Interview with New Zealand Cardinal Thomas Williams
Mar 01, 2006
New Zealand is a funny place, a distant Pacific outpost where the Anglo-Saxon work ethic has fused with a laid-back island ethos, producing a culture of hard-working people who nevertheless come off as remarkably unflappable and unpretentious.
(National Catholic Reporter, February 24, 2006) In a nation of a little over four million, where the barriers that insulate leaders from their people are not nearly as thick as elsewhere, it's remarkably difficult to put on airs.
All of which brings me to Cardinal Thomas Williams of Wellington, New Zealand, 75 and now retired, one of the most unassuming Princes of the Church you're ever likely to meet.
Williams once wrote that titles such as "Your Eminence" and "Your Grace" make him "shrivel up inside," and that aversion to pretense shows. As he walked into a room at the archbishop's residence for our interview last Saturday, he sported an open-collar shirt and casual slacks. Momentarily stuck in Roman protocol, I ask if it was OK to remove my suit jacket; Williams laughed and said the only reason he didn't come down in shorts is because he thought I might have a camera.
Despite his rather modest style, Williams is nobody's fool. He has thought long and hard over a quarter-century about the distinctive contribution of Catholicism in Oceania, by which Williams has in mind not just people like himself, but also indigenous populations such as New Zealand's Maori, as well as the cultures of Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tongo and Fiji. All this makes Williams a passionate advocate for his local church, which has sometimes meant defending it when he believes Rome hasn't sufficiently grasped its challenges and its promise.
On the other hand, Williams also sees a dark side to the affluent, secularized society of today's New Zealand. In a now-famous June 2004 essay, Williams wrote, "We have rejected the moral sustenance of the past, and are attempting to live on junk food provided by a bankrupt liberalism." He warned that while today's barbarians "may be soberly suited and stylishly presented," their impact is still ruin.
I was in New Zealand for a Feb. 17 lecture, and I sat down with Williams the next day, Feb. 18, for a wide-ranging interview about his role in last spring's conclave, his assessment of the new pope, and his views on what Oceania has to teach the church. What follows are excerpts. More of the interview will appear in a future issue of National Catholic Reporter.
NCR: Let's talk about the conclave that elected Benedict XVI. You've said there was no lobbying among the cardinals?
Cardinal Thomas Williams: There were no blocks or lobbying, and no tone of 'don't vote for x.' Coming in, I didn't know what to expect. I suppose I thought that my vote is as good as anyone else's, even if I am a country yokel, so if there is a question of garnering votes, I thought, well, mine is as valuable as anyone else's. I would drive a hard bargain. Yet I would say that the ethos against lobbying really was observed.
How did the politics unfold, in your experience?
We were encouraged to discuss things with one another outside the General Congregation meetings, over meals, coffee, and gatherings of small groups. I was only present at one such meeting, which included 16 [English-speaking] cardinals. There was no discussion of the merits and demerits of a given candidate, but it was in the spirit of 'You know so-and-so, what can you tell me?' It was held at the Irish College, and there was a great spirit of fraternity. It began with a very good meal, which was formally hosted by Cardinal Desmond Connell of Dublin, though the meal was actually prepared by the staff at the Irish College.
How could the process be improved?
We [cardinals] need to find ways to get to know each other better. For example, I was staying with the Marists in Rome and saw an insert in La Croix that had pictures of all the cardinals, with their ages and nationalities. I took it with me to the General Congregation meetings, and whenever somebody would speak, I'd pull out the sheet and identify them. Before long, a number of other cardinals would come over to ask, 'Who's that speaking?'
Why do you think Ratzinger won?
He was the best known member of the College of Cardinals, and it was clear that those who knew him best respected and admired him most. His writings were well-disseminated. … Then there was his leadership in the General Congregation meetings. He was patient, yet quite decisive. … His homilies were also admirable. Finally, I think he represented what I called the need for a "bilingual pope." By that I meant someone who could speak the language of the faithful, the language of Scripture, tradition, the Fathers, and so on, but who could also speak the language of the modern Barbarians. I felt Ratzinger had this ability. He could engage the secular world on its own terms. He would be not just a religious leader, but a world leader.
You've been passionate about the need for inculturation. Why?
To take a negative example, the evangelization of the Maori [New Zealand's indigenous people] has been largely ineffective because of the lack of inculturation. The missionaries were French, and they brought the Roman rite celebrated in Latin. For the Maori, once something becomes a tradition, it is very difficult to change. … Many are now trapped in a 19th century mold. Among the Maori, there isn't the degree of religious practice, as well as theological and liturgical sophistication, that we would want. …On the other hand, the Samoans give us a very positive example. The late Samoan Cardinal Pio Taofinu'u related a Samoan ceremony called the kava to the Eucharist. The kava is the root of a pepper tree, which is ceremonially pounded and strained to make a drink. It's an elaborate ceremony, with a special cloth used to strain the kava. Those preparing the drink are guarded by warriors while they perform the rites. Taofinu'u said the Eucharist is the kava par excellence, and so he had it guarded by the chiefs themselves. There are also parallels with the symbolism of the Eucharist. The kava is always served only from one cup, and it's taken to the people as a sign of unity. Taofinu'u's book was called Kava as Prophecy. … The Samoans have brought that kind of liturgy here. I was there when we did this for the first time, and an old man came up to me and said, "This is the first time I've ever been to Mass that I felt like I was Samoan."
You've also been outspoken in defense of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, and the need for flexibility in liturgical translation. Do you see this as an issue of inculturation?
It has to be. There is no one English language. If anyone believes that English is a homogenous language, then why does the Oxford University Press print a separate Australian and a New Zealand English dictionary in addition to its standard editions? In New Zealand, it's estimated that we use 300 Maori words. How can anyone think our English is the same as everyone else's? …. It's a matter of competence and trust. Translations should be within the competence of episcopal conferences working singly or collegially. The role of the Holy See is to assist in the area of doctrinal integrity. To say that we know your language better than you do is to betray a distrust that goes beyond the competence of the Holy See.
At the Synod for Oceania in 1998, there was much talk about the subject of celibacy. Where do things stand?
In the end, it was clear that the ordination of the viri probati was not going to get majority support in the form of a proposition, in part because of the views of some of the bishops from the Curia. In the end, the decision was to live to battle in another arena on another day. Some felt, 'How bad do things have to get before we can get people to listen?' Some bishops are very concerned. They have to send consecrated hosts in quantity in biscuit tins with pilots on island-hopping planes, or with the skippers of fishing boats, to be handed over to catechists, in order to be sure that people have the Eucharist. This is happening in Papua New Guinea, in the Solomon Islands, in other Pacific Islands. These places would be isolated without their airstrips. In New Guinea, some missionaries have to trek for three days to reach their communities.
In 2001, you predicted that the sexual abuse crisis in New Zealand would not be as bad as in the United States. Has that proved true?
The incidents here have certainly been serious enough, but I think they're less. We acted early in setting up diocesan professional standard groups. We set up a national office to oversee the program, headed by the former head of the national police. We didn't go in for cover-ups. We've tried to use the best psychiatric assistance available. Also, things have been less dramatic here because New Zealand is a less litigious society. In this country, we have an "Accidents Compensation Corporation" into which companies and institutions pay a premium, and then it pays settlements when people get hurt. The church pays premiums for every priest and sister, and then the fund pays grants to victims where charges come forward.
What has been your experience of working with Rome on these cases?
There have been no cases of recourse to Rome that I'm aware of, so we've had no difficulties that way. If somebody wanted to take recourse, we'd be prepared to defend ourselves. As far as sending our case files to Rome [under the terms of a 2001 motu proprio from John Paul II], we don't do it. We handle it ourselves.
The Spiritual Bankruptcy of Liberalism
Apr 28, 2005
Cardinal Williams' observes that New Zealand is becoming a "moral wasteland" a place where traditional values and beliefs are being systematically subverted as society elects to live on a diet of "junk food provided by bankrupt liberalism". By Cardinal Thomas Williams, Archbishop of Wellington, June 2004.
Liberal policies of government in recent times have accelerated the rate of social change that has been taking place in New Zealand for a generation or more. We live now in a nation where the guiding principles and moral signposts of previous generations have become blurred.
Traditional beliefs and values have been systematically subverted by the derision and outright hostility to the whole Judaeo-Christian ethic upon which civilsation has been based for the past two millennia.
Relativism and permissiveness have been deliberately promoted, and morality reduced to purely subjective preference. Our failure to protect basic values and rudimentary citizenship is fast converting our country into a moral wasteland.
We have rejected the moral sustenance of the past, and are attempting to live on junk food provided by a bankrupt liberalism. Policy-makers disastrously tried values-free education. Exponents of unfettered market forces brought about the highest levels of unemployment since the 1930s, with consequent hardship for thousands of families, and unprecedented use of foodbanks.
Television, motivated by the imperative to produce profits, minimizes information in favour of entertainment. Much of our media is quick to espouse the populist or politically correct view of issues, without serious analysis. Sundays have been secularized. Good Friday only narrowly escaped relegation to just another shopping day.
The probity of medical practitioners is put into question by those of their colleagues who issue spurious medical certificates attesting to the presence or the risk of mental illness so as to ‘legitimise’ abortions.
The definition of marriage is being widened to include all manner of relationships which are anything but marital. The traditional family unit as essential to the wellbeing of society is increasingly ignored by legislators. Some scientists want no ethical restraints on their research and its applications. Their motto : if it can be done, it should be done.
Under the guise of compassion, euthanasia is gaining ground and so bringing closer the prospect of human beings regarded as having value only as long as they are useful and trouble-free.
Parents are deprived the change to support their children in matters as serious as abortion, with its related physical and psychological consequences, if a child who could be as young as 12 does not want them to know that they are sexually active.
The liberals have reformed the law on prostitution. Street walking is now as respectable as shop walking.
“Conscience votes” in Parliament have become meaningless.
Can we restore health and sanity to New Zealand society? My answer is yes. Yes, by challenging a culture asserting the exaggerated individualism that what one does is no one else’s business. Yes, if the intrinsic dignity and value belonging to each life is respected and protected from its beginning to its end. Yes, if people are convinced of their individual responsibility to serve society by the way they live as individuals and as families, by the use of their resources, by their civic activity, by contributing to economic and political decisions, and by personal commitment to national undertakings and the common good.
The perennial work of the barbarian is to tear down existing standards, and to debase ideals that have come to characterize a society built on sound moral principle. The barbarian need no longer be clothed in animal skins and wielding a club. The modern barbarian may be soberly suited and stylishly presented, their weapon the skilful use of spin doctors to dupe the unwary, the unsuspecting and the uninformed. The outcome is no different.
George Bernard Shaw once remarked of a powerful modern country that in the course of human history it was the only nation to have passed from barbarianism to decadence without going through the stage of civilization.
I take leave to wonder whether that comment might not rightly be applied to New Zealand before too long.
El Papa acepta la renuncia del cardenal Williams de Nueva Zelanda
Apr 08, 2005
Juan Pablo II ha aceptado la renuncia al gobierno pastoral de la archidiócesis de Wellington (Nueva Zelanda) presentada por el cardenal Thomas Stafford Williams.
CIUDAD DEL VATICANO, lunes, 21 marzo 2005 (ZENIT.org).- El purpurado presentó su renuncia al Santo Padre al haber cumplido 75 años este domingo pasado, según establece el Código de Derecho Canónico en el canon 401.
Sustituye al cardenal en el gobierno pastoral de la archidiócesis de 515.124 habitantes, de los que el 16.3% es católico, monseñor John Atcherly Dew, a quien el Papa nombró obispo coadjutor en mayo de 2004, después de haber sido obispo auxiliar de Wellington desde 1995.
El cardenal Williams, continuará su colaboración con organismos de la Santa Sede de los que forma parte. Entre otras cosas, es miembro de la Congregación para la Evangelización de los Pueblos y del Consejo Especial para Oceanía de la Secretaría general del Sínodo de los Obispos.
Seguirá siendo cardenal elector en un posible cónclave hasta cumplir los ochenta años.
El colegio cardenalicio cuenta con 183 miembros, de los cuales 117 son electores y 66 electores, después de que el 18 de marzo cumpliera ochenta años el cardenal Antonio José Gonzalez Zumárraga, arzobispo emérito de Quito (Ecuador).
Card. Williams on the Liturgical Instruction
Sept 12, 2004
30 April 2004
Letter from the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand on the new Liturgical Instruction
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ
Comment on the Instruction concerning Liturgical Abuses
We, your bishops, see the new Instruction on avoiding abuses in the celebration of Eucharist as a further affirmation of the sacredness of this great Sacrament. The celebration of Mass is at the very heart of Catholic faith and Catholic identity. It is through union with Christ that our worship becomes worthy of God, not only during the celebration, but also in daily lives that are different because of our union with Christ.
To do justice to this Instruction we need to “receive” it well. This involves at least three important considerations:
1. Its intended purpose
Its purpose is to put an end to any malpractices that bring dishonour on our celebration of this great sacrament, or diminish people’s ability to participate in it serenely and worthily. In support of this objective, we can only be whole-hearted.
2. Universal Church
This Instruction is intended for the Church throughout the world, and especially wherever the Roman Rite is celebrated. For this reason, the document refers to various abuses that have occurred in different parts of the world. It does not suppose that all these abuses occur everywhere. It is first of all for bishops and bishops’ conferences to adjudicate whether a particular abuse is occurring, and to intervene if it is.
3. The concern to avoid abuses
Our desire to avoid abuses in the celebration of Eucharist can follow either of two different approaches. One approach puts the entire burden on regulations. The other approach puts the burden on catechesis – inviting and challenging us to better understand what is happening during the Mass and at each part of the Mass.
When people expect the liturgy to bring about in their own lives what the disciples on the road to Emmaus experienced, they are much less likely to trivialise the celebration in any way:
… While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognised him…. and they said to each other: ‘were not our hearts burning within us while he… opened the scriptures to us’… (and they) recounted… how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (cf Luke, 24:30-32, 35).
Here, the focus is on the great mystery in which we participate.
On the other hand, when people who look mainly to the regulations themselves – fearing abuses, watching out for them, expecting to see them…,they are focusing mainly on correctness. This sort of preoccupation can diminish the community’s experience of the liturgy, and harm especially those who live with this kind of preoccupation.
The purpose of this Instruction, namely, the elimination of abuses, will be achieved less through preoccupation with regulations and concern for correctness (often accompanied by campaigns and accusations), than by good catechesis on the meaning of the liturgy and each of its parts.
Finally, as we have previously mentioned, it is the intention of the New Zealand bishops to provide a comprehensive catechesis on a national basis as soon as the revised Sacramentary is available to us.
Most Reverend, Denis G Browne DD
President, NZ Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Bishop of Hamilton
Cardinal Thomas S Williams DD
Archbishop of Wellington
Most Reverend Peter J Cullinane DD
Bishop of Palmerston North
Most Reverend Leonard A Boyle DD
Bishop of Dunedin
Most Reverend John J Cunneen DD
Bishop of Christchurch
Most Reverend Patrick J Dunn DD
Bishop of Auckland
Most Reverend Owen J Dolan DD
Coadjutor Bishop of Palmerston North
Most Reverend Max Takuira Mariu SM DD
Auxiliary Bishop of Hamilton
Most Reverend Robin W Leamy SM DD
Emeritus Bishop of Rarotonga, Bishop Assistant in Auckland
Most Reverend John A Dew DD
Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington
Cardinal Laments Descent to 'Moral Wasteland'
Sept 11, 2004
By EUGENE BINGHAM
The head of the Catholic Church has rounded on the liberal policies of recent Governments, saying the country is becoming a "moral wasteland". In a strongly worded essay entitled "The Spiritual Bankruptcy of Liberalism", Cardinal Thomas Williams yesterday attacked a string of policy changes - from the Civil Union Bill to prostitution law reform - and likened modern politicians to barbarians.
"The perennial work of the barbarian is to tear down existing standards, and to debase ideals that have come to characterise a society built on sound moral principle," he said.
"The modern barbarian may be soberly suited and stylishly presented, their weapon the skilful use of spin doctors to dupe the unwary, the unsuspecting and the uninformed. The outcome is no different."
Traditional values and beliefs were being systematically subverted as society chose instead to live on a diet of "junk food provided by bankrupt liberalism".
A free-market economy had been pursued at the cost of hardship and poverty for families, television and the media were dumbed down, Sundays were secularised and doctors conspired to legitimise abortions by writing spurious medical certificates for mothers who did not wish to keep their babies.
The traditional family unit was ignored by legislators, euthanasia was gaining ground, and street walking had been made as respectable as shop walking.
"Conscience votes in Parliament have become meaningless," said Cardinal Williams. "Relativism and permissiveness have been deliberately promoted, and morality reduced to purely subjective preference. Our failure to protect basic values and rudimentary citizenship is fast converting our country into a moral wasteland."
He encouraged people to challenge the culture of exaggerated individualism, and to serve society by the way they lived their lives as individuals and families.
Cardinal Williams is the most senior figure of the second-biggest religion in the country, with more than 480,000 people counting themselves Catholic in the 2001 Census.
It was the second time this month a church leader has made strong statements on the country's moral direction. In an interview with the Weekend Herald, the new head of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, said he believed homosexuality was unnatural and not morally right.
He foresaw a "new morality" in which society would find homosexuality unacceptable.