Never for power

Poland: honorary doctorate for Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone

“Human rights are universal not because they are approved and recognized by parliamentary majorities or by public opinion, but because they rest on the very nature of the human being, which remains unaltered despite changing social and historical conditions”, declared Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, in his “lectio magistralis” given in Poland on 11 February, during the ceremony for the conferral on him of an honorary doctorate by the Pontifical Theological Faculty at the University of Wroclaw. “Today – said the cardinal – individual rights are spoken of more frequently than human rights, transforming desires to be satisfied into rights”. On the contrary, as the Pope said in his historic speech to the UNO in 2008, “these rights find their foundation in the natural law”, and separating them from it “would be tantamount to succumbing to a relativistic conception”. That’s why we need “laws that are not the result of conformity to mere ‘proceduralism’, but spring from the will to aspire to the genuine good of the person and society and hence make reference to the natural law”. “Establishing a political and juridical order in which the rights of the person and his/her proper social development are best safeguarded”: that, according to Cardinal Bertone, is the fundamental task of “modern elective democracies”.There is no “distribution of power” in the Church. “Democracy, like any constitutional system, is a structure of power, which as such conceives of itself, just like any other system of government, essentially in terms of the distribution of power”. This “dynamic of power”, stressed Cardinal Bertone, “if transposed to the ecclesial dimension, cannot but become radically equivocal, because in the Church the structural relation, also at the decision-making/executive level, between the hierarchy and the rest of the people of God, can never ultimately be posed in terms of distribution of power”. “Within the Church – explained the cardinal – the problem of a necessary and orderly distribution of tasks can never coincide, as it ultimately does in the State, with the problem of the possession of a more or less large portion of power, because power – if by power we mean the Bishops’ final responsibility for and therefore their specific service to the life of the Church – is indivisible”. If in a political democracy, moreover, government proceeds “by the system of representation”, on the basis of which “the minority must bow to the majority”, a Church “that were to rest merely on the decisions of a majority would become a purely human Church, in which opinion would replace faith”.The laity and the “synodal style”. What is needed is “a new style and new scope” for the laity: Cardinal Bertone is convinced of this. So, in his “lectio” in Poland, he also spoke, within his wider theme, of the “specific role of the laity” in the ecclesial community. In the cardinal’s view, the “theory” on the laity expressed by Vatican Council II and the indications of John Paul II’s post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Christifideles laici” have lost none of their relevance. Among the emerging problems, Cardinal Bertone cited “the ecclesial ministries and services to be entrusted to the laity; the spread of the new movements; and the place and role of women”. “The new style” of the presence of laypeople in the Church, affirmed the Vatican Secretary of State, “cannot but be the synodal one, valid not only for the celebration of the Synod, but also as method for the approach to problems”. “The synodal style – explained Bertone – is one that has the merit of involving all the communities, calling them to active and responsible participation; a style that demands the search for solutions and dialogue, and the formulation of proposals with responses that are not prefabricated; a style that demands that the Church listens to everyone, or at least the representatives of the communities”, because “ecclesial pluralism cannot be conceived as pluralism of individuals, but only as pluralism of particular churches or communities”.“Witness, not representativeness” in the Church. If the fundamental idea of parliamentarianism is that of representativeness, “the more correct translation of the concept of representation in the Church is that of witness”. That’s why, explained Cardinal Bertone, “the relation between the bishop and the faithful cannot be ultimately resolved in terms of the control of power, but only in terms of the experience of communion. The forms of control introduced during the course of history to contain abuses of power on the part of the hierarchy have rarely generated a genuine experience of Christian communion”. The relation between laity and hierarchy, stressed the Vatican Secretary of State, “is a relation of communion, not of submission or power”. Christians, in fact, “never meet just to decide something together, or to perform a service, but to express communion by acting and deciding together. Communion is not a function of activity; on the contrary, activity is a function of the life of communion”. That means we must reject any form of “activism of associational type”. Instead, we must embrace the task of “building the Church”: that is the prime task of the Christian, through which “the Christian constructs the world, animates it, transforms it and redeems it because the Church is in the world”.

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