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The Pope and the Monsignor | An Interview with Monsignor
Michael R. Schmitz
Monsignor Michael R. Schmitz was ordained by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
in 1982. As a German who has had significant contact with Pope Benedict
XVI, IgnatiusInsight.com asked Msgr. Schmitz his opinion of the effect of
our new pope on Germany. For Germany, we wondered, will this be a time of
hope and renewal of faith?
Msgr. Schmitz, 47, is a German, born and educated, but now serves as the
U.S. Provincial Superior of the Institute
of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. Msgr. Schmitz oversees the
U.S. branch of this new order of priests devoted to the Traditional
Latin Mass. As a priest studying in Rome, he had regular contact with his
fellow countryman Cardinal Ratzinger. During the year prior to his election
as pope, Msgr. Schmitz and several others from his order met with Cardinal
Ratzinger to bring him up to date on the new order of priests. (More biographical
information is available at the end of this interview.)
Our thanks to IgnatiusInsight.com contributor and Ignatius Press marketing
assistant Milo Persic for this interview.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What have been your relations to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,
now Pope Benedict XVI?
Msgr. Schmitz: I had the great honor to have been ordained by the present
pope in 1982 when he was in his first year as Prefect of the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Since that time I had the opportunity to meet the Cardinal quite regularly
during my studies for the doctorate in Rome when I was living in the Teutonic
College in the Vatican. His Eminence used to celebrate Mass every Thursday
in the chapel of the college and have breakfast with us afterwards, which
was the occasion of short conversations and encounters with him.
Also, I had the chance to meet him several times in audiences and only recently,
during the year before his election, he received the Prior General of the
Institute of Christ the King, Msgr. Gilles Wach, and me for a meeting where
we could present to him the more recent developments of our young community.
During this occasion the Cardinal again showed his interest and love for
all matters liturgical and especially his deep respect for the more ancient
forms of the Roman Rite.
IgnatiusInsight.com: This pope is the first from Germany in more than 400
years. Could you share any personal feelings that you had upon learning
of the outcome of the Conclave
Msgr. Schmitz: As everyone else was, I was deeply touched by the outcome
of the last Conclave because it witnessed the presence of the Holy Spirit
during the election of a new Pope. Holy Providence does not leave the Church
alone and astonishes ever anew all those who may depend in their judgment
about the future on purely human calculation.
Certainly, Benedict XVI is a gift of Holy Providence and shows through his
very presence as Vicar of Christ that "the Church is alive", as
he has put it himself in his sermon during the solemn beginning of his ministry.
The fact that he is German is important for all Germans, but I would stress
that Germany is much more regionally structured than non-Germans would believe.
Germany was united under Prussia in 1870, and its kingdoms and principalities
only disappeared totally after 1918, which afterwards created a vacuum used
by evil forces to deceive the German faithfulness toward authority. Still,
the former political structure is very present in the different regions
of Germany, whose population speaks many different forms of the German language.
One of the most important regions in Germany is the "Freistaat"
of Bavaria. Together with being a German, His Holiness is a Bavarian and
has always shown a great love for his country. He was Archbishop of Munich
in Bavaria, and he taught as a professor in Bavarian universities for many
years. His brother conducted one of the most important church choirs in
Bavaria, and the links of the Ratzinger family to its Bavarian-Austrian
roots are very visible. I am from the Rhine Valley and traditionally, the
ecclesiastic principalities on the Rhine, especially the Archdiocese of
Cologne, have always been in close relationship with Bavaria.
For centuries Bavarian princes governed, as Prince-Archbishops, the part
of the Rhine I come from. The Rhine Valley and Bavaria are among the only
regions in Germany that have always stayed Catholic. The atmosphere of the
two regions and their historical links are penetrated by a deeply Catholic
feeling. Also, for this reason, I was very grateful to Holy Providence for
having given to Holy Mother Church a visible head and a Vicar of Christ
rooted in a Catholicism of heart and mind coming from a rich tradition of
faithfulness to the Holy See and of veneration of the Blessed Sacrament
and the Virgin Mary.
IgnatiusInsight.com: In difficult years following the First World War, Germany
saw the rise of Hitler and every generation since has had to live with the
legacy of one of historys most evil men. Germany culture in the post
World War II era was forced to grapple with this shameful period. What will
the election of a German and obviously holy man, who was alive during the
time of Hitler, who himself quietly resisted Hitler, as did his father,
do to Germans perceptions of themselves in general and on the world
Msgr. Schmitz: I am confident that Pope Benedict XVI will help other
people to perceive Germany and the Germans in a more appropriate way than
just as a nation whose history was partly dominated by shameful oppression
through an inhuman dictatorship.
My grandfather was killed during the war in a train accident because his
chauffeur did not see the coming train at a crossing, whose lights were
off during the time of the air raids. Our parish priest said to my grandmother
"perhaps Holy Providence wanted to spare your husband because he certainly
would have ended in a concentration camp".
My grandfather helped many Jews and others who were persecuted by the Nazi
regime and always defended his faith openly. My mother secretly copied the
famous sermons of the upright "Lion of Muenster" Bishop Clemens
August Count von Galen against the Nazi terror. One morning she entered
her office and found two Gestapo members sitting on her desk. They took
her to be interrogated, and only the mercy of an elderly judge who pitied
her youthful beauty saved her from the worst.
I tell you these episodes of my family only as examples of the many Catholic
Germans who opposed the regime and suffered dire consequences for their
faithfulness to the Church. My generation and those after me have not known
this time personally nor are we responsible for anything that happened then.
I am sure His Holiness, who was elected by an international College of Cardinals,
will help convey to the world the message that no nation should be the target
of a collectively assigned culpability and that we have to see the individual
person and his personal value before we condemn him for his national origin.
IgnatiusInsight.com: Germany is perhaps one of the most secularized countries
in the world. The rates of church attendance are low, below 30 percent,
and many Germans no longer value the three Ks, Kinder, Küche,
Kirche. Will Benedict XVI make a difference?
Msgr. Schmitz: Europe as a whole is secularized to the point that its
political authorities seem to be afraid to acknowledge the Christian roots
of its civilization. This behavior could be compared to a child denying
his mother in her very presence.
As a matter of fact, Germany suffers from this secularization even more
because of the historical influence of liberal Protestantism, which has
long since lost its religious meaning but still dominates the political
atmosphere with its consequences. The link between Church and State in Germany
seems to sometimes foster a certain ecclesiastical adaptation to this atmosphere,
even by some of the hierarchal authorities. Instead of emphasizing a Catholic
identity in front of the State, like in Poland for instance, many representatives
of the Church in Germany have chosen to act more like state officials than
This secularized view of the their own position is very obvious in the theological
faculties in the state universities whose staff lately has contributed quite
a bit to the image of the German ecclesiastical world as coldly opposed
to the Holy See and critical even of the fundamental doctrines of the Catholic
faith. The Church in Germany has been compared to a "frozen giant".
Too much self-centeredness and interminable sterile discussions about the
same old "modern questions" have paralyzed ecclesiastical life
in Germany, which seems to be afraid of its own quite glorious tradition
Pope Benedict XVI, with his deep theological knowledge and his awesome intellectual
qualities, has already answered many of the theological discussions in the
past and will now contribute by his strong Papal presence in giving to the
Church in Germany what he has defined as two qualities of the universal
Church of today: "life and youth"!
IgnatiusInsight.com: It appears the first time Pope Benedict XVI will
leave Italy, he will travel to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day. What
do you think the possible effect will be?
Msgr. Schmitz: His much-expected visit to World Youth Day will be like
an oxygen mask to the Church in Germany. The enthusiasm on St. Peters
Square during the beginning of his ministry clearly shows that he knows
how to speak to the worlds youth. His long experience as a university
professor has given him all the skills necessary to attract the attention
of his youthful audience. He does not need to be taught by others how to
speak to the youth and how to convey to them the great message of the love
The entire life of His Holiness has been dedicated to this task, and the
large number of his academic pupils, followers, and admirers reveals the
force of his intellect and the charism of his person, strengthened now and
magnified by the office he has received from the Lord. I am sure that he
will not only continue the apostolate for the youth initiated by John Paul
II but that he will add to it a new direction of catechetic depth and clear
religious instruction after the example of Venerable Pius XII and Blessed
John XXIII, who also were "youthful popes".
IgnatiusInsight.com: Americans statistically claim German heritage perhaps
more than any other nationality. How might this popes relations to
America and the English-speaking world in general differ from Pope John
Msgr. Schmitz: Since I have been in America, I have had the personal
experience of a strong German presence in American culture. Names, habits,
even religious devotions still show the German roots of large parts of the
The Papacy is above all national heritage, and the task of the Roman Pontiff
as Vicar of Christ on earth and successor of St. Peter as Bishop of Rome
really is on a universal scale. However, I am confident that the love for
Germany and its history at its best, which I have encountered in the United
States, will help German-rooted Americans to strengthen their link to the
Papacy during this pontificate. The fact that we have a Bavarian pope and
that Americans like Bavarian customs, not to speak of Octoberfest and Bavarian
beer, will again facilitate a personal link to the great figure on the Papal
throne because he is a real son of Bavaria.
On a much higher level, though, most of the American Catholics share with
their German fellow believers an ancestral love for the Holy See and a filial
devotion toward the Holy Father. Above all useless criticisms of the past
forty years, this "Romanity" has survived and every day will unite
the Church in America more to the Roman Pontiff actually represented by
this great intellectual but humanly sympathetic and modest pope called Benedict
IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you have any other thoughts that you would like
Msgr. Schmitz: The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest has
always cherished a truly Catholic Romanity in the school of St. Benedict,
St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis de Sales. The choice of the name Benedict
by the present pope appeals to us as very familiar because St. Benedict
and his rule and contribution to Catholic culture are dear to us. The personal
meetings we have had with the former Cardinal Ratzinger have also linked
us emotionally to this fine and holy clergyman.
Our Prior General, Msgr. Wach, the Sisters of our new female branch, and
I were present on St. Peters Square during the ceremony of the beginning
of the Papal ministry. Humanly, theologically, and as faithful, we experienced
a unique moment in history, which has strengthened even more the link of
our Institute to the Papacy, to which we have been always faithful. The
way Pope Benedict XVI fills the highest office that God can bestow on a
human being here on earth shows that Christ is always present in His Church
and does not leave Her alone in a situation of crisis. Many hopes are now
put on the present Pontiff, who has to govern the Church in difficult times
and is well aware of many different sensibilities.
Instead of asking him to fulfill immediately our personal expectations,
which may well be limited and partial, we should follow his urgent invitation
to pray for him to our Blessed Lord in the Holy Eucharist and to our Blessed
Mother who is so dear to him. This is not the hour of demanding quick solutions
but the hour of prayer, respect, and faithfulness toward the Holy Father.
If we keep near to him and implore heavenly graces for him, the Lord of
the Church will certainly give His Vicar all the wisdom and strength necessary
to govern His flock.
Msgr. Michael R. Schmitz was born on the 22nd of March 1957
in Eitorf, near Cologne in Germany. He completed his philosophical and theological
studies at the Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained on October
10, 1982, by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He finished his doctorate
in Rome in 1988.
Two years as parish assistant was followed by a license in Canon Law at
the state university in Munich, Bavaria. He was also teaching at the seminary
of the Institute
of Christ the King, and became assistant professor at Munich State University.
In 1995 Msgr. Schmitz was appointed cultural attaché to the Apostolic
Nunciature in Kyrgyzstan Central Asia and became the first priest holding
a chair at a former Russian university. During this same period he helped
the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest establish a foundation
in Germany and was responsible for the German-speaking countries in the
Institute of Christ the King, which is a young priestly community with the
Traditional Latin Mass now working in more than ten countries. He was incardinated
in the Institute of Christ the King on the feast day of the Nativity of
Our Lady 2000. Since then he was appointed Vicar General in the Institute,
and is now working as the Provincial
Superior of the Institute in the United States of America, where the
Institute has seven apostolates.
Among other activities he is a chaplain of the Order of Malta, a member
of the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Rome, co-editor of various theological
publications, and author of four books, and more than one hundred other
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