I received Christmas greetings online from Francesco Colafemmina, an Italian journalist who spear-headed the effort last fall to get to the bottom of the events surrounding an article in a German newspaper which misrepresented an interview with Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos in a fairly egregious manner. As the ZENIT Spanish-language service specifies on its website, "As the recently retired President of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" has explained to ZENIT, he never actually made some of the assertions which the media has attributed to him after reading the interview that the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung published on September 25, 2009." This led me to wonder if anyone had published my English translation of this newsworthy interview, and I could not find it. So, here it is for posterity.
(The following English translation of mine is directly from the original Spanish-language interview reported at Zenit. The bold-faced text are the words of the interviewer, the rest are words of Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos.)
In Germany, you have been roundly criticized...
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: In Germany? Who criticized me in Germany? I know nothing about it.
You have been marked as the main person responsible for what happened at the beginning of this year regarding Bishop Richard Williamson.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I have absolutely no interest in what others may have said about me. For me, it is merely a sign of the bad information present in a country, a press and a public opinion that I have regarded as respectible. But on seeing the reactions you are telling me about, I realize they don’t know what they are talking about.
What do you mean by “bad information”?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Bad information is to not know the subject matter, the problem being addressed by the process, the matter. It is not to know the facts and the ecclesiastical Law covering it. Bad information is to let oneself be carried along by a media storm, or by a local sensibility that the rest of us understand and respect.
What, in your opinion, is the correct information?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It is very simple. Monsignor Marcel Lefebrve committed an act of rebellion by ordaining in 1988 four bishops without the pontifical mandate, which is a schismatic action. For acting against the ecclesiastical law, the consecrating Bishop, Lefebvre, and the four bishops of the Fraternity ordained by him, were excommunicated. That is the legal case and that is the problem which one wants to resolve in this process. Afterwards, other things need to be resolved. That is it. This is what the last two Popes have wanted to find a solution to in order to reconstitute the unity of the Church. Everything else that they may say comes from a fundamental and very serious lack of understanding about the intentions and actions of both the Popes. But even within the Church herself there are those who criticize the fact of lifting this excommunication at all.
I repeat that the only reason for the excommunication was the ordination without pontifical mandate. The ordaining bishop had already died and the men ordained were seeking, even noisily as they did in Lourdes, that the Decree of Excommunication be taken back. The Pope, on doing so after wide consultation, was seeking to put an end to a schism. And all of us Catholic bishops should be with the Pope, above all in a matter so basic as that of the Church’s unity.
Exactly what was your role in the process of the reconciliation with the Lefebvrists?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: After the illegitimate ordinations, between 1988 and 2000, there were no talks between Rome and the Fraternity. The last talk carried out between then Cardinal Ratzinger and Monsignor Lefebvre, which ended with a protocol signed by Lefebvre, was interrupted suddenly, and the rupture followed precisely with the illegitimate ordinations. From 1988 until 2000 all talks were interrupted. Only in the year 2000 were they recommenced, and a new process was started, which was followed very closely by Cardinal Ratzinger, then a member of the Commission “Ecclesia Dei”. In 2001, in a consistory presided over by the Holy Father, all the cardinals present accepted the process for the entrance into communion of the Lefebvrists. In the presentation made to the consistory, based on a note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it was said that the excommunicated brothers were not of a heretical or schismatic character. Yes, they were the product of a schismatic action. With regard to their relation to the Second Vatican Council, difficulties had been expressed regarding the text of some documents and above all about certain interpretations of the Council. The greatest difficulties had to do with the decree on religious freedom and on ecumenism.
What role did the Curia play in this process?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It is necessary to have a very clear idea about what the Curia is. It is not a series of institutions that condition the Pope. It is, on the contrary, a complex of institutions and persons who serve the Vicar of Christ and successor of Peter in his solicitude for the good of all the Churches in the world. The decision, and the only guide, is his. He is who we inform, and he decides. So then, the Pope always kept himself informed – both John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Different dicasteries, in inter-dicasterial meetings, contributed postively to the development of the project.
Then, a moment was reached when, to move the project forward, the Lefebvrists placed two conditions. The first was that the right of all priests of the world to celebrate Mass in the Rite of St. Pius V be recognized. The second was that the decree of excommunication be lifted. These were conditions for entering into further talks of a doctrinal nature especially. If one is unaware of this point, he does not understand, one cannot understand the process itself.
Do you yourself share the positions of the Fraternity of St. Pius X?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: With respect to the lifting of the excommunication, they have a point of view that I do not share, although from their subjective point of view it could be acceptable. They believe they are defending the truth, holy tradition, and they argue that they cannot be excommunicated for defending the truth. That is why they would not accept the excommunication. On one occasion, speaking with Monsignor Fellay, I told him, If we accept the subjective aspect of your convictions, then you in turn must accept that we believe objectively that the excommunication is valid because the ordinations were carried out against a clear precept of the law and tradition of the Church and to perform them without the mandate brings with it the penalty of excommunication. And there is no denying that a fundamental law of the Church was broken in a grave matter.
While considering all that, did you not [or, did nobody] take into consideration that your decisions might have political consequences? Where are the limits between the public interest and ecclesiastical disputes?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: To remove the excommunication from four bishops, excommunicated for having been ordained without the pontifical mandate, is not a political gesture of the Holy Father, but rather an exercise of his supreme religious authority, in an act of mercy, within the Church. It is a pastoral-theological problem. The intervention of the Church in the political sphere is a very different thing, and a theological problem which has been fully studied by the Catholic Church. One thing is the enlightenment that one obtains through Revelation for the management of some matter, and another the management itself of public matters and the interference of different groups in such management. A bishop who has this distinction clear in his mind should pose no problems [to anybody].
Does that mean then that the Church has legal recourse with which to judge the actions of personages like Williamson?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Yes, there is clear doctrine about that. Nevertheless, I’m not going there, since it is not my job to judge a brother bishop; that is the duty of the Congregation for Bishops and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The latter must decide if someone is affirming things that do not correspond to the Catholic faith as the Church interprets it.
So how does the Church react to anti-semitic declarations or to Holocaust denial?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: The Church’s rejection of that most unjust violence to which the Hebrew people was subjected is absolutely clear. And doubtlessly this rejection stems from a moral viewpoint. The atrocious racist genocide is an immoral attack against human nature.
Why then was the lifting of the excommunication of Richard Williamson not delayed?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, that’s not it, excuse me. The excommunication that weighed upon him was due exclusively to his illegitimate episcopal ordination, and had nothing to do with his judgements, theories, or affirmations about the Holocaust. Upon the affirmative advice of the cardinals in a consistory, the Pope decided to lift the excommunication in which those bishops were for one fundamental reason: an act of charity to consolidate the unity of the Church. Whatever else anybody may say is an error, is contrary to the truth!
But there are contrary opinions within the Church herself.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: As a matter of fact, there have been in the Church, not only contrary positions, but even critical reactions. The Holy Father himself, in his letter to the world episcopate on the subject, made clear allusion to it. The Pope is not alone. Practically the whole of the world episcopate supports him. He did not work unaware of what goes on around him, but with great awareness of the case. That other factors get lumped onto this one, is another matter.
That is exactly what I wanted to say to you. Other factors got lumped in, and specifically the polemical statements of Williamson. Do you not think that the Pope, once he learned of Williamson’s statements, at least should have postponed the disclosure of the decree of excommunication?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I am not someone who dares to formulate hypotheses or to express opinions about what the Pope should, or should not, do. I am referring to what he did do, and to the kind and quality of the information that he had at the time he lifted the excommunications. And at that time none of us who were engaged in the matter were aware of the declarations of bishop Williamson. None of us! And none of us had any obligation to know about it!
But Williamson had been known already for twenty years. Already in 1969 [or 1989?] he was making reprehensible statements about the Holocaust.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, no, no, let’s be specific. Let’s not forget that at that time Williamson was a young bishop ordained without permission, acting outside of the Church and lacking the juridical requisites of legitimacy. And in 1989, that young bishop in Canada expressed opinions with respect to a book which attempted to do a historical analysis of the Holocaust that many of us today do not share. But, at that time, there was no reason why everybody in the world should know that book. Nobody is obliged to know every book that is published, even those about important subjects.
But what Williamson said in 1989 was clear: “No Jew was assassinated in gas chambers (...), those are lies, lies, lies, (...) the Jews invented the Holocaust”. You were President of the CELAM (Latin-american Bishops Conference); in Latin America the name “Williamson” was famous for the controversies surrounding him. Even so, do you persist in affirming that you knew nothing about him?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I never heard the name of Richard Williamson ever mentioned while I was at CELAM: not as Departmental director, nor as general secretary, nor as president. I learned of his name and knew who he was in the year 2000 when, in order to meet them, I invited the Lefebrvist bishops to my house in Rome. What I can tell you is that during the long course of our talks, no organization of the Curia, not the Congregation for Bishops, nor the Secretariate of State, nor the nunciatures of the countries involved, nor the Canadian, German, Swiss, French, Austrian or Dutch episcopates, nor even one letter from one of the lay-faithful gave even the tiniest report to the Commission “Ecclesia Dei” – the competent body for the matter of the talks – nor to the Holy Father, nor to my humble person, even though I was doing very directly the work of the talks with Monsignor Fellay. Nobody told us anything with respect to any minimalization or denial of the Holocaust on the part of Monsignor Williamson.
Not even in January of this year ?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It is my understanding that Swedish Television interviewed him on January 1 of this year, on the occasion of his ordination of some deacons. I only came to learn about that interview and the statements of Williamson on February 5, the day on which the nunciature informed the Secretariate of State about said interview and on which the most excellent Subsitute of the Secretariate sent me the information in an envelop which I retain, with its seal, and dated February 5, 2009.
But, according to internal Vatican sources, it is said that in the days before January 21 a FAX arrived at the Vatican warning about Williamson’s statements.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, just a moment, let the fact be made clear: the official notice was on February 5. What I have certainly asked myself many times since is why, if the interview took place on January 1, was it only made public on the 21st? I mean, they waited until the decree [of lifting of the excommunications], the study of which was secret, had been signed on January 14. Why make the interview known just then?
What do you think?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: As for me, I don’t like to speculate. I work objectively; I don’t think either good or evil of anyone without first being absolutely sure. I judge only based on facts. And the fact is that public opinion was informed -- and struck-- only at that precise moment.
But the greater blow was given by Williamson himself saying what he did, knowing that the decree of excommunication [sic] was pending.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, Williamson was not necessarily conscious of that. He did not participate directly in the talks with Rome. Monsignor Fellay wanted to represent the Fraternity personally, and in most of the talks he was alone. Generally, I was accompanied by one of the officials of my Commission. Naturally, some of the steps in the process were performed in private with the authorities of the Holy See. Afterwards, Monsignor Fellay would be informed. They [the other bishops] only knew that the case was being studied. Only after a long and careful study of the theme of the excommunication, when the decree of lifting was already approved by the Holy Father and signed by Cardinal Re, on January 14th, 2009, did I receive from the latter the signed text and, in my house, I consigned it to Monsignor Fellay asking him to inform the other three bishops of the Fraternity. Only then did they learn that beginning on January 21, they would be free of the excommunication, and they were asked to keep the secret until the 24th, when the Decree would be published officially. If sombody in Germany or some other part of the world was saying anything else, he was lying, either from malice or from ignorance.
It seems that Fellay knew about the statements made by Williamson on television, since on January 21 he sent a letter to the Swedish network in order to forestall the publication of the interview.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I knew nothing about that.
And do you not lament that Fellay, instead of sending that letter to Sweden, should have put you in the know about Williamson’s statements in order to avoid the unleashing of so much controversy?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: There are many, so many, things I lament not knowing. And among the very many things that I lament not knowing about, I lament that one.
Williamson relates that he met you at a luncheon.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Yes. Shortly after the Pope had named me as President of the Commission “Ecclesia Dei”, from my office in the Prefecture of the Clergy, one day I saw a group of men vested in their cassocks, at the very peak of summer. I asked my secretary to verify who they were. He told me that they were the Lefebvrists. I invited them to my house, and they accepted.
What sort of impression did they make on you?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: They were good people, but perhaps a bit too fixated, almost obsessively, on one single thing. They affirmed that the wellspring of all the evils of the Church and the world was the reform of the rite of the Mass after the Council. I had not organized that luncheon to argue with them, I merely wanted to get to know them. So then, in order to lighten up the moment, I decided to kid them a bit, saying that as far as I was concerned I liked languages a lot, and that if I had to choose a language in which to celebrate the Eucharist, I’d pick Aramaic, which is Christ’s [native] language. I told them I had no idea whose bad idea it was to exchange the tongue of Christ himself for that of His persecutors. Clearly, it was a bad joke.
What did they say?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Nothing. I immediately changed the subject. This meeting was succeeded by detailed talks which led to a first encounter with John Paul II, and another with Benedict XVI in August of 2005.
How did Williamson strike you, that time when you met him?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: He struck me as an honest person, but cut from a very particular cloth. I could tell he was no fool, but he did seem a bit obsessive to me, and very stubborn.
To what quality exactly are you referring when you call him “honest”?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: To that of a man who says what he thinks. Williamson did not strike me as a person who would try to fool you. He seemed to me like a simple [‘sencillo’, not ‘simple’] man, perhaps rather extreme in his positions. But, in the end, a man of a simple and sincere faith.
In the Vatican, nobody knew about Williamson’s statements before the 5th of February? Do you know what the word “Vatican” means? It would seem to be a bunch of institutions with bad mutual communications.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Have you any idea how many there are of us? We are many. I am sure that many, like myself, hadn’t the slightest idea of what some Swedish TV channel had transmitted, nor what Williamson had said twenty years ago in Canada. Start with the following. In 1989 I was the bishop of Pereira. A poor bishop of Pereira, submerged in working with his city, his farmers, his indigenous peoples, with a fair portion of his diocese in virgin forest. How was I to find out about what some bishop in another place was saying, and one whom I didn’t even know? Although, I did know Monsignor Lefebvre, because a sister of his lived with her husband in Pereira and Monsignor Lefebvre used to visit her sometimes.
Was he an old friend?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: A friendly acquaintance. I was informed about his last visit by his sister, and I asked her if, given the seriousness of the problems with Rome already existing, she thought it might be helpful if I were to have a conversation with him. She told me “No”. So, when he returned to Pereira, I didn’t even see him.
But even the spokesman of the Vatican marked you out publicly.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It is true that Father Lombardi made a false and hasty accusation in public to a journalist, but it is also true that he retracted publicly. And he apologized to me personally. It is important to emphasize that at that moment he was not working at the Pope’s behest, as his spokesman.
What about the accusations being made by Ebberhard van Gremmingen?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I don’t know who he is.
He is the director of Radio Vaticano for Germany, whose statements in recent months have not made you come off very well in the view of German public opinion.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It does not strike me as strange that if the so-called “spokesman” of the Pope, Father Lombardi, made a false judgement, that his subaltern Gremmingen, should have repeated it with docility.
Cardinal Re has said that he felt tricked by you.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: As far as I know, Cardinal Re has never said he felt “tricked” by me. But I know quite well the words he did use, according to the press, about my person in a less then delicate form. For that reason, I wrote him a letter telling him very clearly that if there were anyone who should have been alert to Williamson’s controversial statements, it was he.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: For two very simple reasons. First, because he worked for many years in the Secretariate of State, and he was there precisely at the time when the facts transpired. The Nunciatures inform the Secreatariate of State about notable cases. And in second place, because Williamson is a bishop and the Congregation of Bishops, of which Cardinal Re is Prefect, is the organization which, in the Church, follows up on the lives of the bishops.
Some have found fault with your colleague on the Commission "Ecclesia Dei", Monsignor Camille Perl, as well.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, I do not see him as the one responsible. But for my part, anyway, I do not like to establish responsibilities thus, a priori. If I dare to point to Cardinal Re, I do it for only one reason, and that is because organizationally, it is his office which has been entrusted with knowing what the bishops say, and what the media is saying about the bishops.
And what would you say to those who ascribe some portion of blame to monsignors Filoni y Mamberti?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Monsignor Dominique Mamberti has no blame because he is in charge of the Section which is charged with relations with States, and this matter doesn’t enter his purview. Monsignor Filoni, during the most intense period of the talks was not even in the Secretariate of State. He might have had archival acquaintance with Williamson, but I doubt it, Why? Who was Williiamson? He was an insignificant figure. A seminarian who trusted Lefebvre and who the latter ordained as a priest while he was still quite young.
Who should have known anything about him? Nobody. He was of no interest to anybody!
But he was of interest to the media for quite some time now.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I’ve heard that repeated many times, but in Colombia, before the scandal, I never heard any of the media talking about him.
But we are not talking about the Colombian media.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Nobody talked about him in Italy either, I never heard any of the media relative to him. It is very easy to say certain phrases that are dangerous. Of course, something else might have transpired in Canada, for other kinds of interests.
But, I’m not talking about the Italian media, nor about the Jewish media. I’m referring to the German media who are very well informed and who have followed Williamson for quite a while. The magazine Der Spiegel, for example, published before what happened in January a report in which they made reference to public statements of Williamson related to the Holocaust. How is it possible that in the Vatican nobody reads Der Spiegel?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I don’t understand the question because I believe nobody has said that in the Vatican no one reads Der Spiegel. It is possible, I suppose, that the German section of the Secretariate of State was aware of it, but I have no information about that and, moreover, I am aware of how reduced the number of people there is in proportion to the amount of work that section has.
Does any name suggest itself to you?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No.
Has your relationship with the Pope been affected in the aftermath of this scandal?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Sure, of course, for the better! We have always worked shoulder to shoulder. Not only do I have for him the veneration of faith for being the Vicar of Christ, but I also have veneration for him personally, for what he means as a theologian of first importance in the Church, and for what he means for me as defender of the faith and as a friend has always had confidence in me. And that hasn’t changed, but rather, to the contrary, our mutual affection has grown stronger.
What is your opinion of the restructuring given to the Church after the Pope’s Motu proprio issued in July?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I see some things very clearly and others less so. For example, it is clear that upon learning more fully the criticisms of the Church, of the Second Vatican Council, which touch on the theological field, even if such criticisms arise from individuals and cannot be considered as official criticisms of the institution “Fraternity St. Pius X”, it is natural that there be a need for direct talks with the Doctrine of the Faith. Still, there are other pastoral aspects related to priests and faithful which should be treated in order to reach a fulness of communion with the thought of the Church and, especially, with the visible head of the Church which is the Vicar of Christ. There are liturgical aspects which cannot fall into second-class importance.
In an interview published in March in El Tiempo, you say that the existence of gas chambers is not a moral problem, but an historical problem. Explain that.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: No, no, no... I didn’t say that!
But that’s how it appears in the interview.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: How many things one reads in supposedly personal interviews which are exactly the opposite of what one has said! The matter is very simple. The atrocious genocide of which the Hebrew people was a victim is an act that obviously falls into the moral field, torture is a moral act, there is no doubt about it. But to say that they didn’t kill ten, but only five, that is not a moral judgement, it is an historical error.
But Williamson denies the Shoa
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: He does not deny it, he reduces it. I know of no statement by him in which he denies the genocide. What he does is to reduce it, to minimize it. And that is an historical consideration. The moral problem is exclusively genocide in itself, and even moreso if the racist aggravating factor is present. In fact, it would be an inadmissible and unacceptable crime for even one single person to be put into a gas chamber. It is not allowed. For all those reasons, any reductionism vis-a-vis the Holocaust is absolutely unacceptable.
But to make statements, as Williamson has done, with the full awareness that they will cause harm to a person, or to a group of persons, must be judged from a moral point of view.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Williamson himself accepted that. I spoke with him, and he begged pardon of persons, of the family members of the victims and of institutions for whatever evil caused by his statements. His apologies were insufficient.
What would the Vatican have done if Williamson had denied and not just minimized the Holocaust?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Holocaust denial does not touch on the essence of the Church. It is a mess, a problem which, like any other, can be resolved. It is a problem that there are people who do not address and reject terrorism, it is a problem that there are people who remain quiet vis-a-vis culpable homicide, that there are people who counsel, practice or defend abortion.
And what does the Church do about these “problems”?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: It calls attention to them, presents her teachings and, if necessary, imposes sanctions. In the case of Williamson one must wait, since he is not yet even in full communion with the Church. Today, his authority is the Fraternity; but when the moment arrives, the Church would be able, for example, to forbid him from preaching for not having shown the needed prudence (“sensatez”) to be a preacher.
What would you have done had you known about Williamson’s statements before the debacle in the media?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Since he is not in full communion it is not our responsibility to chastize or admonish him. That is the role of Monsignor Fellay, who is his superior, and Fellay has done that.
If you had it to do over again would you repeat what you did in the case of the Lefebvrists?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Exactly the same! With regard to the excommunication. I was working on a specific problem, which was that of four bishops ordained without permission. Nothing more.
How do you feel after the scandal?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: Right now, I feel upset. But being upset doesn’t last long for me, because I am a man who always looks to the future. I always tell myself, “my quarter-hour” of responsibility in this effort has already ended. My eyes, my spirit and my heart move toward the new quarter-hour that the Lord gives me. Since I am now 80 years old, I cast a glance at the long “quarter-hour” of my long priestly and episcopal life. I have been president of “Ecclesia Dei”, I’m involved with the Church, and I will do everything in my power for her full unidad, and I will make it my concern to see to her sanctification, including with the marvelous riches of her ancient rites and traditions. At this moment already I have my head stuck in the new quarter-hour.
Do you feel that public opinion has mistreated you?
Cardinal Darío Castrillón: I have had a lot to do with the media. I know that one of the diseases of journalism is the “scoop” with controversies and victims. That is why I have a skin like a crocodile in order to put up with the blows when my turn comes round, but those things do not affect me deeply. It has never ocurred to me to ask for a retraction because it is useless: the truth opens up the field by itself. And the only truth, on the topic of the present controversy, is that which I have just finished telling you.