Q+A March 17: Susan Wood interviews James Bergin
Sunday 17 March, 2013
Susan Wood interviews James Bergin
Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE and one hour later on TV ONE plus 1. Repeated Sunday evening at 11:30pm. Streamed live at www.tvnz.co.nz
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SUSAN WOOD INTERVIEWS JAMES BERGIN
James Bergin is a Catholic and a new-media commentator. Very good morning to you.
JAMES BERGIN - Kiwi Catholic
SUSAN As an NZ Catholic, what are you hoping that the Pope will bring?
JAMES Oh, I think it’s been a very exciting couple of days. I, like most Catholics, am still learning a little bit about who this Pope was when he was a cardinal.
SUSAN He was surprisingly low-profile, wasn’t he?
JAMES I think for us, yes. I mean, obviously there will be quite a few people in South America who would say he wouldn’t necessarily be very low-profile. What we are learning about him shows that he wasn’t really someone who sort of sought the limelight. Obviously, everyone’s seen the images of him catching the bus to work and hearing the stories of how he lived very humbly even as a cardinal.
SUSAN He’s a conservative man, like his predecessors. There will be no lurch in any particular direction, will there?
JAMES I would be surprised if there would be. I think that really what Catholics look for from the Pope is for someone to kind of uphold the teachings of the Church.
SUSAN Would you like a little less conservatism, though? We’re in a country which is going to make gay marriage legal, and it makes the Catholic Church - well, to some people - look out of touch, old fashioned.
JAMES I think, really, what I’m looking for from this Pope, and the young Catholics that I’ve talked to are looking for, is this is a man who is a Jesuit, the first Jesuit Pope we’ve had.
SUSAN Yeah, what does that mean?
JAMES So, Jesuits are a religious order. So he will have taken vows of chastity, obedience and poverty. He, also I think the Jesuits have to take a special vow of obedience to the Pope, so I’m not sure if he takes an obedience vow to himself, but-
SUSAN They’re intellectuals too.
JAMES Very much, and they’re known for their teaching. The Jesuits run a number of universities around the world. They’ve been around for 500 years, I think. And so I think that what I’d be looking for, and a lot of the Catholics I’ve talked to are looking for is, a Pope who comes from that background to really become like the ultimate teacher. We’ve all had those teachers in school that we look back and say, ‘That was the teacher that really made an impact on my life and explained something to me.’ The Church’s teachings are very complicated. They’ve evolved over thousands of years, and so I think having a teaching Pope would be something that we’d been looking forward to.
SUSAN So is this man, if we call him the ultimate teacher and he becomes that, how does that help, though, clean up the Church? Because we have seen, of course, we’ve seen financial issues, but probably more worrying is the sexual abuse ones which go back decades. They’ve been swept under the rug. I mean, how does he clean that up?
JAMES I think the cardinals obviously made a very deliberate choice in choosing Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis. He’s not someone who has held his positions inside the Curia. That’s the management of the Church.
SUSAN Which also needs updating, doesn’t it? So it means changing there too.
JAMES I absolutely think that this is Pope, as with any Pope, would be addressing those issues. He’ll continue to address those issues.
SUSAN The last Pope didn’t do a great job, I would say, as a non-Catholic.
JAMES I haven’t spent a lot of time in the Curia. In fact, I haven’t spent any time there.
SUSAN I’m talking specifically about child abuse, though. This is a festering sore that has not been cleared within the Church. I mean, I hearing people like Lyndsay Freer say that.
JAMES I mean, my dad would always tell us as kids, ‘Trust takes a lifetime to establish and it takes a second to destroy.’ And I think that the other side of that is that it probably takes more than a lifetime to build it back up again. I think Benedict made some big inroads in clearing up this. All Catholics in the world are shocked, horrified by what’s going on. I think he made huge inroads, but I do think this Pope and probably the next Pope after him and the Pope after that will continue to work to regain the trust and to repair the damage that’s been done.
SUSAN Not a young man - 76, with only one lung. Any concerns around that?
JAMES I think that to be in that office requires a lot of vigour. That’s what Pope Benedict was referring to. But I think it also requires a lot of experience. All the cardinals have multiple doctorates and degrees and speak multiple languages. So it’s how do you strike that balance between having the experience to be able to do the office justice and being able to keep up with new media and Twitter and Facebook and all the new inventions that haven’t been around for that long.
SUSAN As a youngish sort of a man, because you are - I know you’re well below 40 - to many people, the Catholic Church does seem old fashioned. You know, we’re talking anti-gay, we’re talking anti-contraception. What is it about it that so appeals to you? I mean, why do you want to be Catholic?
JAMES I mean, I was born and bred Catholic. I’ve got six brothers and sisters, and we all still practise in our faith. We got a point where going to church couldn’t just be Mum and Dad saying, ‘Get in the car; you’re going.’ For me, when I was about 14 or 15, I had to make the conscious decision to explore my faith more and say, ‘Is this my parents’ faith or mine?’ And as I’ve explored it on all the teachings, on all the issues, every time you ask the Church a question, it very rarely says, ‘Yes, full-stop’ or, ‘No, full-stop.’ It usually responds with a tome of very, very intellectual and thoughtful writings. And so I think the more I investigate, the more I examine - I’m still doing it now with my children as I start to raise them with my wife, and I think that we need to look at the Church as is it relevant for us? The answer seems to be every time I ask that question, ‘Yes.’
SUSAN Lovely to talk to you this morning, James. James Bergin.