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from issue no. 01/02 - 2009

VATICAN. Cardinal Antonio Cañizares LIovera speaks

“Why I always seek to meet people and engage in dialogue”


An interview with the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments: his studies of the liturgy, his experience as bishop, relations with the Spanish government, Vatican Council II and the withdrawal of the excommunication of the followers of Lefebvre


Interview with Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera by Gianni Cardinale


Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, a Spaniard from the region of Valencia, who will be 64 years old in October, is the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. With him Spain once again has a department head in the Roman Curia. Of jovial character, though he has the reputation of being a “hard man”, the cardinal received us in his office overlooking St Peter’s Square. Before coming to Rome the cardinal was bishop of Avila, then Granada and, most recently, of Toledo. He was also vice president of the Spanish Episcopal Conference. The fact that now he resides in Rome does not prevent him from keeping up close ties with his country. That is also a reason why he has agreed to write weekly for the Madrid daily La Razón.

Cardinal Cañizares Llovera during the Eucharistic blessing at the end of the Corpus Christi procession on the streets of Toledo [© Agencia Efe]

Cardinal Cañizares Llovera during the Eucharistic blessing at the end of the Corpus Christi procession on the streets of Toledo [© Agencia Efe]

Your Eminence, you were appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by the Pope last 9 December. There had been talk for some time of your summons to Rome...
ANTONIO CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: That’s how it was in effect. It became almost a persecution, I couldn’t appear in public without journalists, but not only them, asking me: when do you leave for Rome? But it was “gossip”. And so it remained until the Pope communicated his decision at the audience he granted me on 20 November 2008.
The appointment was made public on the day when the Church also remembers St Leocadia of Toledo. It was no coincidence...
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Of course not, it was a tribute to this girl martyr of the fourth century, who died under Diocletian’s terrible persecution, and is also the protectress of the young people of Toledo. It was splendid for Toledo that the appointment was announced on that day: because she was a young witness to prayer and charity. But 9 December is also the feast of St Juan Diego, to whom the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared. It is an important day for all of Latin America and hence also for Spain!
How are you facing up to this new post? Have you done studies in liturgy?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: From the very beginning of my priestly training I’ve always been passionate about the liturgy. Prior to my doctoral thesis in pastoral and catechetical theology I studied the Scriptures in the Paschal Triduum of Spanish liturgy. As priest I taught Liturgy and Catechesis. As bishop, first in Avila, then in Granada and then in Toledo, one of my main concerns was that in the dioceses that the Lord had entrusted to me the Liturgy of the Eucharist should be celebrated everywhere with sobriety and beauty, and always in compliance with the rules of Church. The mass in fact is truly the source and summit of Christian life – as we were reminded by Vatican Council II – and therefore cannot be celebrated in unworthy fashion. The Eucharist is truly the heart of the Church, and therefore Eucharistic adoration, in the liturgical celebration, but not only there, is decisive for the life of our communities.
Your priestly formation matured during the transition from pre- to post-Council...
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: In effect I entered the diocesan seminary of Valencia in 1961, at 16, and then from 1964 to 1968 I studied at the Pontifical University of Salamanca where I took a degree in theology. In 1970 I was ordained priest and the following year I took a Ph.D. with specialization in Catechesis at the same University.
So you are the first prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship to celebrate from the start with the post-Council Novus Ordo...
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Clearly so. I celebrated with the Missal of 1962 only recently, in 2007, when I ordained two priests of the Cristo Re Institute in Gricigliano, near Florence.
What memories do you have of that phase of liturgical reform?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: I think that a deepening and renewal of the liturgy was necessary. But in my own experience it was not a perfectly successful operation. The first part of the Sacrosanctum Concilium Constitution did not enter the hearts of the Christian people. There was a change in the forms, a reform, but not a true renewal as required by the Sacrosanctum Concilium. At times change was for the mere sake of changing from a past perceived as negative and outdated. Sometimes the reform was regarded as a break and not as an organic development of Tradition. Out of that came all the problems raised by the traditionalists attached to the rite of 1962.
So was it a reform that, in actual fact, did not fully comply with the Council decision?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: More than anything else I would say that it was a reform that was applied and above all was experienced as an absolute change, as if a chasm has to be created between the pre- and post-Vatican II, in a context in which “pre-Council” was used as an insult.
In fact that is usually the case even today. However, when your appointment was made known there were those who described your theological evolution as a parabola starting from rather progressive positions and coming down on conservative shores. In practice the same trajectory that is “imputed” to Pope Benedict. Do you recognize yourself in that?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: In 1967, when I was studying as a priest, I read an article by the then Professor Joseph Ratzinger on the renewal of the Church after the Council, an article that warned about certain drifts that were already taking place. I fully agreed with it. The Council has been a blessing for the Church. I have always lived it not as a break with tradition but as a confirmation of the Tradition, updated so it can be offered to the people of today. I don’t believe I’ve changed in that. Those who know me well know that there have been no “u-turns” in my life. It’s enough to read what Juan Martin Velasco wrote in País after my appointment.
In the media you are known as the “little Ratzinger”. How do you feel about the description?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Well [he smiles, ed.], it will be because both of us have completely white hair... Perhaps the nickname arose between 1985 and 1992, when I was secretary of the Episcopal Committee for the Doctrine of the Faith. For me of course it’s always been a great honor to be compared to Cardinal Ratzinger, even more so today. But let’s be clear, I don’t believe myself worthy. Non sum dignus. Sincerely.
The <I>El transparente</I> altar (1730), by the sculptor Narciso Tomé in Toledo cathedral, Spain<BR> [© Lessing Photo/Contrasto]

The El transparente altar (1730), by the sculptor Narciso Tomé in Toledo cathedral, Spain
[© Lessing Photo/Contrasto]

When did you meet him personally?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: In 1987, during a meeting of presidents of European Bishops’ Committees for the Doctrine of the Faith. Then my acquaintanceship deepened because of my collaboration in the drafting of the Catechism of the Catholic Church published in 1992, and in its translation into Spanish. And, most recently with my appointment as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Another aspect that the press has highlighted is that of your attitude to the Spanish Government. They have described you as an “anti-Zapatero of steel”...
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: For heaven’s sake. I’m not “anti” anyone. By definition. It’s not in my DNA. I think that few bishops have a closer relationship with the government of Spain than myself. It’s shown, for example by my cordial relations with the Socialist Vice President, María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, and with the head of the Socialist government of Castilla-La Mancha, where Toledo lies. And even with the Socialist governments of Andalusia, when I was archbishop of Granada, they were always good. In the same way I’m a great friend of many members of the People’s Party, from when I was a bishop of Avila – whose mayor, Ángel Acebes, was of that party – or when I was a priest in Valencia [stronghold of the PP, ed]. I am not a man of the opposition a priori who likes to wage “war.” I always seek to meet and engage in dialogue. That does not prevent me, I repeat, from saying openly what my Christian conscience and my duty as pastor of the Church oblige me to say.
In fact your voice has been raised more than a few times to criticize the actions of the government...
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: As bishop I have a particular duty to the faithful and to all Spaniards. I have the duty to defend the rights of the weakest, as the unborn are, I have the duty to defend marriage as is required by natural law, I have the duty to defend religious freedom, the freedom of parents to educate their children in accord with their own principles, the freedom of the Church. As you see, it’s a matter of promoting the great “yes” to life and the family as we are required by the Gospel of Jesus. For the good of man and of the whole of society. We don’t want to impose anything. We want to be free to propose. We love freedom. Without freedom a society has no future. The danger today is that this freedom may be annulled.
In what sense?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Freedom is not possible without truth and without reason. The danger today is that of wanting to separate freedom from truth. In this sense it may be that some of my statements are perceived as criticism of some measures of the government. But on these issues, the Church cannot remain silent. It would betray Jesus. We are His Church we cannot go against what He said and against the commandments of God. We are respectful of the established power. We must be, the Epistles of St Peter and St Paul repeatedly remind us, but that is no reason why our word – on issues concerning faith and morals – can be chained. I hope I’ve been clear.
So it’s not true – though it has been written – that you were transferred here to Rome to do a favor to the Spanish Government upset by your critical attitude...
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Political fantasy. It has nothing to do with reality. So much so the opposite has been written. My coming here to Rome has nothing to do with the issue of Church-State relations in Spain. Absolutely.
You are also a member of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei”. What is your view of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Even if it has upset some people it was an extraordinary gesture of ecclesial good sense. Whereby a rite that has spiritually nurtured the Latin Church for more than four centuries was recognized as fully valid. I think that this motu proprio is a grace that will fortify the faith of traditionalist groups that are already organically present in the Church and that it will help the return of so-called Lefebvrians... It will also be a help to everyone.
You have had contacts with the Lefebvrians: what do you think of the withdrawal of the excommunication against the bishops and the controversies that have followed?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: I have not had any contact with the so-called “Lefebvrian” world. As for the withdrawal of the excommunication my thinking is simple. It was an act of gratuitous mercy by the Holy Father to aid their full inclusion in the Catholic Church. It’s obvious that this can only happen after they recognize the whole Magisterium of the Church, including that expressed by Vatican Council II and recent popes. But we must recognize that unity is inseparable from the cross.
What about the statements from Bishop Williamson denying or minimizing the Shoah?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: It’s nonsense that the Pope and the Holy See have repeatedly and firmly rejected. I hope and pray that it will be officially and firmly disowned by the person concerned as soon as possible. But I add that the way in which the Pope has been treated, even by those within the Church, in all of this, has not been a pleasant sight. Fortunately at least the Spanish Church has issued a fine communiqué of filial support for our great Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Cañizares Llovera with the Spanish premier José Luis Zapatero on 7 January 2009 [© Agencia Efe]

Cardinal Cañizares Llovera with the Spanish premier José Luis Zapatero on 7 January 2009 [© Agencia Efe]

Let’s go back to the liturgy. As archbishop of Toledo you have also celebrated in the very ancient Mozarabic rite...
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Actually, every day in the Cathedral of Toledo the mass is celebrated and Lauds recited also in that ancient rite, which survived the Tridentine reform. One must remember – and maybe some people don’t like doing so – that the so-called Missal of St Pius V did not abolish all previous rites. Those rites that could boast at least two centuries of history were in fact “saved”. And the Mozarabic rite – together, for example, with the rite proper to the Dominican order – was among them. So after the Council of Trent there was not absolute uniformity in the liturgy of the Latin Church.
What, apart from what we have already mentioned, are the issues you will have to face in carrying out this new mission?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Helping the whole Church to fully follow what Vatican Council II indicated in the Sacrosanctum Concilium Constitution. Helping to fully understand what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about the liturgy. To learn from what the Holy Father – when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – wrote on the matter, especially in the beautiful book Introduction to the spirit of the liturgy. To learn from how the Holy Father – assisted by the Office for liturgical ceremonies presided by Monsignor Guido Marini – celebrates the liturgy. The pontifical liturgies in fact have always been, and still are, exemplary for the whole Catholic world.
In an interview granted in Spain you praised the Pope’s decision to distribute the Eucharist, in the liturgy which he presided, only to kneelers and only in the mouth. Are changes on the matter expected in the universal discipline of the Church?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: As is known the current discipline of the universal Church normally requires that communion be distributed in the mouth of the faithful. Then there is an indulgence that allows, at the request of the bishops, communion to be distributed onto the palm of the hand. This is worth remembering. The Pope, then, to give greater prominence to the due reverence with which we should approach the Body of Christ, decided that the faithful who take communion from his hands do so on their knees. It seemed to me a beautiful and uplifting initiative from the Bishop of Rome. The current rules do not require anyone to do the same. But nor do they prohibit it.
Do you already know Italy and the Roman Curia?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: I know both less than I should. I hope to make up ground soon.
What impression of the Italian Church did you have from Spain?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Very good. The Italian Church has been an example to us. And it has also been for me personally. It’s a people’s Church that knows how to speak with clarity and respect, and at the same time provides a great deal of assistance to the neediest fringes of Italian society.
You took up your office a few days after the appointment. But before settling in Rome you went back to Spain a couple of times, you had talks with the King and the Prime Minister Zapatero and accompanied the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, on his visit to Madrid in early February. What are the fears and hopes for your country?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: I fear that the secularist and relativist wave that is threatening society may continue to erode the fundamental principles and values on which our country is built: the Catholic faith, life, the family, education. I hope and pray that the Church be able to offer to the Spaniards the true face of Jesus, that the Spaniards open or reopen their hearts to Jesus, who offers everyone the hope of a new life, more beautiful and more worth living. I hope and pray that my fellow citizens open their hearts and minds to Jesus and not cut the Christian roots that are the basis of our history and of the unity of our country.
As Archbishop of Granada you were able to see close up the Arab-Muslim influence and legacy in the history of Spain. What did you think of it?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: The Muslim domination lasted centuries. It seemed over with. I won’t hide that there is a certain concern, because in the Islamic world today there are those who would like to recover our lands for Islam. While we Catholics want to have good relations with everyone, including Muslims, these projects – which do not appear to be only theoretical – can’t help but disturb us.
Cardinal Cañizares Llovera in audience with Benedict XVI on 30 January 2009 [© Osservatore Romano]

Cardinal Cañizares Llovera in audience with Benedict XVI on 30 January 2009 [© Osservatore Romano]

Do you fear for the unity of your country?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: The unity of Spain is a moral, prepolitical good, constitutive of our identity. It’s not just a political issue. That unity had its origin in the Third Council of Toledo in 589, when the Visigoth king Recaredo was converted to the true faith and abandoned Arianism, thus encouraging full amalgamation between the Latin and Germanic components of the population. Cardinal Ratzinger recalled it in a talk in which he said that the Council of Toledo was also in some way the act whereby Europe was founded. For this reason I believe that the unity of Spain is a non-negotiable good.
However in the body of Spanish bishops there are different feelings among the prelates from the more separatist regions...
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: The Spanish Episcopal Conference has approved a document in which the unity of the country is considered a moral good. And it did so with a clear vote.
What do you think of the cause for beatification of Isabella of Castile?
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: Isabella was a woman of great faith, an exemplary wife, a queen with a unique apostolic zeal, a great Christian. She gave permission to Colombo to cross the ocean only on condition that his primary purpose was to evangelize the lands he might discover. I believe and hope that as soon as possible she rise to the honor of the altars. I confess that often as Archbishop of Granada, especially when I had some important problem to deal with, I would go to pray at the tomb of Isabella, which is there in the Cathedral, and I always felt I had been helped.
In an interview given to Razón you said that the last movie you saw was Life is Beautiful by Roberto Benigni.
CAÑIZARES LLOVERA: It’s a beautiful film, open to life and hope. To tell the truth I’ve seen it four times. And every time I do so it moves me more and more. Life is really beautiful because it is a gift from God.


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