By now, whether through secular
outlets, you’ve likely heard about a recent book-length interview with Pope Benedict XVI titled Light of the World
(Ignatius Press, 256 pages, hardback). This book presents the third extensive interview between the Pope and journalist Peter Seewald, the first two coming before Benedict was Pope.
Light of the World
has generated some serious controversy over a few obscure paragraphs
in the middle of its 256 pages. In these paragraphs, the Pope is asked about the Church’s position on condoms. He answers by re-articulating the Church’s traditional position that contraception is inherently counter to true sexuality, but in some cases condoms may be a step toward a deeper morality.
The travesty is that this book will now be known only for these couple of paragraphs when the book provides so many other fascinating insights. Light of the World
really is a monumental effort, and anyone who reads it cover-to-cover will appreciate how much of a gift it really is. Never before has a Pope granted such an in-depth interview, nor directly answered so many challenging questions in rapid succession.
Seewald—whom The Irish Times
nicknamed the “pope whisperer”
—is great at formulating these inquiries, pulling no punches along the way. He poses questions that are straight-forward, even borderline accusatory at times, such as:
- What caused the sexual-abuse scandal in the Church?
- Have you considered resigning?
- What do you think about the global climate crisis?
- Can there be dialogue with Islam?
- Is Christianity the only truth?
- Should there be a Third Vatican Council?
Pope Benedict’s answers are characteristically charitable, intelligent, and well-articulated, even including a little humor here and there. He speaks here as a wise sage whose wisdom has been built and refined over many years.
But even with the clarity shared between both men, Light of the World
has its difficulties. The book was compiled, translated, and published in such a short amount of time—the interview took place in July 2010—that it does lack some finish. At times, clunky punctuation choices, like periods instead of commas and sentences lacking subjects, make the reading slightly awkward.
Also, while the material is organized into eighteen distinct chapters, the questions within each chapter are fairly haphazard. For instance, a question about ‘communion on the tongue’ is followed by a question on ‘women’s liberation’, then a discussion on ‘church attendance’ statistics. However, this disordered structure does create lively, fast-paced reading as the topics jump quickly from one to another.
One of the most helpful parts of the book is the Appendix, which features snippets from some of Benedict’s most contentious statements: his letter to Irish Catholics regarding the abuse scandal, his Regensburg address which riled many Muslims, and his earlier statements regarding the Church’s position towards condoms and AIDs (which Light of the World
embellishes, not contradicts).
Following these excerpts, there is also a lengthy chronicle of important events from Benedict’s life and pontificate. Both the excerpts and the timeline provide good background to the statements and events referenced during the interview.
Overall, Light of the World
is truly a special book, and deserves a better fate than to be known as “the condom book”. Seewald draws some intriguing answers from Pope Benedict on many of the most controversial topics of our time. This book should be welcomed as a rare look into the typically secluded halls of the Vatican. For a birds-eye view of the Church and a peek into Pope Benedict’s thought, pick up a copy of Light of the World