Claudio Ponti interviews Marcello Pera, former President of the Italian Senate about [the late] Cardinal Giacomo Biffi.
|Benedict XVI greeting Marcello Pera|
‘Cardinal Biffi was a hero of the Church, who has no equal in most of the prelates of today’.
July 18, 2015
These are the words of Marcello Pera, President of the [Italian] Senate from 2001 to 2006, a philosopher, considered one of the leading Italian experts on Popper. During the years of his office - the second highest in the State - he developed a friendship with Benedict XVI, a relationship which continued even when Ratzinger became Pope Emeritus. From the intellectual harmony between them, three volumes were published: Senza Radici (Without Roots) (2004, Mondadori), which they wrote together and dedicated to Europe, relativism, Christianity and Islam, then, L’Europa di Benedetto (The Europe of Benedict) (2005, Cantagalli) by Joseph Ratzinger, for which Marcello Pera wrote the introduction, and Perché dobbiamo dirci cristiani: il liberalismo, L’Europa, l’etica (Why we have to say we are Christians: liberalism, Europe, Ethics) (2008, Mondadori) by Marcello Pera, with the introduction written by Benedict XVI.
Marcello Pera was in the front pew at the funeral of Cardinal Biffi who was the Archbishop of Bologna from 1984 to 2003.
We asked him some questions.
Q. What was Cardinal Biffi’s significance for Bologna, the Church and Italy?
Briefly, three things: faith, theological wisdom, courage. All three being goods not only rare today, but practically impossible to find. Bologna and the entire Church should be proud that they had him among their bishops.
Q. In recalling the figure of Cardinal Biffi these past few days, some commentators wrote that he was the expression of a Church, now almost, definitively gone, given that the Church of today is engaged in being politically correct, even in discouraging, if not - in opposing – as we saw with the Secretary General of the CEI (The Italian Conference of Bishops), Monsignor Nunzio Galantino with regard to the demonstration in defense of the family last June 20th. What do you think of all this?
Where once I saw deep faith and bold, sincere, good-natured testimony, today I see lots of calculation and ambition. Where once I heard in-depth, meditated doctrine, today I hear a lot of approximation. And where once I noted courageous words, today I observe conformism. Please, don’t dare compare the present Secretary General of the CEI – and not only him – to Cardinal Biffi!
Cardinal Biffi was a hero of the Church, a giant of doctrine. He had no hesitancy in theology and didn’t bend it to trends or to the powers of the moment. He didn’t think that mercy should make exceptions to truth or that truth was abstract and needed the integration of mercy to render it alive, practicable and acceptable. And he wasn’t interested in careerism: he joked about it. His witty remarks were wonderful, quick and cutting!
Q. Cardinal Biffi stirred up a lot of heated discussion in 2000 when he addressed the issue of immigration. Besides pronouncing prophetic words, he called for “ the saving of the nation’s identity” since “Italy isn’t a wasteland or almost uninhabited, with no history, no vital traditions, no unmistakable cultural and spiritual physiognomy, not indiscriminately peopled – [in short] as if there were no patrimony typical of humanism and civilization which could end up being lost”. In the same way, he asked that “the Muslim issue” not be underestimated, that it “be treated with painstaking attention”. 15 years have passed since that discourse and it could be said that even on these issues, he had seen very clearly. What do you think?
I’ll reply to this with the first words that I said to him when I went to see him for the first time: “Forgive me, your Eminence, I am among those who had still not understood. Thank you for explaining it to me, I won’t forget it.” It makes me sad today that even his confreres have forgotten.
What sense is there any more in talking about evangelization, if dialogue is then preached, and this is meant and put into practice in the sense of compliancy, chatter and the exchange of opinions? When Jesus said “I am the Truth” did he mean perhaps that there were many other ‘truths’ and that that’s all just fine? When one says: “I am a follower of Christ” is it meant in the same way as” I’m a vegetarian” or I’m a Juventus fan?” One recalls the famous and the theologically very troubling imperative that Jesus directed to those who refused to accept the invitation of the master: “compelle intrare”.
It’s true, Jesus wasn’t thinking about force, or constriction, He was thinking about the redeeming and immutable truth. And anyway, with regard to force and constriction, what value do the sacred, immutable principles written in the constitution have, if not exactly that of force and constriction, by law, on those who intend being part of the community in which those constitutions are important? When a Muslim comes to Italy and the State laically obliges him to [obey] the constitutional statute, of not contracting more than one marriage, or of not interrupting his work five times a day, does not the State itself say: “compelle intrare”? Biffi also understood this more and better than many constitutionalists and philosophers of self-styled, open and tolerant law: a State that renounces the strengths of its principles, is not a State. And how sharp and witty he showed himself to be, towards the formalities and formation of our unitary, Masonic and anti-Christian State - specifically at the time when the rhetorical windbags were resounding outside, celebrating and courting our politicians, ready to institute another national holiday* - cold - like the rest of them – in the hearts and consciences of the [Italian] people. Believe me, Giacomo Biffi was a great man.
Once again, forgive me your excellency, and thank you!
*[June 2nd Republic Day. Became official in 2000.]
[Translation: Francesca Romana]