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 The Word From Rome

January 7, 2005
Vol. 4, No. 5

John L. Allen Jr.


"In the opinion of many, we have stood up from our knees, and, with all the people who live on the territory of Ukraine, emerged as a mature nation."

Cardinal Lubomyr Husar,
head of the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine

Remembering Jacques Dupuis; John Paul's holidays; Cardinal Diogini Tettamanzi under fire; More on Fr. Marcial Maciel


One of the few occasions that I ventured out of my quasi-monastic enclosure in December, imposed for the purpose of pounding out a draft of my forthcoming book on Opus Dei, was the Dec. 30 funeral of Fr. Jacques Dupuis. The Belgian Jesuit, who died at 81 on Dec. 28 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage, was one of the Catholic Church's leading theologians on the subject of religious pluralism.

Over the years, Dupuis had become a personal friend, and although I was not as close to him as some in Rome, I knew him well enough to understand how much the last few years of his life were marked by suffering - both physical, in the sense of declining health, and emotional, related to a lengthy Vatican doctrinal investigation and its aftermath.

The funeral was held in the community chapel of the Gregorian University, where Dupuis lived and taught for 20 years. In attendance were many of the people who had been his friends and allies -- including Australian Jesuit Fr. Gerald O'Collins, a distinguished theologian, who was Dupuis' canonical advocate during the Vatican investigation; and Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, an office that Dupuis served for many years as a consultor, including his role as the primary author of the 1991 Vatican documentDialogue and Proclamation.

The superior of the Jesuit community at the Gregorian, Fr. Germān Arana, celebrated the funeral Mass. A tribute to Dupuis was delivered by the vice-rector of the Gregorian, Fr. Javier Egaņa, who had been Dupuis' superior during the Vatican investigation. Both referred to the pain of recent years, when, as Arana put it, Dupuis "closed in on himself."

As a young Jesuit in Belgium, Dupuis saw the horrors of the Second World War. He wanted to be part of building a new world, and developed an intense yearning to be sent to the missions. He arrived in India in 1948, where he remained until 1984, when he was called to Rome to teach at the Gregorian. In India, he became fascinated by the great religious traditions of Asia, and played a leading role as an advisor to the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences in carving out a new theological approach to religious diversity, one that strove to uphold traditional Catholic doctrine about the uniqueness of the salvation won by Christ, while at the same time acknowledging that other religions play a positive role in God's plan for humanity. That effort led to his groundbreaking 1997 book,Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism.

As is often the case with innovative theological approaches, Dupuis' explorations made the guardians of orthodoxy nervous. In 1998, he was notified that an investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had been launched, which ground forward over 32 months and ended in a "notification" in January 2001. The document warned that the book contained "ambiguities," but it did not mention doctrinal error. It could have been worse, since earlier versions cited a host of alleged deviations. In the end, many people felt Dupuis had been vindicated, though he was always less sanguine himself.

Dupuis was also widely seen as the primary target of the September 2001 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, which asserted that other religions are in a "gravely deficient situation" with respect to Christianity.

No doubt the result was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it made Dupuis a worldwide celebrity, as a never-ending stream of speaking and writing invitations attest. Dupuis gained an audience for his ideas that might otherwise have eluded him. On the other hand, the lingering whiff of scandal meant that Dupuis remained under a cloud. His works were subjected to intense scrutiny, and in recent months he felt his Jesuit superiors had been under pressure to silence him.

I can testify that this was not just Dupuis' over-active imagination. In December 2002, I organized a presentation in Rome of Tom Fox's book Pentecost in Asia, and Dupuis was part of the panel. I had hoped it would take place in the Aula Magna of the Gregorian, but in the period leading up to the event I got a call from a Jesuit official who asked me if I could find another location. Granting permission for Dupuis to speak in the main lecture hall, he said, would invite unwanted attention from the Vatican. In the end, the panel took place at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita, and Dupuis was his usual dry-witted, incisive self. Afterwards he asked me if somebody had refused permission to use the Gregorian; I didn't have the heart to add one more bit of pain, and blamed it on scheduling.

Some theologians might simply shrug all this off, seeing it as the inevitable price of pushing the envelope. Privately, some friends say that Dupuis took things too personally, that he focused too much on his own angst. I had lunch with a few Jesuits some months ago, and one laughingly referred to Dupuis as the "Norma Desmond" of the Gregorian, a reference to the character in "Sunset Boulevard," a fading silent-film-star-cum-recluse. Perhaps. It's also not for me to judge the doctrinal disputes between Dupuis and the Vatican; there are complex questions at stake, and I recognize that no intervention by authority, however well motivated, will ever be popular.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a telegram to the Jesuits expressing condolences upon Dupuis' death. It was signed by the secretary of the congregation, Archbishop Angelo Amato, a Salesian who before his current post had been a consultor to the congregation, and in that capacity played a central role in the investigation against Dupuis. In September 2001, when Dupuis was brought into the congregation for a meeting with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Amato was in the room as Ratzinger's principal advisor on the case.

Whatever the rights and wrongs, one cannot help but be saddened by the effect all this had on Dupuis, who felt at times that a church he had served loyally had deserted him. Dupuis was a man of deep and constant prayer, whose devotion to Christ was absolute. The suggestion that he had done something to compromise the church's faith in Christ devastated Dupuis; it was, in a very real sense, a cancer that ate away at him, producing, as Egaņa put it at the funeral, an "unspeakable sadness." It will be for future generations to assess the content of his theology, but as for the character of the man, his rectitude seems beyond dispute.

It is no criticism of anyone in particular to voice the hope that in the future, the Catholic church may be able to find more humane ways of resolving its doctrinal quandaries.

Dupuis detested any false, saccharine forms of piety, and so I hesitate to make this final point. Still, something in me yearns to believe that it was part of God's providence that Dupuis would be called home just as the Indian Ocean region was struck by a mammoth natural disaster. In Dupuis, the peoples of Asia have a powerful new intercessor, who no doubt is even now urging on their behalf the compassion of Dominus Iesus, the Lord Jesus.

* * *

Dario Fo is an Italian satirist playwright who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. Fo's works often poke fun at the church and its clergy; indeed, the Vatican expressed dismay when he won the Nobel. Yet Fo is also a strong public personality unafraid to cut against the tide, and he respects the same qualities in others -- including Pope John Paul II. He was asked to look ahead at 2005 in a Jan. 2 interview with Il Messaggero, a Roman daily, and he spoke about the pope.

Q: Will John Paul II, whom you have always admired, remain a charismatic figure despite the suffering that makes his mission ever more difficult?

A: "He has the necessary determination. At the center of a church that is not stingy with scandals, Wojtyla is a rock. He's a warrior in the middle of it all, sustained by his constancy, by the tremendous doggedness that illuminates him. He's strong."

* * *

John Paul's performance over the holiday season seems in line with Fo's analysis. While the pope's public schedule was reduced, he kept the appointments on his calendar, and seemed to come through in good form. I went to the Angelus address on New Year's Day, for example, and while the greetings were pared back, John Paul's voice was clear and strong.

January 1 is observed by the Vatican as an annual World Day of Peace, a custom that dates to the pontificate of Paul VI, who placed the observance on New Year's Day to indicate that this is not a specifically "Catholic" date, but an expression of a universal longing.

John Paul used the occasion to express solidarity with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean region.

"Once again I express my closeness to the populations struck by the tragic cataclysm of recent days," the pope said. "In assuring my prayer for the victims of the catastrophe and their families, I also note with favor the effort of solidarity that is developing in every part of the world. Hopes for better days in the course of the year that begins today will rest on this sense of human solidarity, as well as on the help of God."

John Paul singled out the Community of Sant'Egidio for a special greeting from his bedroom window. Sant'Egidio has long been an enthusiastic backer of the World Peace Day initiative, and every New Year's Day members turn out in force in St. Peter's Square after a march through Rome.

* * *

Having lived in Los Angeles, I've always thought that L.A. and Rome have much in common. They both know show business, both are in some ways "company towns," and they share roughly the same latitude. That said, as metaphors, Hollywood and the Vatican often represent different points of the moral compass, and anytime these two worlds -- professional entertainment and institutional religion -- come into contact, there's a danger of a matter/anti-matter reaction.

Last year, American hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill stunned the Vatican's annual Christmas concert, a fundraiser for the construction of Roman churches and other charities, by delivering a blistering attack on the Catholic church for the sexual abuse scandals.

This year organizers may have felt on safer ground with Italian talent, but once again polemics arose. Famed Roman singer Antonello Venditti, after belting out Addio mia bella addio, added a bit of editorial commentary:

"For me, the figure of Christ is fundamental, and I notice that today there's a great confusion between 'solidarity' and charity," Venditti said. "I don't believe in solidarity, but I believe in the value of charity. Today, too many times people refuse to give 50 cents to a child." The comments extended on a point Venditti made just before going on stage, in a press interview: "I hate the word 'solidarity,' because it's not Christian," he said. "'Solidarity' means a bank account."

Some took the statement as a criticism of the Catholic church, especially since the notion of "solidarity" is closely identified with Pope John Paul II. Further, there's history between Venditti and the church. In 1974, he recorded a song entitled A Cristo, amid the violence in Vietnam and Northern Ireland, in which he counseled Christ not to come to Rome when he returns to earth, and suggested that the church was too "silent." The song contained a term directed at Christ that in standard Italian could be considered an insult, but in the Roman dialect means "strong." Venditti was condemned in court for a "public insult to the religion of the state." (The episode took place before the 1984 revision of the concordat between Italy and the Vatican, which no longer regards Catholicism as the official state religion.)

Other observers, however, felt Venditti was not so much criticizing the church as the well-heeled audience at the concert, which had the flavor of a black-tie gala, and could appear detached from the reality of human need. In any event, Venditti said he was "inside," meaning in the Vatican, and metaphorically, in the church, "because on the outside no one can explain to me what the human person really is."

This was the 12th annual edition of the Vatican Christmas concert.

* * *

The politics of the next papal election will not begin with the death of John Paul II; they are already underway, albeit in indirect fashion. For example, Cardinal Diogini Tettamanzi of Milan is regarded as among the molto papabile, one of the leading candidates to be the next pope, in part because he's acceptable across many of the standard divides, in part because of his personal charm, which includes a striking physical resemblance to Pope John XXIII.

For some time, however, there has been a whispering campaign about Tettamanzi on the Italian right, especially what is seen as his embrace of the rhetoric of the "no-global" movement, meaning opposition to neo-liberalism and globalization. This discontent went public on December 9, 2004, when the newspaper Il Foglio carried an editorial attacking "the Communism of Tettamanzi."

The editorial was a response to an address delivered by Tettamanzi on the Feast of St. Ambrose, the patron saint of Milan. Tettamanzi spoke about the social challenges facing Milan -- immigration, high rents, unemployment, social inequality -- and called civic leaders to address them. The editorial in Il Foglio said that most of this was legitimate pastoral concern, even if Tettamanzi could be more attentive to the distorted ideological ends to which his words can be put.

Yet Il Foglio cited two elements of Tettamanzi's address that it said were of concern. First, Tettamanzi defined solidarity as "placing in common the welfare and the goods of all, material and immaterial, physical and spiritual." Second, Tettamanzi called for civic leaders to come together to launch "a great project regarding the sustainability of life for all."

According to Il Foglio, such rhetoric recalled the collectivist ambitions of Soviet-style communism.

"Twentieth century communism, understood as a progressive utopia translated into facts, preached precisely this," the editorial argued. "It necessarily led to ruin, in the degradation of humanity, and in both moral and civil slavery."

"It's enough to look at America, to say nothing of the hinterlands of Milan, to understand that the path of solidarity and compassion … cannot depart from 'placing in common welfare and goods' or from a 'great project' elaborated by the State," the editorial said. "The free world, which is no longer 'planned,' is rich with experiences of solidarity born in society … a society in which liberty means the equal opportunity for all to give and to act, to participate in a common dream of optimism and faith in the future."

"Inequality, unhappiness and the difficulties of existence are radical elements of life in every earthly city, including those that are capitalistic, and no Catholic should have to be reminded in lay terms of the doctrine of original sin," the editorial said. "Efforts to eliminate these elements from on high is a response humanity has already been given -- and, painfully, humanity rejected it. Very painfully."

Regardless of its merits, the critique no doubt caught the eye of a few cardinals. It will be interesting in coming months to see if Tettamanzi again addresses social questions … and what he has to say.

* * *

Unbeknownst to me, the number of American cardinals dropped by one in 2001, not through death, but a change in citizenship. Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, head of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, had been an American citizen because his family was part of the Ukrainian diaspora during World War II. Three years ago, however, Husar renounced his American citizenship, and in August 2002 he acquired a Ukrainian passport.

This came to light because for the first time, Husar was able to vote in the Ukrainian presidential elections -- all three of them -- this fall. Husar reported for the first round of balloting in late October, only to be told that his name was not on the rolls because the electoral commission didn't know the number of his apartment in the St. George's Cathedral Complex in L'viv. Once he supplied the information, Husar was added to the list and cast his ballot.

Husar has not said which way his vote went, but it doesn't take an enormous leap of imagination to suspect that he backed reformer Viktor Yushchenko, who had the overwhelming support of Ukraine's 5.5 million-strong Greek Catholic community.

In his Christmas message, Husar praised the "Orange Revolution" that carried Yushchenko to power: "The events of the past months, when hundreds of thousands of people all over Ukraine, in a sign of protest against the falsification of elections and lies, which became a sign of the suppression of our dignity, went out onto the streets of their cities, testify that the people have understood who they are in the eyes of God and who they are called on to be in the eyes of the global community," he wrote. "In the opinion of many, we have stood up from our knees, and, with all the people who live on the territory of Ukraine, emerged as a mature nation."

If Ukraine's political crisis is, for the moment, resolved, the ecumenical crisis between the Greek Catholic church and the Russian Orthodox church continues. On Dec. 22, the Moscow patriarchate once again protested the planned transfer of the seat of the Greek Catholic Church from L'viv in the west to the national capital in Kiev, reading it as a sign of expansionism, since most Greek Catholics are concentrated in western Ukraine. In return, Fr. Ihor Yatsiv, press secretary for the Greek Catholics, fired off a Dec. 30 statement reminding the Russians that Catholics were driven out of eastern Ukraine by the czars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, so from their point of view this is less a transfer than a homecoming. This tit-for-tat pattern is familiar to anyone who follows ecumenical affairs in Eastern Europe.

Appropriately enough, the new Greek Catholic facility in Kiev is to be called the "Cathedral of the Resurrection." It's slated to be 63 yards long, 54 yards wide and 68 yards high. The cornerstone was consecrated on October 27, 2002.

* * *

In the last column before my hiatus, I noted that Pope John Paul II had recently praised Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado and the order he founded, the Legionaries of Christ. With respect to the accusations of sexual abuse lodged against Maciel, I wrote: "I think the only honest answer is that the pope and his senior aides obviously do not believe the charges."

That comment brought a response from Jason Berry, who along with fellow journalist Gerald Renner co-authored the book Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, which is in part about the Maciel case.

Berry writes:

I'm sorry, but there are more honest answers than that. It is just as likely that John Paul II and Cardinal Angelo Sodano don't care if the charges are true. They view the Legion as an asset to protect. The pope has a long record of refusing to punish powerful churchmen who abuse the young, which you fail to mention. John Paul's support of Maciel is consistent with his response to other men of flawed morals or compromised judgment.

Cardinal Bernard Law resigned after a catalytic role in an epic scandal. John Paul rewarded him with a basilica in Rome. In 1995, he let Vienna's Cardinal Groër ease into a position at a shrine when he resigned in disgrace as a pederast. As the scandal escalated John Paul would not discuss it in public. When American bishops Symons, Ziemann, Sanchez, O'Connell, and Ryan resigned under similar clouds John Paul did not remove any from the priesthood. Each is a bishop, albeit sans diocese, today.

Since your column appeared, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has reopened the case against Maciel. I would modestly suggest that Vows of Silence had something to do with that. Find me another priest, anywhere, in the world, against whom nine men gave detailed allegations of sexual assault, via church channels, and whose life has been as deeply probed in print. (You might have used the word 'irony' in quoting John Paul's praise of Maciel for 'the integral promotion of the person.')

You wrote that "Vatican officials believe the evidence is old and ambiguous." You did not explain what they consider "ambiguous" in the graphic sexual acts, years, dates and places cited in documents from 1976, 1978, 1989 and 1998. I have read thousands of legal documents in reporting on the church's crisis in hundreds of articles and two books. Far from ambiguous, the evidence against Maciel is overwhelming. To call it "old" begs for clarity: John Paul ignored mounting accusations for decades. Is the pope "ambiguous"? I ask you.

What does your phrase "absent a smoking gun" mean? Nine men stated they were [abused] and psychologically tyrannized as young seminarians.

John, I must make a final point, with little joy, as you helped me during my 2002 research in Rome, and I hope still we are friends. Others in the Vatican press corps helped me too. Cultivating sources in that small, often cozy world with huge career implications should make a journalist doubly cautious. You have made glowing comments in columns and lectures about Maciel's prime defenders: Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Mary Ann Glendon, George Weigel and Legion of Christ Fr. Tom Williams who lives in Rome. You have identified Williams in NCR as a friend. Williams was Maciel's spokesman in an ABC News report in which he denied the charges, though admitting he had never asked Maciel about them. When you single out Williams and others (who have been guests at the Legion college in Rome) for praise, you can't have it both ways. It is disingenuous to write: "It's not for me to say whether [Vatican officials'] conclusions are justified"' At some point, the facts demand one to take a stand, rather than be a cipher. Your tone and comments are those of an apologist for Maciel and the Legion. I encourage you to change that position."

Normally I let readers' comments speak for themselves, but since Berry issues a challenge, I will say just a quick word. Jason Berry stood virtually alone in the 1980s in breaking the sexual abuse story in the United States, much of it in the pages of the National Catholic Reporter. He has earned his strong feelings, and I can appreciate why attempts to be dispassionate may seem to him like moral cowardice. Still, it doesn't ring true psychologically to say that Vatican officials, including the pope, "don't care" whether charges of sexual abuse against Maciel are justified. To believe that requires making them out to be monsters. The fact is, some Vatican officials believe the charges are a smear campaign, others that it's a case of "he-said, they-said," and others aren't sure what to think. In the background sometimes are prejudices about the scandalous nature of the press, and the way that accusations of sexual misconduct have been used over the centuries by enemies of the church. One can certainly argue that this isn't good enough, and that the accusers deserve a hearing. Perhaps the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will bring some resolution. But I hope it's not an "apology" to realistically describe a climate of thought, and I also hope we're not going to go down the road of impugning someone's integrity on the basis of who their friends are.

By the way, Jason, we're still friends.

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

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