By Alessandro Gisotti
Spanish by birth and Jesuit by vocation, Archbishop Ladaria SJ spent over 30 years teaching theology in Spain and at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University. In 2004, Pope St John Paul II appointed him Secretary-General of the International Theological Commission. Last year, Pope Francis made him Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
What is it like being Prefect of this Congregation under Pope Francis?
As far as I am concerned, it’s a simple question of obedience. Pope Francis called me and told me his decision, and I said: "Holy Father, if that’s what you have decided, I accept and say no more". So that’s the first thing. Of course it is a responsibility and I must say that the first few days I did not sleep too well... But slowly you get used to the idea and see that it is possible, especially knowing this is what the Pope wants. So it’s better not to think too much about it: the whole thing is done and dusted!
Does being a fellow Jesuit help you work better with Pope Francis?
There are affinities, of course: like our formation, or people we know in common. This does help. The Holy Father and I did not know one another. We saw each other once, I think, before his election, when he came to Rome with the other Bishops of Argentina on their ad limina visit. Like all Episcopal Conferences when they come for their ad limina, they also visited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I was already Secretary at the Congregation and we met for the first time on that occasion. So yes, there is an affinity and this make the relationship easier. However, I must say this is by chance: the Pope is the Pope! Whether he's a Jesuit or not makes no difference to me: the Pope is the Pope. So it (being a fellow Jesuit) can help, but it's by chance: it doesn’t change the substance.
The Pope has described your work as having a “pastoral face”. What does that mean?
It (having a pastoral face) does not affect the work itself directly, but the way this work is done. There is clearly a pastoral dimension. We have the task of promoting and defending the Faith, preaching the Faith. This is an eminently pastoral role. It involves promoting the Catholic Faith so that it is increasingly known and, when there are problems, defending this Faith as well. Many times I heard Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger and Prefect of the Congregation, say that "we must defend the Faith of simple believers, not the Faith of theologians". They already have their ways of knowing how things are! It seems to me that this is a very valid and correct intuition. So that description of Pope Francis is easy to understand. Naturally, we also deal with disciplinary matters that have a great impact on many people and so, here too, we have an eminently pastoral role. Of course, this does not mean we do not have to make a close study of the dossiers, but we do so with the salus animarum (“salvation of souls”) in mind always. This is always the primary purpose of all our work.
What does the reform of the Curia mean for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?
We have not yet received directives related to us… When we do, we will accept them willingly and cooperate accordingly, as always. Our collaboration with Pope Francis will be total, of course, but we have received no concrete indications as yet. When we do, we will accept them happily.
How does the pontificate of Pope Francis affect you as a priest and bishop?
As a priest, I see the Pope’s closeness to the people, so close to the People of God. He has such a pastoral face and, for me, this is an invitation to be, and to feel that we too are, Pastors of the People of God. The Pope often says that shepherds must smell like their sheep. And this also helps us feel close to the People of God, because we are at his service. The Pope also says it’s like a pyramid: the base is everyone, then there are a few who are at the service of the many. Not the other way around. It’s a pyramid in reverse. I think this is a very beautiful image and I believe it can help all of us, if we take it seriously, to make our own ministry more pastoral.
Translated by Seàn-Patrick Lovett