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New Pope: The Moral Issues

Conservative vs. Liberal Policies

Father Anthony Figueiredo
Professor of Theology, Seton Hall University
Wednesday, April 20, 2005; 3:00 PM

Pope Benedict XVI took steps at his first public papal mass Wednesday to "assure" the world that he welcomes "everybody" and that the church "wants to continue in open and sincere dialogue, in search of the true good of man and society."

Read the Story:Pope, U.S. Cardinals Push Softer Image (Post, April 20)

Rev. Anthony Figueiredo, assistant professor of Systemic Theology at Seton Hall University and former personal assistant to Pope John Paul II, was online Wednesday, April 20, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the new pope and his anticipated positions on women in the clergy, homosexuality, euthanasia, medical research and other personal and moral issues.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Father Anthony Figueiredo: Let's really talk about these issues today.


Washington, D.C.: How can we help bring the Holy Father's message of hope and steadfast faith to more Catholics here in the United States?

Father Anthony Figueiredo: I believe we have to be very open to new expressions of the Holy Spirit in the Church such as the new movements, the new communities, the new religious orders which are not only producing vocations but are doing so through fidelity to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

We need people with guts to preach the good news in season and out of season in a world which is going more and more away from God.


Arlington, Va.: This is a question concerning the recent conclave. I've seen you on MSNBC, Father, and you've been very enlightening during this whole process. However, I can't find anyone who can explain why there were two men who swore the oath during the conclave who looked as if they might be Russian or Greek Orthodox clergy. Can you please enlighten us?? Many thanks, Father Figueiredo!

Father Anthony Figueiredo: They are Eastern Rite Catholics in communion with the Roman church. In this sense, they do not wear the scarlet robe but the black cassock but they are still cardinals.


Baltimore, Md.: How will the issue of "supermarket" Catholics be addressed? There has been such a growing number of people who call themselves Catholic, but then want to pick and choose what they accept as truths.

Father Anthony Figueiredo: Much of this is not the fault of ordinary Catholics but the fault of clergy, priests and deacons who fail to speak the truth from the pulpit.


Watkinsville, Ga.: How can the Catholic Church justify keeping women out of "leadership" (read priest) roles in the 21st Century, when women in all walks of life head families, guide governments and serve in the military? Since the Bible was written by man, shouldn't man change the doctrines so that the rules are timely and address the world as it exists today?

Father Anthony Figueiredo: The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. We have a duty to be faithful to the scripture as unfolded in the tradition of the church and confirmed by the Majesterium. I presume you are thinking of ordained women but I may be wrong. All I know is that the greatest person to have lived after Jesus Christ was a woman, the Blessed Mother, and her greatness did not come from her function but from her openness to God's will, whatever that meant.


Children are the future: It's often said that children are our future, and I think this is especially true in the Church. One of JPII's greatest strengths was his (relative) youth and willingness to bring the message straight to the youth of the Church. I think that the interest in the church in my generation comes in great part from JPII's openness to us, while in past generations the papacy has had little to do with the youth of the world. Given Benedict's age and questionable health, how can he maintain the fervor that JPII ignited in the hearts of the next generation of the church?

Father Anthony Figueiredo: Benedict has great shoes to fill. There is not doubt that John Paul the Great attracted the youth. He attracted them because he loved them. For Benedict, he will need to rely on the Holy Spirit to give him a love which calls young people to love Christ and the Church. I agree, as John Paul II said so often, you are the future of the Church.


Father Anthony Figueiredo: We will have an insight into this when Benedict visits Cologne in August.


Fairfax, Va.: What is the condition of Pope Benedict's health?

Father Anthony Figueiredo: His health appears good for a 78-year-old. He has had health difficulties in the early '90s. John Paul II's greatest testimony came from his years of suffering. All is in God's hands. We accept the will of God and God does the rest.


Washington, D.C.: Since the thrust of the theology of John Paul II and Benedict XVI is Othodoxy, why is there such a problem with permitting married priests? Priests could be married until the twelfth century. Yes, many were not, but that is not "doctrine" from the time of Christ. Could this not help in the reconciliation of the Latin and Orthodox Churches (in the latter, priests can and usually are married, although bishops cannot be)? Given the quickly decreasing number of priests, will Benedict XVI (unlike John Paul II) be open to even just discussing this possibility? Thanks.

Father Anthony Figueiredo: I truly believe he will be open to discussing this issue as it can change. I do not think, however, it will change. The solution to the vocation shortage lies in holiness. That means the witness of holy priests who attract others by being happy and joyful as celibate priests. Imagine if Benedict had to ask his wife, can I be the pope? Would that not create a conflict of interest? And the same goes for all priests.


Fairfax, Va.: I would like to know if he is going to specifically address the sexual molestation of priests and the cover-up scandal in 2003 and what process is being put in place to ensure this kind of abuse doesn't happen again, and how will it be measured? I don't feel this was adequately addressed before.

Father Anthony Figueiredo: John Paul II entrusted the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith with this task. Cardinal Ratzinger was its head. He called the scandals filthy. He dealt with them sternly but it is a process that necessarily takes time.

What we have at stake are both the healing of the person abused which must be our primary concern but also the reputation of the one accused. That necessarily involves a thorough investigation.


Washington, D.C.: To what extent do you think the Pope will try to explain Catholic moral teaching to those not versed in theology -- i.e., ordinary parishioners? Ideally this would be the job of the parish priest, but I find that too often parishioners are simply told what to do without hearing the moral reasoning behind it. I can count on one hand the members of my parish who have actually read an encyclical ... and, let's face it, they're not all that easy to understand.

Father Anthony Figueiredo: An excellent question. This must be the primary task of Benedict. If all we do is moralize within comprehensible teachings the message of the Church which is the message of Christ falls on deaf ears. We need to preach the world so that people receive it as a good news and we need to show them how they can fulfill that word in their lives. I'm thinking especially of difficult questions such as contraception and other areas of sexuality.


Gaithersburg, Md.: There appear to be Nazi skeletons (membership in the Hitler Youth Movement and German Luftwaffe) as well as more open support for the ultra conservative Opes Dei (founded by a fascist) as well as supporting the elevation of Pope Pius XII to saint hood. (pope during the Nazi era) This combined with his being born along the same river as Hitler and his Nazi father, one would think would be considered when elevating someone to such a high leadership position. As this background becomes known in the world, is there a chance of a recall on the pope?

Father Anthony Figueiredo: No. But it is incredible that the most despised nation of the 20th Century has produced Benedict XVI. Why? He was forced to enter the Nazi Youth, he deserted as a soldier in order to pursue his love for Christ and the priesthood. We need to remember that those areas of Germany with the highest population such as Bavaria, the land of Ratzinger, gave the greatest resistance to Hitler. This is a story yet to be written and will prove very positive for the new pope.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Father Figueiredo,

Is what any pope believes relevant to American Catholics today? Pope John Paul II was widely popular -- yet largely ignored on many of his moral stands. Your perspective would be appreciated. Thank you.

Father Anthony Figueiredo: Ratzinger has spoken of the dictatorship of relativism. I think that marks our nation on so many issues. We looked up to John Paul as a man who was constant in his teaching. The difficulty lay in our inability as a church to preach the same teaching to our people. That is a challenge for all Catholics, priests and lay people. If we are faithful we will attract others to the faith.


Washngton, D.C.: Will Pope Ratzinger take to the Internet?
Writing in a campus publication at the University of Minnesota, someone named Bobak Ha'eri suggested that the Holy See get even more cyber-savvy than it is already and have the pope do online discussions and maybe start a blog. Is that feasible? Could it happen?

Father Anthony Figueiredo: Why not? As long as we never lose the one-on-one personal contact. That's how Jesus converted the world.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Father -- Does the new pope consider homosexuality to be a "moral" question or part of the larger issue related to sex out of wedlock? For purposes of this question, I define "morality" as involving a choice between right and wrong. In essence, what I'd like to know is whether the pope thinks (1) that homosexuals have a choice and that they've chosen homosexuality, which leads one to think (in my mind, wrongly), that they are sinners for that reason alone or (2) that homosexuals, to the extent that are sexually active out of wedlock, are in violation of the church's general stand on labeling out-of sex wedlock. I also want to set aside the same-sex marriage issue -- while related, it's in my mind secondary to the more fundamental issue of human identity at stake here. In my opinion, the homosexuality issue is the key "liberal" issue floating around out there and the pope's success in wooing modernistic American/European Catholics back into the fold will hinge upon which of these two definitions he agrees with.

Thanks in advance.

Father Anthony Figueiredo: The teaching of the Church on homosexuality is constant as it is in other areas of sexuality. When we separate the unity of two bodies from procreation or openness to life, we destroy God's plan for the human person. This applies to both homosexuality and heterosexuality. The Church does not condemn the person; it condemns the act. It does, however, call the homosexual act "intrinsically disorded" because the homosexual act can never lead to life and this is God's will for our bodies.


washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion with Father Figueiredo. We thank you for joining us.


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