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Sept. 29, 2006 
All Things Catholic
Vol. 6, No. 5

John L. Allen Jr. 
NCR Senior  



Pope Benedict's damage control; Milingo thanks Benedict for his 'caring concern about us'; Notes on: Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, Reader response, Ministry to lesbians and gays


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Benedict XVI's carefully choreographed Sept. 25 meeting with ambassadors from 22 Muslim nations accredited to the Holy See (only Sudan was absent), along with representatives from Italy's tiny but growing Muslim community, was designed to turn a corner on the controversies following his Sept. 12 comments on Islam in Regensburg, Germany.

The encounter was carried live both on CNN and its counterpart in the Arab world, Al-Jazeerah.

It seems to have been partially successful. The ambassadors applauded as the pope entered the room, and beamed as he moved down the reception line afterwards. Later, several Muslim participants told the media that they believe the dialogue is "back on track."

"Today begins a new phase," said Abdellah Redouane, secretary general of the Islamic Cultural Center of Rome.

"We overcame the tensions of recent days, and now we must intensify initiatives, on the part of both Christians and Muslims, that favor dialogue among the two great religions, which is important for the serenity of the entire world," Redouane said.

Not everyone, of course, was ready to forgive and forget.

Just 24 hours later, the 56-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, meeting in New York on the margins of a session of the United Nations, adopted a resolution calling upon Benedict "to retract or to correct" his Sept. 12 comments. In Egypt, officials of the Al-Azhar mosque and university threw cold water upon the idea of inviting Benedict XVI to deliver a lecture, and a spokesperson told Italian media that the pope's comments to date "are not the clear apology that Al-Azhar has requested, but merely a way of placating [Muslim] anger."

Nevertheless, the wide popular outrage across the Muslim world seems to be ebbing, and many commentators have said it's time to move on. The question now is, move on to what?

* * *

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Those looking for clues would do well to read Benedict's Sept. 25 address carefully. The pope referred to Vatican II twice and John Paul II twice, an obvious way of signaling that he has no intention of "turning back the clock" on five decades of progress in Christian-Muslim relations.

Yet it's also instructive that his lone citation of John Paul II invoked the question of reciprocity, which is Vatican argot for the demand that Christians and other minorities in Muslim nations should enjoy the same religious freedom that Muslims have in the West.

Benedict pointedly quoted John Paul II's 1985 address to Muslim youth in Casablanca: "Respect and dialogue require reciprocity in all spheres, especially in that which concerns basic freedoms, more particularly religious freedom."

I've written an extensive story on the reciprocity question, based on interviews with scores of Muslim and Christian experts, which will appear in Oct. 13 edition of the National Catholic Reporter. Suffice it to say that most observers on both sides seemed to agree that if Benedict wants to push this issue constructively, six points are important:

  • Humbly acknowledge that Christians have had, and in some places continue to have, their own struggles with religious freedom;
  • Don't make reciprocity seem like special pleading for Christians, but rather a principled stand in favor of freedom for all religions;
  • Be clear that this is not a crusade against Islam, since there are other nations, such as Hindu-dominated India and Buddhist-dominated Sri Lanka, where religious freedom is also a serious issue;
  • Recall areas where Catholics and Muslims are natural allies, such as resistance to secularization;
  • Speak directly to the Muslim governments which are responsible for repressive policies, not just to clerics and theologians in abstract theological language;
  • Present religious freedom as part of a broader message about civil and political liberties across the board.

Readers interested in the details will want to see the NCR story.

* * *

Now that the dust has begun to settle on Islamic reaction to Benedict's

lecture at Regensburg, other aspects of his message that day may begin to come into view - a welcome development, given that the bulk of the lecture was devoted to the relationship between faith and reason, having nothing in particular to do with Islam.

One critical reaction comes from Richard Gaillardetz, the Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo. Gaillardetz writes:

Most commentators have overlooked a provocative claim in his address that articulates a fundamental - and to my view quite troubling - element of Pope Benedict's theological vision. … The pope makes the assertion that because Greek influence can already be seen in the Old Testament, and because the New Testament was written in Greek, Christianity is inextricably tied to the "Greek spirit." He rejects out of hand the process of "de-hellenization," the history of which he maps out in three stages. His historical schematization of that process is, I believe, sweeping and simplistic, but that is an argument for another day.

Particularly disconcerting is his account of the third stage of the process, in which many scholars have differentiated between the inherent revelatory and salvific significance of Jesus of Nazareth, and the ways in which the Christ event was quickly inculturated in a Hellenistic milieu. He describes this approach as "coarse and lacking in precision." He then suggests that the early adoption of a Greco-Roman world view is an essential and providential development in the history of Christianity. This assertion constitutes a huge theological leap that is in no way substantiated through careful theological argumentation. Nowhere does he justify why this moment of Hellenistic inculturation transcends the realm of historical contingency to enter into divine providence. In the pope's encomium to the "Greek spirit" one almost forgets that the Word became flesh as a Galilean Jew and not a citizen of Athens!

The pope's views on this topic are of great consequence for the larger church. I recently read through three volumes of groundbreaking documentation regarding the work of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences produced over the past three decades. That reading, accompanied by my recent visit to East Asia, has reinforced in me a wonderful appreciation for "the new way of being church" that so many Asian leaders have celebrated. I had a similar experience regarding the birth of an authentically African Christianity emerging on that continent. Much of what is developing theologically in those two regions is undercut by the pope's insistence on the normativity of a Greek philosophical articulation of the faith. The pope clearly believes that the intellectual and cultural synthesis that was achieved in Europe over the course of two millennia is normative for the rest of the church. Such a view leaves little room for substantive processes of local inculturation.

In the wake of Vatican II, Karl Rahner famously claimed that the most important contribution of the council was the fact that it had gently set aside that missiological mentality which saw the church essentially as a "Western European export firm" and began to move toward becoming a genuine world church (Weltkirche). The pope's recent address articulated a central feature of his ecclesiological vision, a vision far closer to the European export firm than the world church that Rahner believed was a-borning.

I am grateful for much that this new papacy has brought us: a more measured wielding of papal authority, a more modest public papal profile, a greater theological depth in papal reflections. But now, at a time when our church is bursting with new vitality and fresh insight in places like Africa, we have a pope who seems incapable of breaking out of his European intellectual milieu.

Whatever one makes of Gaillardetz's analysis - and he would be the first to recognize the need for further discussion - it illustrates the sort of reflection on the heart of the Regensburg address one hopes will now emerge.

* * * *

Renegade Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo ordained four married priests as bishops in a Sept. 24 ceremony in Washington, D.C., and 48 hours later the predictable notice of excommunication from the Vatican arrived:

"For this public act both Archbishop Milingo and the four ordinands have incurred excommunication latae sententiae, as laid down in Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law. Moreover, the Church does not recognize, nor does she intend to recognize in the future, these ordinations and all ordinations deriving from them; and she considers the canonical status of the four supposed-bishops as being that they held prior to this ordination," it said.

On Sept. 27, Milingo held a press conference at the Imani Temple in Washington, D.C., to respond. He thanked Benedict "for his gracious and caring concern about us."

"We do not accept this excommunication and lovingly return it to His Holiness, our beloved Pope Benedict XVI, to reconsider, withdraw it and join us in recalling married priests to service once again," Milingo said.

Milingo said he regards the "Married Priests Now!" movement as a "personal prelature" within the church, referring to a category in canon law for a quasi-diocese whose membership is defined by person rather than by geography. At present, the only recognized personal prelature is Opus Dei.

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The four men Milingo ordained are: Rev. George Augustus Stallings, Jr., of Washington; Peter Paul Brennan, of New York; Patrick Trujillo, of Newark, N.J.; and Joseph Gouthro, of Las Vegas.

I spoke Wednesday morning with Stallings, a former priest of the Washington archdiocese (and one-time protégé of Cardinal James Hickey). He told me that Milingo's plan now is to travel the country "preaching, teaching and casting out demons," and meeting with married priests.

I asked if this effort will be supported by the Unification Movement of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, given that Moon provided much logistical and financial assistance to Milingo both in 2001, when Milingo first broke with the church, and again this time. Stallings, however, said that Milingo's travel and advocacy will not receive financial help from the Unification Movement.

In July, I had an exclusive interview with Milingo which can be found here: http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/update/bn071406.htm

* * *

If nothing else, Milingo provides an interesting thought exercise for canon lawyers and ecclesiologists: What, if anything, makes his ordinations different from those of the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988, when Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without the pope's authority for his breakaway Society of St. Pius X?

At least from the Vatican's point of view, there seems to be a difference.

Its Sept. 27 statement curtly said Milingo's "supposed bishops" would not be recognized. Yet in the Lefebvre case, the Holy See has implicitly recognized some ecclesial status for his bishops, even though it proclaimed them excommunicated at the time. When Cardinal Dario Castrillón Hoyos, President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission, wrote to them in 1999, he addressed them as "my dear brothers." Another example is Bishop Licínio Rangel of Brazil, ordained in defiance of the Vatican in 1991 by three of Lefebvre's four bishops. When a deal was brokered in 2002 to bring Brazilian traditionalists back into communion with Rome, an apostolic administration was created and Rangel was made its administrator, with his 1991 ordination as bishop affirmed.

Whether this reflects a difference in canonical analysis, or merely in pastoral approach, is not entirely clear.

Underlying the question is the ancient sacramental principle of ex opere operato, which means that the validity of a sacrament does not depend on the worthiness of either the recipient or the minister. It's a way of underlining the gratuitousness of God's action, making clear that human beings cannot "earn" or "merit" the sacrament's grace. Yet there are conditions: proper matter, proper form, and proper intent, and each must be present. To take a trivial example, a priest cannot consecrate Twinkies and beer because they're improper matter, no matter how punctiliously he follows the ritual or how noble his intentions.

At face value, it would seem that the Milingo ordinations pass the test just as much as Lefebvre's. Canon lawyers point out that the Sept. 27 Vatican statement on the Milingo case did not say, "These men are not bishops." It said the church will not recognize their ordinations, which is not the same thing.

One could theoretically argue that Milingo was under so much stress that he lacked the use of reason and therefore could not form the proper intent, although according to the Council of Trent the lone requirement on this score is that the minister "intends to do what the church does," meaning that he wasn't consciously faking it. As one canonist put it, "the likelihood of these being invalid ordinations is so minimal that it is not worth discussing."

Why, then, is the Vatican more inclined to take the Lefebvre bishops seriously?

Most importantly, Lefebvre's movement is seen under the heading of "schism," meaning a group of faithful which has broken communion with Rome, but which has nevertheless preserved important elements of what it means to be church. Lefebvre's bishops were ordained to serve such a community; the Society of St. Pius X claims between one million and two million faithful worldwide, along with 450 priests.

Milingo, on the other hand, is more of a "lone ranger."

Given this background, some canonists suggest the best parallel to the Milingo case is not Lefebvre, but the late Bishop Pierre Martin Ngo Dinh Thuc of Vietnam, brother of the Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.

Thuc, himself a Catholic traditionalist, was excommunicated twice for ordaining bishops without the pope's approval, first in 1976 and again in 1983. (Thuc reportedly made peace with the church before he died in 1984). One of the eleven men Thuc ordained, a Spaniard named Clemente Dominguez Gomez, went on to proclaim himself Pope Gregory XVII, leading a tiny group of followers on a farm outside Seville where the Virgin Mary was allegedly appearing. In those instances, the Vatican took a position similar to its line with Milingo.

Politically, some analysts might say that the basic difference between Lefebvre and Milingo is that the Vatican has more sympathy for traditionalist dissent, though that's hard to square with its reaction to Thuc.

The real difference seems to be the schism factor; the Vatican takes Lefebvre's bishops seriously because it wants them to bring their faithful home. While there are certainly lots of Catholics who might agree with Milingo on a married priesthood, there's little evidence that a substantial body of people is prepared to follow him into or out of the church.

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We might thus tentatively formulate the Vatican attitude towards illicitly ordained bishops this way: No faithful, no service.

For his part, Milingo insists the ordinations are for real.

In a Sept. 27 news conference, he said: "I was consecrated by Pope Paul VI and, equipped with that sacramental power from him, consecrated four married men in valid apostolic succession. These men are validly ordained Roman Catholic bishops today, and remain so in spite of Rome's posture of denial of recognition."

* * *

After a lengthy hiatus, the official Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic met for the ninth time Sept. 18-25 in Belgrade, Serbia.

In a joint statement afterwards, participants said their time together "was marked by a spirit of friendship and trustful collaboration."

Consulting with experts on Catholic/Orthodox relations, most said the Belgrade session was a vast improvement upon the infamous 2001 gathering in Emmitsburg, Maryland, which ended in paralysis following heated debates over proselytism and the status of Eastern rite churches in communion with Rome (which the Orthodox generally call "uniate" churches).

Experts pointed to four indications of progress.

First, virtually every Orthodox church was represented, a departure from past gatherings when a handful of Orthodox bodies chose not to participate for one reason or another.

Second, the meeting returned to the theological agenda originally set in 1990. The focal point was a draft document, The Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church: Conciliarity and Authority in the Church, examining the local, regional and universal levels. A joint committee was created to revise the document, which will be studied again in 2007.

Third, the fact that the commission agreed to meet again next year, in a session hosted by the Catholic side, suggests eagerness to continue the discussion, since the normal rhythm is every two years.

Fourth, the warm welcome given the Joint Commission in Serbia itself was itself encouraging. Both the patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the prime minister of Serbia welcomed it, gestures that would have been unthinkable amid tensions surrounding the wars of the Yugoslav succession.

None of this is to suggest, however, that the gathering was entirely pacific.

Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria protested afterwards against the use of voting instead of consensus, especially with regard to a section of the draft document on the authority of the Ecumenical Councils. It states, among other things, that after the break in communion between East and West in the ninth century, "an 'Ecumenical Council' in the strong sense became impossible," but "both Churches continued to hold 'general' councils gathering together the bishops of local Churches in communion with the See of Rome or the See of Constantinople."

Predictably, the Russian Orthodox objected to this formula, which they contend assigns too much preeminence to Constantinople.

Metropolitan John of Pergamon, co-chair for the Orthodox side and a member of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, suggested a compromise that was unacceptable to the Russian Orthodox. The Catholic co-chair, Cardinal Walter Kasper, put the matter to a vote, and the majority of the Orthodox participants voted in favor of the Metropolitan's position.

Hilarion, however, insisted that no vote could force a church to betray its ecclesiological self-understanding, especially to accept a role for the Patriarch of Constantinople in the East analogous to that played by the pope in the West. Kasper indicated that he would take the protest under consideration at the 2007 meeting.

* * *

In my Sept. 8 column, I discussed Pope Benedict's message for a gathering in Assisi marking the 20th anniversary of John Paul II's 1986 summit of religious leaders. I mentioned some reflections on inter-religious prayer then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published in his book Truth and Tolerance in 2003, including a critique he offered of an inter-denominational study on the subject in the 1990s with which the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue was involved. The column can be found here: http://ncrcafe.org/node/439

It brought the following response from John Borelli, Special Assistant to the President for Interreligious Initiatives at Georgetown University:

John Allen refers to a report of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), resulting from a joint meeting in Bangalore, India, in 1996. Errors and lack of clarity about this text leave wrong impressions leading to a suggestion that cannot be isolated from other critically important information.

In the first place, the Bangalore text is not a document, as Allen calls it four times. It was an interim report, "Findings of an Exploratory Consultation on Interreligious Prayer." Roman offices use document for an officially approved text, and church officials consult "documents" for official positions and policies. When Benedict XVI criticized this report, before his election as pope, in a newly composed chapter for Truth and Tolerance (2003), he called it a "text" or "statement," never a "document." Given curial procedures, Benedict would have had to approve it for it to become one. Benedict praised a later theological assessment of the findings as "a sound piece of work," though he called it a "document" three times, an unusual mistake, perhaps because he favored it. No process was undertaken to make either a document.

Allen underscores how Benedict distinguishes between interreligious and multireligious prayer although the Bangalore report made the same distinction. Phase two of a multi-phase project, the text reported findings of the World Council of Churches and the PCID. It also asserts that interreligious prayer should not be a substitute for the regular pattern of prayer, an important point Benedict later makes, as Allen reports. These are not points of dispute, if that impression is given. The joint consultation with the WCC in Bangalore did not aim at doctrinal agreement for churches not in full communion but for developing pastoral advice to inquiring Christians. That advice, as the text says, needs ongoing consultation.

Benedict criticized one passage on hospitality as Allen covered. What was not clear in Allen's coverage is that Benedict disagreed with something more basic in that the report insinuated a failure to demarcate between personal and impersonal understandings of God, though Benedict agreed that the report did no more than raise questions. This distinction was part of a broader issue on the meaning of religious pluralism, related to the document Dominus Iesus, which Benedict signed in 2000 as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the case against Fr. Jacques Dupuis, which his office was conducting at the same time.

The then-bishop Michael Fitzgerald, Secretary of the PCID, did not write the Bangalore report and was not "the Vatican official responsible for" it, as Allen wrote. Both are false impressions. It was co-published in the WCC Interfaith Relations journal Current Dialogue and the PCID's Pro Dialogo (1998).Cardinal Francis Arinze was PCID President at the time, and the buck stopped at his desk on the Catholic side. Fitzgerald succeeded Arinze in 2002.

Allen then recalls that "Fitzgerald was removed from that job and sent to Cairo," leaving the impression that it was in some way partially a punishment for this report. That is a misleading, if not a false, impression. Fitzgerald's specific views on multireligious or interreligious prayer are not evident in this report and not proved to be relevant to the change. There are other factors for his re-assignment, not the least of which is more evident after Regensburg, that for Benedict's dialogue of civilization to work, he needs a skilled Arabist, like Fitzgerald, as Papal Nuncio to Egypt and Delegate to the Arab League, hearing what is said on the Arab street and in proximity to his friends at al-Azhar university.

* * *

Urging Catholics who minister to homosexuals to regard themselves as part of the ecclesial mainstream, on a par with church-run charities or education services, retired Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn said Sept. 24 that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans-gendered persons "have to be brought into full participation in the life of the church."

Sullivan spoke to a conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries, which met at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, Sept. 21-24. Offices for ministry to gay Catholics in 14 dioceses, along with 25-30 parishes, were represented.

The heart of Sullivan's argument was that the "ecclesiology of communion," promoted by Pope John Paul II, calls Catholicism to adopt a pastoral style towards gays and lesbians which is "accepting, welcoming, encouraging, one that does not reject, define and exclude, but that enables and encourages participation."

Sullivan, 76, is the former executive director of Catholic Charities as well as vice-president of its board of Trustees, and the former chair of the Social Development and World Peace Department of the U.S. bishops.

Referring to church documents on homosexuality that have generated controversy, Sullivan said sometimes the problem is one of language.

"Often people object not to the content of doctrine, but to the fact that it's not sensitively articulated," he said. "They find difficulty with the language, which might be appropriate in a classroom but not in the public forum."

Sullivan suggested that Pope Benedict XVI may have learned something about the need for sensitivity in language as a result of the flap over his Sept. 12 comments on Islam.

"He is a man of great intelligence, of great courteousness, and of tremendous command of language and nuance, even in English," Sullivan said.

"He was in an academic forum addressing the importance of reason and faith, probably not knowing the communications dimension, how different his words would sound on the front pages of the papers," he said.

Sullivan called the experience "a good lesson."

"That's what you face as a leader, as a pastor," he said. "You can say something that's well-intentioned but poorly stated, and cause a lot of grief and unnecessary angst."

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The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is  jallen@natcath.org

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