Cardinal Robert Sarah in the first interview since his retirement by Pope Francis.
(Rome) The daily Il Foglio today published a conversation with Robert Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship who was resigned on February 20 by Pope Francis. The cardinal from Guinea is one of the most prominent Church representatives, who was repeatedly in conflict with the ruling Pope. Cardinal Sarah comments on current and future challenges for the Church and his relationship with Pope Francis. He talks about the background to his book with Benedict XVI. in defense of the sacramental priesthood and priestly celibacy and warns against the German Synodal Way and a "creeping apostasy". The interview was conducted by Matteo Matzuzzi, Il Foglio's Vaticanist.
"The Church is Not a Battlefield"
Matzuzzi recalls that Cardinal Sarah's books, four in number, the first of which was published in 2015, all became international bestsellers. "Which is something of a miracle, given the complex subjects of his works and the low inclination in modern humanity to read," says Matzuzzi.
Many were surprised when the Vatican press office announced the retirement of Cardinal Sarah two weeks ago. However, the decision was not as surprising as Matzuzzi represents. The autumn of 2019 was the expiration of the five-year term of office as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Order of the Sacraments. A formal extension, contrary to what the Vaticanist suggested, did not take place. A second term would have lasted until 2024. Obviously too long for Francis. He tacitly left the cardinal in office, which gave the Pope the opportunity to terminate Sarah's mandate at any time and without a spectacular dismissal. This was all the more true when the cardinal turned 75 in June 2020 and Francis had to put his resignation on his desk.
“The Pope asked me to do my job in the service of the universal Church donec aliter provideatur to continue, that is, as long as the Holy Father does not determine otherwise. A few weeks ago the Pope informed me that he had now decided to accept my resignation. I immediately told him that I was happy and grateful for his decision. I have repeated it many times: obedience to the Pope is not just a human necessity, it is the means to obey Christ who put the Apostle Peter and his successors at the head of the Church. I am happy and proud to have served three Popes, Saint John Paul II, Benedict XVI. and Francis, in the Roman Curia for more than twenty years. I have endeavored to be a loyal, obedient, and humble servant of the truth of the Gospel. Even if some journalists keep repeating the same stupid things: I have never opposed the Pope."
Matzuzzi wants to know what memory he takes with him of his service at the Divine Service Congregation, which deals with the liturgy.
“Some see the leadership of this dicastery as an honorary position of little importance. In contrast to this, I believe that responsibility for the liturgy places us in the center of the Church, the very foundation of her being. The Church is neither an administration nor a human institution. The Church mysteriously extends Christ's presence on earth. 'The Liturgy', says the Second Vatican Council, 'is the climax towards which the Church's work strives, and at the same time the source from which all her strength flows' ( Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10), and 'consequently every liturgical celebration, as the work of Christ the priest and his body, who is the Church, is primarily a sacred act, the effectiveness of which no other activity of the Church achieves in rank and measure' ( Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). The Church exists to give God to people. That is precisely the role of the liturgy: to worship God and impart divine grace to souls. When the liturgy is sick, the whole Church is in danger because her relationship with God is not only weakened, but profoundly damaged. The Church therefore runs the risk of breaking away from its divine source in order to become a self-centered institution. It affects me very much: There is a lot of talk about the Church and its necessary renewal. But are we talking about God? Let us talk about the work of redemption that Christ accomplished, mainly through the paschal mystery of his blessed suffering, his resurrection from the dead and his glorious ascension, the paschal mystery, through which he 'destroyed our death by dying and recreated life through his resurrection' (Sacrosanctum Concilium , 5). Instead of speaking of ourselves: let's turn to God! That is the message that I have repeated over and over for years. If God is not at the center of the life of the Church, then she is in mortal danger. That is certainly the reason why Benedict XVI. declared that the crisis of the Church is essentially a crisis of the liturgy because it is a crisis of the relationship with God. That is also why I, Benedict XVI. following, insists: The purpose of the liturgy is not to celebrate the community or man, but God. This is very well done by expressing the oriented celebration. 'Where a direct common turning towards the east is not possible', says Benedict XVI., 'The cross can serve as the inner east of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of view for the priest and the praying community. So we follow the old call to prayer that stood on the threshold of the Eucharist: 'Conversi ad Dominum'- Turn to the Lord. So we look together at the one whose death has torn open the temple veil - at the one who stands for us before the Father and embraces us in his arms, who makes us the living new temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19) . When everyone turns to the cross together, the danger of being too human and self-contained, face-to-face is avoided. Let us open our hearts so that God can break in. For the idea, as Joseph Ratzinger said, that the priest and the people must face each other in prayer, arose only in modern Christianity and was completely foreign to early Christianity. It is clear that the priest and the people do not face one another, but pray facing the only Lord, the Christ, who walks towards us in silence. That is one of the reasons why I have insisted on the need for there to be room for silence in the liturgy. When man is silent, he leaves room for God. Conversely, when the liturgy becomes 'talkative', it forgets that the cross is its center and one organizes around the microphone. All of these questions are crucial because they determine the place we give to God. And unfortunately they have turned into ideological questions."
“The regret” that speaks from these words is unmistakable, said Matzuzzi, who asked what Cardinal Sarah meant by “ideological questions”.
“Too often today in the Church we behave as if everything were a question of politics, power, influence and the unjustified imposition of a hermeneutic of the Second Vatican Council of total and irreversible break with tradition. It was very painful for me to see these factions fighting. When I have spoken of liturgical orientation and a sense of the sacred, I have been told: 'You are against the Second Vatican Council'. This is wrong! I don't think there is any point in the struggle between progressives and conservatives in the Church. These are political and ideological categories. The Church is not a political battlefield. All that counts is the ever deeper search for God, to meet Him and humbly kneel down, to worship Him.
When Pope Francis appointed me, he gave me two instructions: to implement the liturgical constitution of the Second Vatican Council and to implement bringing to life the liturgical legacy of Benedict XVI.. I am deeply convinced that these two instructions form a single direction, because Benedict XVI. is certainly the personality that understood Vatican II most deeply. To continue the liturgical work of Benedict XVI. is surely the best way of applying the true council. Unfortunately, some ideologues want to oppose the Church before the Council to a Church after the Council. They divide and do the work of the devil. The Church is one, without breaks, without changes of direction ,because their founder Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13: 8). The Church strives towards God, orientates us towards him. From the Creed of Saint Peter to the Second Vatican Council to Pope Francis, the Church turns to us Christ. Giving the liturgy its sacred character, leaving space for silence and sometimes celebrating it towards the East, as Pope Francis does in the Sistine Chapel or in Loreto, means applying the Council in a deep and spiritual way. I point out an extraordinary coincidence: On the day on which my replacement was announced, Pope emeritus Benedict XVI sent me. the French edition of his works on the liturgy. I saw in it an invitation from Providence to continue this work ofrestoring a liturgy that places God at the center of the life of the Church."
But how was the collaboration with Pope Francis?
“Some insinuate that we are enemies for no reason and without being able to provide concrete and credible evidence. But that's not correct. Pope Francis loves sincerity. We have always worked with simplicity, regardless of journalists' imaginations. Pope Francis, for example, received and understood the book 'From the depths of the heart,' for which I worked together with Benedict XVI. I have not hidden my concern to him about the ecclesiological consequences of questioning priestly celibacy. When he received me after this publication, while press campaigns accused me of lying, the Pope supported and encouraged me. It seems that he had read with appreciation the copy with a dedication, which Pope Benedict XVI. in his fine way had sent him. On this occasion I could see that the truth always triumphs over the lie. There is no point in starting large communication campaigns. All it takes is the courage to be honest and free. The support of Pope Francis, the constant affection of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. and the thousands of letters of thanks from priests and laypeople from all over the world have allowed me to understand the depth of the message of the risen Jesus: Do not be afraid! "
But how does Cardinal Sarah see the future of the Church?
“I am a member of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. There I see with immeasurable joy how the Church radiates holiness. Let us rejoice to see the impressive number of so many daughters and sons of the Catholic Church who take seriously the Gospel and the universal call to holiness 'for from the side of Christ who fell asleep on the cross has emerged the wonderful mystery of the whole Church ''' ( Sacrosanctum Concilium, 5). Regardless of what those “born blind” say, and despite the many sins of their members, the Church is beautiful and holy. It is the expansion of Jesus Christ. The Church is not a secular institution. Her health is not measured by Her power and influence. The Church experiences Good Friday today. Water seems to be entering the ship from all sides. Some betray Her from within. I think of the drama and the terrible crimes of the pedophile priests. How could mission be fruitful when so many lies obscure the beauty of Jesus' face? Others are tempted to betrayal by leaving the ship to follow the powers that be right now. I think of the temptations especially in Germany from that Synodal way. We are asked what is the Gospel, if all this is pulled through to the end: a real silent Apostasy. But Christ's victory always comes through the cross. The Church must go to the cross and to the great silence of Holy Saturday. We must pray with Mary over the body of Jesus. See, pray, repent and make amends so that we can better proclaim the victory of the risen Christ."
And what will Cardinal Sarah do now?
“I will not stop working. I'm also happy to have more time to pray and read. I will continue to write, speak, and travel. Here in Rome I continue to receive priests and believers from all over the world. More than ever, the Church needs bishops who speak clearly, freely and faithfully to Jesus Christ and to the doctrine of faith and morality of His Gospel. I intend to continue and even strengthen this mission. I must continue to work in the service of the unity of the Church, truth and love. I humbly wish to sustain the reflection, prayer, courage and faith of many confused Catholics who have been through the many crises we are currently going through, confused and disoriented: anthropological crises, cultural crises, crises of faith, crises of the priests, crises of morality, but above all crises of our relationship with God."