Benedict XVI had a deep formative influence on this Irish monsignor
VATICAN CITY — On his return flight from Fatima to Rome, Pope Francis was asked what he is doing to ensure that bishops and priests implement new guidelines regarding the protection of minors from abuse.
One of the most significant steps forward, the pope said, was the recent appointment of Monsignor John Kennedy as head of the disciplinary section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. An official with the CDF since 2003, he described the Irish monsignor as “a very good person, very efficient, and swift,” which he said “helps a great deal” in ensuring that cases are handled properly.
Aleteia sat down with Msgr. Kennedy to talk about the new appointment, the “hidden” work of the CDF, and what it was like to work under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Monsignor Kennedy, what role does the Discipline Section of the CDF play within the Church?
Within the Church, we are an instrument in the hands of the Holy Father and we serve as a liaison between him and the local churches within the limits of the competences assigned to us.
The role of the Discipline Section is outlined well in the explanation given on the Vatican website, namely: “The disciplinary office deals with delicts against the faith and the more grave delicts against morals and in the celebration of the sacraments. It is also responsible for examining other problems connected with the discipline of the faith, such as cases of false mysticism, claims of apparitions, spiritualism, magic, and simony. It deals with admission to the priesthood of men who were formerly ministers in non-Catholic religions; dispensations from irregularities or impediments to the reception of Holy Orders that fall within the competency of the Congregation; and absolution for excommunications reserved to the Holy See, except when these are dealt with by the Apostolic Penitentiary. It also considers, from a disciplinary point of view, requests to determine that there is no obstacle to making an appointment or granting an honor.”
The Congregation also deals with crimes against the Eucharist and other crimes that involve the Sacrament of Penance. Medjugorje and other instances of mystical phenomena (seeping statues, moving statues, locutions, etc.) are also part of the competence of the Congregation.
What will your new role involve?
My new role will involve working closely with the Superiors and coordinating the work of the Discipline Section on a daily basis. It also includes being available to local Ordinaries and Superiors General, often through their Procurators General resident in Rome, to offer guidance and assistance in various delicate cases that fall to us as part of our service to the Pope and the universal Church.
You worked under Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, while he was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. What was it like to work for him? What was his style?
Pope Benedict’s style while Prefect was to create an atmosphere of professionalism which was marked by a great sense of calm among the officials. We knew what a great mind he had and how he had the ability to understand the most complex of questions. He fostered a strong family spirit among the Superiors and officials. He had great confidence in the abilities of his co-workers and regularly praised them for their contribution and service. He was always respectful, kind and warm. We were struck by his simplicity of life and his work ethic. Whether we were working, praying or simply together for a moment of fraternal gathering, he seemed to be able to bind us together without putting himself at the center. It was a most formative experience to have worked for him and we were so grateful that, on the morning following his election as Pope, he came to visit the CDF and give us his blessing.
You have worked for many years in the Matrimonial section of the CDF? How has the work of examining cases dealing with marriage prepared you for your new role?
I worked for four years in the matrimonial section and thereafter have assisted in various ways alongside the other responsibilities I was given. Then for about a year I was the acting head of the section before being named recently to the role in the discipline section.
The work of the matrimonial section involves helping couples in a unique way that favors and strengthens their faith and assists them to enter a marriage which can be celebrated in Church. You see, it is only the Holy Father who can grant ultimately what they are seeking and so we, along with the diocesan Bishop, work in a “hidden” or at least “out of the public eye” way to assist the couples. There is a beautiful feeling of being able to help someone without ever meeting them but also realizing that you have supported them in a spiritual way. The same is true of the Discipline Section. We know that we can genuinely help the Holy Father in his Petrine ministry and, in turn, bring about a resolution in individual cases, which certainly impacts on the local church in various ways.
What have you learned about the Church, marriage, and the care of souls through your work?
I have learned and have come to appreciate more and more that the Church is God’s work for our sanctification, that it is sustained by Him and that it exists ultimately to guide souls towards their salvation. Once we can appreciate that our ultimate goal is spiritual and salvific, we realize that we are being called into a collaboration with God’s will for our ultimate happiness. If carried out in this way, no work of the Church is, therefore, without its merit, even if it should be hidden from the gaze of the world. The work of the CDF has its own importance because through it many can learn to know the beauty of truth and have their faith restored knowing that the Church is striving to confront various realities, in particular that of the abuse of minors, through the search for truth and the bringing about of justice.