity. It's the job of the pope to say that. It can't be the job of the pope to say all religions are pretty much the same.


MR. RUSSERT: Father Bohlin, you would never expect this pope to say, however, that you must be a Catholic in order to find salvation.


REV. BOHLIN: Well, one has to understand what that phrase means, that all salvation comes through Christ, which is a mysterious thing. All salvation comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it can come through many ways, the church has always taught, because many people do not have access to Christ, the full teaching of Christ, but all salvation is through Christ, through his mercy, through the grace that he won for dying for us on the cross. But it's applied by God in mysterious ways to many people. And the Holy Father John Paul II always saw man as the way of the church: the great truth that's in each person created by God. There's a great truth. And there's a certain truth in every culture. What he wanted to do was to build on cultures, to build on the good in every society. And there's a spark of the divine, spark of God, in every religion, in every man's search for God, every culture's search for God. And he saw that goodness there and he wanted to build on that.


And that's what we have to do, and I think this new pope is going to do it too, to reach out and to build on the good that's in every culture, but at the same time to point out the evil, to point out the things that are not leading in the right direction. And he has to say that clearly.


MR. RUSSERT: But if you are, in fact, Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim and Jewish or Protestant or whatever, and you live a good and decent honorable life, you can achieve salvation?


REV. BOHLIN: True. This is what the church has always taught.


MR. RUSSERT: Not always.


REV. BOHLIN: Well, it depends how you understand it‑‑how you understand it. It was clarified in Vatican II, but it's been the teaching of the church.


MR. RUSSERT: Father Fessio, Hans Kung, who used to be a mentor to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and has obviously had a rather strained relationship with him‑‑he's a theologian‑‑said that the new pope is "very sweet but very dangerous." You have worked with Cardinal Ratzinger. How would you respond with that?


REV. FESSIO: Well, Tim, first of all, I've been listening to these comments and I'm kind of bewildered, because it's hard to know how to respond to them. My experience of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, is of a man who is very gentle, extremely gracious, a wonderful listener and with a great sense of humor, always that. And I realize he's got bad press because he's had to be the one to oversee the documentation of the church. But I think even the press and the media are already surprised. They're saying, "Gee, he seems so much nicer than we thought." But there was a false image that was presented before of this man. And remember, for Catholics it's not so important who the pope is, but that we have a pope at all, that if there's going to be unity in the church there must be someone who's a visible sign and a guardian of that unity.


So Cardinal Ratzinger is going to be "conservative," as the media likes to call him, because every Catholic has got to be someone who receives a message and passes it on. If Benedict XVI, Tim, gave you a message for me and you deliver it to me and I say, "Well, Tim, is that just what he told you?" You say, "Well, no, Father, I made a little change here. I thought I would improve this and that was a little outmoded." I say, "Wait a minute, Tim, I want to know what he said to me." And we believe, as Catholics, that God himself has revealed himself in Jesus Chris to us, and given us the fullness of truth, truth which we cannot invent on our own. And so we believe, by the very nature of our faith, that it's very important that we receive these truths, we understand them, we cherish them, we try to pass them on to others and live them, but not to change them or dilute them or modify them.


So any person who is a priest or a bishop or a pope or a Catholic, for that matter, is going to have to be conservative in the sense of trying to maintain this beautiful revelation that Jesus, who is God, died for your sins, died for my sins, died for all men's sins, and loves us all, but that's the fullness of truth. So we're going to respect Buddhists. We're going to respect people who have no belief at all, because they're in the image of God. At the same time, if we're Catholics, we believe that God has enlightened us. He's given us the knowledge that he does love everyone, and we have to pass that on.


So for Kung to say he's dangerous, I think he's dangerous the way Jesus was dangerous. You know, Jesus came; he was rejected by many. But for those who did respond to him, he was the source of eternal life. And I love Sister's reference to her motto, "The truth will set you free." You see, I believe that was one of Ratzinger's greatest abilities, was to listen to all kinds of people, all kinds of positions, and then, in the light of the Gospel, present a fullness of response which enlightened people and which energized people. And that's why, again, in his own motto, he serves our joy. I think we have here a pope who'll take the name of Benedict who's going to try and re‑Christianize our culture and reach out to everyone through prayer, through the Eucharist.


MR. RUSSERT: Sister?


SR. O'NEILL: I'm grateful for an opportunity to return to the question of truth. Truth is another name for God and so it cannot be something that we possess. It's something that we hope to dwell within. The truth is always larger than we are, greater than we are. And it is not something that we can attain by ourselves. This is why we need the community.


Now, another quote I found from Cardinal Ratzinger, or at least it was reported that he has written that "The three major forces for the development of church doctrine are the Christian and human experience of the church at large, the work of scholars and the watchful attention, listening and deciding undertaken by teaching authority." Now, all those three are important, and the first is the Christian and human experience of the church. I believe that some of us around this table have been pleading for that.


Experience changes, especially the experience of women has got to be brought into this church, listen to, respected and given‑‑put on a plane with those who have developed the teachings out of their perspective and experience, which, by and large, has been male. So there is great room for us to deepen our understanding of the truth and I believe to discover new aspects of the truth. We must not talk about the truth as if it were some kind of package that is fixed and stayed and can be handed on from one generation to the other without anything of ourselves entering into it.


MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break. A lot more of our conversation right after this.




MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the Catholic Church of the United States, particularly involving Catholic politicians, right after this.




MR. RUSSERT: And we're back.


Sister, you talked about broadening the church in terms of input. Mr. Cahill, I want to refer you and our viewers to a piece again you wrote in The Times. "John Paul II's most lasting legacy to Catholicism will come from the episcopal appointments he made. In order to have been named a bishop, a priest must have been seen to be absolutely opposed to masturbation, premarital sex, birth control (including condoms used to prevent the spread of AIDS), abortion, divorce, homosexual relations, married priests, female priests and any hint of Marxism. It is nearly impossible to find men who subscribe wholeheartedly to this entire catalogue of certitudes; as a result the ranks of the episcopate are filled with mindless sycophants and intellectual incompetents."


So where do you stand? What's the solution?


MR. CAHILL: The solution I think is to return episcopal election to the people which is where it was in the early church. You could not‑‑if Peter were to rise from beneath his grave in the Vatican and come upstairs, would not be able to recognize this church as his. In fact, Peter, who was martyred about '63, was certainly not a bishop and he certainly was not bishop of Rome and he's certainly not pope. He was one of the leaders of the early church.


The idea of episcopacy in the sense that we now use it really comes into play toward the end of the first century as a response to heresies and the need to create some form of doctrinal order. But it takes almost 2,000 years to put us in the position that we are now in where the papacy or the pope makes all of these appointments so that these bishops are not really bishops of their people. They are simply appointees of the pope. That was never the idea. It really is a theological mistake, and it is responsible for the horrendous scandal in American Catholicism and in many other countries.


I refer to the pedophilia scandal. If we had bishops who were not head in the sand yes men, this could have been dealt with, but the pedophilia was bad enough in itself and really had to do with internal psychological immaturities in the celibate clergy but what was much worse was the cover‑up which happened‑‑it seems to me that Bernard Law, cardinal cover‑up himself, is a perfect example of the mistakes that John Paul II made in his appointments. The people of Boston would never have elected Cardinal Law.


MR. RUSSERT: You would have married priests, female priests?


MR. CAHILL: I would have what the church would like to have, what the church would wish to have. I believe the church, that is to say, the people of God, the assembly, has not been consulted on these matters.


MR. RUSSERT: Joseph Bottum?


MR. BOTTUM: I'm not sure that there's any solution in all of that. Certainly the Anglicans have it all. The Lutherans have it all. And, you know, if the Catholic churches in Europe are empty, if only 23 percent of Catholics in England, mostly Irish immigrants, are in church on a Sunday, only 4 percent of Anglicans in the national country are in church on a Sunday. So I'm not sure that's any solution to the problems the church faces internally. But more, I'm not sure it's any solution to the problem the church faces addressing the concerns that arise in a democratic experiment like the United States. We have characteristic abuses, as I said, that are going to happen in these places. And the church needs to be to some degree countercultural, to stand against that and to speak out and say, "We can't kill our babies." So just speak out on economic issues.


You know, one of the great problems here is that in that litany, for instance, that Mr. Cahill gave, of things that he wants, only the very last item and that understated a hint of Marxism had anything to do with economics. The great narrowing of the liberal tradition has come down to almost all having to do with sex and gender. One of the great underreported facts about the new pope is that he actually stands to the left of his predecessor on economic issues. He came out of Germany where they always thought they were going to split the significance between Marxism and capitalism anyway...


MR. RUSSERT: A social democratic tradition.


MR. BOTTUM: Right. And he is to the left of him. If the 1991 encyclical from John Paul I, Centesimus Annus, might be described as three cheers for democracy, two cheers for capitalism. Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, would have gave only one cheer, but you wouldn't know that from all of the coverage that describes him as hard‑liner, conservative, authoritarian because the great liberal tradition even within the church, even Mr. Cahill speaks for, has been narrowed down until it's all just about sex.


MR. DIONNE: I agree with this last point Jody made about the‑‑Benedict's teachings on economics and I think it's going to be interesting to see if that's where his emphasis goes. But I also want to go back to‑‑it relates to something that Father Fessio said. He's talked about the coverage being negative. I don't think the coverage has been negative. And I‑‑20 years ago‑‑I've had a fascination with Cardinal Ratzinger for a long time‑‑20 years ago I wrote a very long‑‑I think one of the first long pieces on Cardinal Ratzinger, and I am impressed, as everybody is, by his integrity and his certainty and I suspect that this‑‑one of his favorite passages in the Bible is from St. Paul: "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who will prepare himself to the battle?"


But I think there are two problems here. The first is, Catholics go into church every Sunday and recite the Nicene Creed. We are not arguing in the church about the Nicene Creed. We are arguing about matters such as whether the priesthood should be confined only to celibate males. Should women become priests, what are their roles in this? And I think there's a kind of creeping effort to broaden and broaden the definition of truth so that people who may have a different view of this‑‑I mean, after all, Paul and Peter disagreed with each other. Why can't there be some debate inside the church?


And the last point is on women, and I'm glad Sister brought it up. My friends Peter and Peggy Steinfels once made the point that in the 19th century the Catholic Church lost a lot of ground in Europe because it did not recognize the rise of the working class and it took until Leo XIII at the end of that century to recognize them. And Europe went much more secular. I think the same thing could happen with women now if the church isn't careful and that would be a great loss to Christianity.


MR. RUSSERT: Father Fessio, the Catholic Church, in fact, could alter its teaching on birth control, the use of condoms or on married priests or on female priests, true?


REV. FESSIO: Well, you put several things on that list, Tim, and the answer is three are false and one is true, and the one that's possibly true is married priests, but not on condoms, not on contraception and not on the ordination of women.


MR. RUSSERT: Why not? Why not?


REV. FESSIO: First of all, I want to say this, that...


MR. RUSSERT: Why are those three not true?


REV. FESSIO: You know, Tim, I'd love to‑‑you want to give me an hour to explain that, or maybe two hours?


MR. RUSSERT: Well is it...


REV. FESSIO: I mean, this is‑‑we are‑‑we have a difficulty here. First of all I want to encourage all the listener‑watcher‑viewers here, for every hour you spend watching television, please spend five hours reading good books, because we really can't have a serious discussion on these very deep, deep, mysterious issues with a bunch of sound bites. So all I'm saying is...


MR. RUSSERT: Well, I think devoting‑‑Father, with all respect, I think devoting a full hour to this discussion is a very serious attempt. And my question was, why would those three issues‑‑the use of condoms, birth control and women as priests‑‑why could they not be altered? Have they, in fact, become doctrine to the church or have they been taught infallibly by a pope?


REV. FESSIO: The answer to that is they've always been the truths taught by the Catholic Church. They may not have been defined until later just like the church has not defined yet that God exists but we must believe that as Catholics. So the church‑‑not everything we believe has been defined yet.


But let's take one issue as an example, ordination of women. Now, obviously to us who see society more in egalitarian terms, it seems kind of obvious, a point of justice. But the point is if Jesus Christ is the bridegroom of the church, if God has sent his son to us as a man to unite himself in a marital act, a nuptial act to his whole people, to make us one flesh and one body with him, there's something very deep and mysterious about that. It's what the church has always taught is that not that men are better than women, not that men should be given more honor than woman, but that men image forth the bridegroom because Christ is essentially someone who's married to us, and therefore you can't have a woman who gives that iconic image of Christ who's the bridegroom of the church.


So there's an example of a teaching which has never been taught by the church that women can be priests. It would be a change in our tradition and one which would be totally contrary to this beautiful tradition we have of marriage being such a sacred reality and marriage being embodied and exemplified by Christ's relation to the church, Ephesians Chapter 5.


MR. RUSSERT: Let me bring Sister into this. Sister, you remember back in 1979...




MR. RUSSERT: ...when the president of your order, the Sisters of Mercy, met with Pope John Paul II here in Washington, and this is what she had to say‑‑Theresa Kane.


(Videotape, October 7, 1979):


SR. THERESA KANE: Our contemplation leads us to state that the church must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of our church.


(End videotape)


MR. RUSSERT: Would you like to be a priest?


SR. O'NEILL: No, I've never felt called to be a priest.


MR. RUSSERT: Do you think women should be able to be priests?

SR. O'NEILL: You know, Tim, I really have not reached that conclusion. I think that the‑‑Frederic Herzog wrote many years ago that the two things that distinguish Catholicism are the sacraments and the Blessed Mother, Mary. They are both under siege right now. And the sacraments are in trouble because we don't have ministers. That's the question for me. We must find a way to solve that. The people are hungry for the sacraments, and without the sacraments, we don't have the church. Now, one proposed solution is to ordain women, but my concern about it is that too much of the argument makes it seem that in order to prove our equality, we must be ordained. And that would mean that the ordained are somehow higher and better than the laity. That's a theology I do not accept.


I believe that one of the most important things for this church now is to really act on Christici Fidelis Laici, where we were told there's a complementarity between the laity and the ordained. Complementarity means one cannot trump the other. And so, in all the questions that the church faces, the laypeople and their experience and their insights have to have an equal place at the table with those who are ordained. It may be that we decide to ordain women. It may be that we decide to ordain married men. As Thomas Cahill said, he wants the church, the assembly, to be involved in it, and so do I.


MR. RUSSERT: Father Bohlin, do you see a day when there will be married men or women as priests in the Catholic Church?


REV. BOHLIN: Personally, I don't foresee it. I think there's another way of looking at this whole issue, which is the way that John Paul II has looked at it, coming out of Christici Fidelis Laici, the great document on the laypeople in the church, which is that, really, talking about priests, bishops, Catholic professionals, is talking about an infinitesimal portion of what the church is, and really, the forefront of the battle of the church is waged by every baptized person. And that's what's has to be‑‑that's the battle. That's where the battle is, where those people are.


MR. RUSSERT: But if you're a sacramental church, you need priests to administer the sacraments.




MR. RUSSERT: And if there's a shortage of priests, what do you do?


REV. BOHLIN: I think the shortage of priests will be cured by people living their faith, ordinary people, in their families, in their place, without leaving their place in the world, discovering their path to follow Christ there, living it seriously, engaging the world‑‑each baptized Christian, called to engage the modern world, to bring solutions of the gospel there, that‑‑this is what's going to energize the church. And I think John Paul II made a difference. I think his life made a difference, had an impact. And I think he sowed many seeds around the world, and just with the outpouring of affection at his funeral‑‑extraordinary‑‑I think we see that he's beginning to energize many people, ordinary people, the laypeople, to follow Christ more closely.

MR. RUSSERT: Jon Meacham.


MR. MEACHAM: I think the father's right, particularly in the sense that, if you are a person of faith, particularly in the United States, you live in hope. You live in the hope that one day there will be a God who will wipe away all tears from your eyes and there'll be no more pain, an image from Revelation that's drawn from Isaiah. And if people of faith are to play a role in the public square, they must, I believe‑‑a humble layman's opinion‑‑they must practice humility and be‑‑understand that the peace of God does passeth all understanding and that no one has, I believe, a monopoly on truth.


John Henry Newman, who started out as an Anglican priest and ended up a Roman Catholic Cardinal, has a prayer attributed to him which says, "O Lord, support us all the day long until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done, and then, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest and peace at the last." Whatever one's faith‑‑Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian, Jewish‑‑that seems an appropriate prayer, and should be our common one.


MR. RUSSERT: I want to get you in here, Jody Bottum, but I want to put on the table Cardinal Ratzinger's memo in June of 2004, which was entitled "Worthiness To Conceive Holy Communion and General Principles," by Joseph Ratzinger. "In the case of a Catholic politician" as his‑‑"consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws, his pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the church's teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end an objective situation of sin, warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist." He went on, "Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion."


Do you believe that Benedict XVI will be a much more activist pope in terms of instructing Catholic politicians here in the United States?


MR. BOTTUM: No, I don't think he will be personally. I think he's going to be concerned with internal church matters. But I think under his pontificate, we will see a little bit more of this. We've had talk here about the necessary humility with which a believer has to live and present himself in the public square, and it's all absolutely true. But there are certain places where a marker is simply laid down that cannot be crossed over. And the church has increasingly come to see that abortion is such a marker; that really no matter what changes we want elsewhere, it's not going to happen on abortion. And that there has to be some place not for all of us, because not all of us live public lives, but for those who do live public lives and yet claim to be Catholic, here's one place where a marker is simply laid down. The teaching on abortion is not going to change. This is an objective wrong being done to unborn persons, and something has to be said to those who present themselves to the public either through politics or in other ways through media stardom to make them not be able to have it all, to say, "I'm Catholic and I should gain all the benefits electorally and politically that come from making that claim, but I could also be for abortion."


MR. RUSSERT: What happens to Catholic politicians?


MR. DIONNE: I think it's very problematic. I think if you go back to that original letter, there was still some muddiness that I don't think we fully clarified, which is on the one hand, those words you put up on the screen are quite ambiguous. On the other hand, Cardinal Ratzinger left it to local bishops, and I think especially Cardinal McCarrick here in Washington, negotiated some room on this, because he, among others, did not think it appropriate to use communion as a sanction against the politician.


I think the problem for the church is twofold. One, in European countries, a lot of Catholic politicians, genuinely Catholic Christian Democratic politicians, do not propose completely rolling back laws that have abortion legalized. They tend to push at the margins, because that's what they can get. Secondly, there is a great debate among Catholics, and I think a legitimate debate, over the ordering of various issues. Do these issues of abortion and stem cell research utterly take so much precedence that all of the other issues connected to social justice, war and peace and the death penalty are washed out in their importance? Forty percent of church‑going Catholics voted for John Kerry. That suggests a real rift in the American church.


MR. RUSSERT: Many topics for a further discussion. We thank you all for your time. We have to take a quick break. We'll be right back with our MEET THE PRESS Minute.