As is the tradition on his apostolic trips abroad, during his flight to the United Kingdom the Holy Father answered questions from the journalists accompanying him on the papal aircraft.
One journalist asked the Pope if he was worried about the discussions and contrasting opinions that have marked preparations for his trip. “The tradition of the country has included strong anti-Catholic views. Are you concerned about how you will be received?”
Benedict XVI replied: “I must say that I am not worried because when I went to France it was said that it was the most anti-clerical of countries, with strong anti-clerical currents and a minimum number of faithful, and when I went to the Czech Republic it was also said that it was the most irreligious and anticlerical country of Europe. … Of course, Great Britain has its own history of anti-Catholicism, that much is obvious, but it is also a country with a great history of tolerance. Thus I am certain that there will be a generally positive welcome from Catholics and believers, attention from those from those who seek to progress in our time, and mutual respect and tolerance where there is anti-Catholicism. I hope to carry on courageously and joyfully”.
The second question was: “The United Kingdom, like many other Western countries, is considered to be a secular State. There is a strong culturally-motivated atheist movement. Nonetheless, there are also signs that religious faith – particularly faith in Jesus Christ – remains alive at a personal level. What does this mean for Catholics and Anglicans? Can anything be done to make the Church a more credible and attractive institution?”
“In my view”, the Pope replied, “a Church which seeks above all to be attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for herself, she does not work to increase her numbers and her power. The Church is at the service of Another. She serves not herself, not to become strong; rather, she serves to make the announcement of Jesus Christ more accessible: the great truths, the great powers of love and reconciliation which appeared in Him and which always come from the presence of Jesus Christ. … In this sense its seems to me that Anglicans and Catholics have a simple task, the same task, the same direction to follow. If Anglicans and Catholics see that neither is an end unto themselves, but that they are both instruments of Christ (‘friend of the bridegroom’ as St. John says); if both follow Christ’s priorities and not their own, then they come together because those priorities unite them. They are no longer rivals, each searching for more followers, they are joined in their commitment to the truth of Christ which comes into this world. Thus do they also reciprocally discover authentic and fruitful ecumenism”.
The third question put to the Pope focused on how to restore trust among the faithful following the sex abuse scandals.
“In the first place, I have to say that these revelations were a shock to me, a source of great sadness. It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible. The priest at the moment of ordination, having prepared for years for that moment, says yes to Christ, becoming His voice, His mouth, His hand, and serving Him with all his life so that the Good Shepherd Who loves, helps and leads us to truth may be present in the world. It is difficult to understand how a man who has done and said these things can fall into this perversion. It is very sad. It is also sad that the Church authorities were not sufficiently vigilant, not quick and decisive enough in taking the necessary measures. For all these reasons we are now in a time of penance, humility and renewed sincerity. … As concerns the victims, I would like to make three important points. … How can we make reparation, what can we do to help these people overcome their trauma, rediscover life and faith in the message of Christ? Concern and commitment to the victims is the first priority, with material psychological and spiritual assistance. The second question is the problem of the guilty, ensuring they receive just punishment, that they have no possibility of approaching young people, because we know that this is a disease and free will cannot function where the disease exists. Thus we must protect these people from themselves, find ways to help them and protect them from themselves, excluding them from all access to young people. The third point concerns prevention through education and the selection of candidates to the priesthood; vigilance so that as far as humanly possible future cases are avoided. I would also like to take this moment to thank British bishops for their attention and collaboration, both with the See of St. Peter and with the public authorities, and for their concern towards the victims. I feel the British episcopate has done and continues to do a great job, and I am very grateful to them”.
“The figure of Cardinal Newman”, noted another journalist, “is very important for you, to the extent that you are taking the exceptional step of presiding at his beatification. Do you feel that his memory can help to overcome divisions between Anglicans and Catholics? What aspects of his personality do you wish to emphasise most?”
“Cardinal Newman is above all”, the Holy Father said, “a modern man who experienced all the problems of modernity, who also lived the problem of agnosticism, the impossibility of knowing God and believing. … I would also highlight these three elements: The modernity of his life, with all the doubts and problems of our lives today. His immense culture; his knowledge of the great treasures of human culture and his permanent readiness to study and renew that knowledge. His spirituality; his spiritual life and his life with God. These things make him an exceptional man of our time. Thus his figure appears as a doctor of the Church for us and for everyone, as well as being a bridge between Anglicans and Catholics”.
The final question was: “This visit is considered as being a ‘State visit’. Are there important points of agreement with the UK authorities, particularly in view of the great challenges facing the world today?”
The Pope replied: “I am very grateful to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who wished to give this visit the rank of State visit, thus expressing its public nature as well as the joint responsibility of politics and religion for the future of the continent and the future of humanity. [We have] a great and joint responsibility to ensure that the values that create justice and politics – values that come from religion – proceed together in our time. Of course, the fact that this is a State visit does not make it a political event, because if the Pope is a head of State this is only a tool to guarantee the independence of his announcement and the public nature of his work as pastor, In this sense, a State visit always remains, substantially and essentially, a pastoral visit”.