“The sanctions, from my point of view,
are themselves a weapon of mass destruction . It is a different kind
of war. To kill people in this way is simply not fair.”
bishop of Baghdad
|Over the holidays
John Paul II intensified his appeals for peace, voicing his most transparent
opposition yet to the idea of a U.S.-led war in Iraq.
During his Christmas
Mass, the pope prayed that humanity will strive “to extinguish the ominous
smoldering of a conflict that, with the joint efforts of all, can be avoided.”
On New Year’s Day, he spoke in similar terms. “In dealing with ongoing
conflicts and tension growing more threatening, I pray that peaceful ways
of settling conflicts be sought after, driven by loyal and constructive
cooperation in accordance with the principles of international law,” John
Few people were probably
listening more attentively than Andraos Abouna, the new auxiliary bishop
of Baghdad, who was personally consecrated by the pope along with 11 other
new bishops on the Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6. Abouna will aid Patriarch
Raphaël I Bidawid of Baghdad in shepherding a community of some 600,000
Iraqi Chaldean Catholics, who may soon find themselves at ground zero of
the war John Paul is begging the world to avoid.
bishop of Baghdad
Abouna, 59, sat down
for an interview with NCR on Jan. 8, on the campus of Rome’s Urbaniana
University, where generations of seminarians from “mission countries” have
come to study.
The prospect of war isn’t
just theoretical for Abouna. The Amiriya bomb shelter in Baghdad, which
was obliterated by U.S. stealth bombers on February 13, 1991, killing 600-1,000
civilians, was located right next to the parish where he served as pastor.
He actually helped remove the bodies, which he described as “burned beyond
recognition.” Abouna had by that point studied and served in the United
States in San Francisco, San Diego, Detroit and Chicago, and he has a great
affection for Americans. Hence, he said, it was heartbreaking for him to
see so much death caused by American bombs.
Since 1991, Abouna, who
was born in Zakho in northern Iraq, has served as pastor to the roughly
650 Chaldean Catholic families in London. By March, however, he expects
to be back in Baghdad. He was there a month ago, he said, making arrangements
for the move. He found the Iraqi people anxious but largely fatalistic
about what is to come.
Abouna said he was grateful
for the pope’s calls for peace, and even if John Paul had not mentioned
Iraq by name, “it’s clear” what he means.
“We asked the Holy Father
to pray for peace in Baghdad,” Abouna said, “and you could see that he
was moved. When he speaks about Baghdad, he does so from the heart, because
this is the land of Abraham, the first believer in God. For us it is the
Abouna said he also appreciates
the letter from the U.S. bishops on Iraq, which he described as a “very,
very good statement.”
Still, he is a realist
about the potential impact of such interventions from religious leaders,
given that John Paul opposed the Gulf War in 1991 and it didn’t stop the
bombs from falling.
“Politicians act in their
own interest, often for economic reasons,” he said. “They don’t so much
care what religious leaders say.”
Abouna was in London
when a disparate coalition of opposition forces met Dec. 14-16 to talk
about a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The meeting was marred by bickering,
and Abouna said he didn’t see anyone there who looked like a potential
national leader. He said if you ask most Iraqis, “they prefer what they
know to what they don’t know.”
Of course Abouna is preparing
to return to Baghdad, so there are lots of reasons why he undoubtedly watches
what he says about Saddam. Yet I had the impression that he wasn’t raising
doubts about what might follow Hussein just for rhetorical effect.
Hussein is no saint,
Abouna conceded, but it is also true that Iraqi Christians under his secular
rule enjoy more freedom than in most Arab nations. (It is often pointed
out that Tariq Aziz, Hussein’s key aide, is himself a Chaldean Catholic.
I asked Abouna if Aziz is practicing, and he smiled, saying: “He has no
time.” He added that Aziz’s family, however, is devout). Iraq also does
not have a problem with terrorists, he said, because Hussein keeps them
Abouna said that most
Iraqis feel that if the opposition groups really want to help the country,
they should do so from the inside. “It’s not a case of sitting in the hotels
and holding conferences, declaring this and that,” Abouna said. “It doesn’t
make sense. We need acts, not just speaking.”
Ironically, the greatest
population of Chaldean Catholics outside Iraq is in the United States,
with some 150,000 in and around Detroit. In 1991 there were Chaldeans who
served in the U.S. forces invading Iraq, and that will almost certainly
be the case again if there is another war. Though such situations are agonizing,
Abouna said, the Chaldean Church understands that American citizens must
do their duty.
“The church says you
have to be grateful to the country where you live,” Abouna said. “They
say the war is not good, but they can’t do anything. I don’t think they’ll
refuse to serve.”
In Iraq, one advantage
of being a tiny Christian minority is that the denominational differences
that loom so large in the West seem almost inconsequential. Relations between
the Caldean Catholic Church and the Assyrian “Church of the East,” numbered
among the Orthodox churches, are strong, with almost complete inter-communion.
In Baghdad, the Chaldean seminary also accepts Assyrians, Armenian Orthodox,
and Syrian Catholics, and all the students take the same classes together.
Abouna also announced that the Vatican has plans to offer five scholarships
for Orthodox seminarians from the Church of the East to study in Rome.
Although Abouna is pleased
to be returning to Baghdad, he realizes the enormity of the challenges
facing him, including the impact of more than a decade of sanctions, which
by some counts have led to as many as one and a half million deaths.
“The sanctions, from
my point of view, are themselves a weapon of mass destruction,” Abouna
said. “It is a different kind of war. To kill people in this way is simply
As I readied to leave,
Abouna implored me to pray for peace in Baghdad. Whatever one’s politics,
a peaceful exit to this crisis, so that good men such as Bishop Abouna
do not once again find themselves digging bodies out of ruins, is surely
a consummation devoutly to be wished.
* * *
One of the problems with
labels such as “conservative” or “liberal” to describe positions in the
Catholic Church is that they beg the question of one’s frame of reference.
Often people use “conservative,” for example, to mean “loyal to the pope,”
but that leaves out a sector of Catholic opinion that strives to “conserve”
certain traditions and beliefs, often critiquing the current pope in the
A locus classicus
is offered by the Italian Catholic publication Si Si No No, a name
taken from Matthew 5:37: “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean
‘no.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” It’s put out by the tiny “St.
Pius X Catholic Center for Anti-Modernist Studies” in Rome, and every issue
offers a strong critique not merely of post-Vatican II reforms, but of
the council itself. Vatican II, from its frame of reference, was a surrender
to the forces of modernism and liberalism that a string of 19th
and 20th centuries popes resisted. The publication is said to
have a handful of admirers in the Vatican; I know one of them myself.
In the most recent issue
(Dec. 15), Si Si No No carries a fascinating analysis of the infallibility
Readers with good memories
will recall that on June 30, 1998, the Vatican released an apostolic letter
from John Paul II entitled Ad Tuendam Fidem, adding penalties to
canon law for dissent from “definitive” teachings. These are matters not
formally part of divine revelation, but connected to it by a logical or
historical necessity, and hence are to be regarded as de facto infallible.
In an accompanying commentary, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith listed examples of “definitive” teaching arising from historical
necessity: the legitimacy of the election of a given pope, the acts of
an ecumenical council, Leo XII’s declaration on the invalidity of Anglican
ordinations, and the canonization of saints.
It is, therefore, more
or less the official position of the Vatican that a canonization involves
the exercise of a pope’s infallible teaching authority. (Though doctrinal
czar Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, writing in the Irish journal Céide
[May/June 1999, pp. 28-34], said that this list of examples was not itself
infallible, and that “no one need feel an authoritarian imposition or restriction
by these texts”).
Si Si No No strongly
challenges the idea that popes always pick the right people to canonize.
The lengthy article, by the way, is signed simply by “Hirpinus,” in the
grand tradition of anonymous polemical tract-writing.
The author distinguishes
between two doctrinal aspects of canonization: the general affirmation
that those who practice Christian virtue in a heroic fashion go to Heaven,
and the application of this principle to a concrete individual. A canonization
is unlike the condemnation of a heresy, the author says, which also involves
a pronouncement on a specific case. In the case of a heresy, grave harm
would be done to the church if the pope were to err, and so these judgments
must be protected by the charism of infallibility. Not so in the case of
a canonization, as the experience of doubtful and even non-existent saints
shows. Can anyone point to some harm done to the faith by centuries of
belief in St. Philomena, recently removed from the Roman Martyrology
because of a lack of historical evidence that she existed?
The author proceeds to
a careful analysis of the wording of papal decrees of canonization, comparing
them to the Latin texts of doctrinal proclamations such as that of Pius
IX and the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and Pius XII and the Assumption.
In both cases, the formulae included a specific anathema for anyone who
challenged the teaching, language missing in virtually every canonization
text. Hence it cannot have been the intention of the church to invoke infallibility
in making saints, the author concludes.
Finally, the piece notes
the statement of Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), who said that while he
personally favored the hypothesis that canonizations are infallible, it
is “licit” to sustain the opposite view.
Why this interest in
canonizations? After quoting St. Thomas Aquinas to the effect that “whenever
there is a danger to the faith, the subjects of the church are obliged
to rebuke their prelates, even publicly,” the author comes to the bottom
line: “This would be the case if (and God doesn’t want it!) John XXIII
and Paul VI are ever canonized in order to legitimize the Council and the
catastrophic inversion of course it imposed on the Catholic world.”
Thus Si Si No No
wants to arm its readership with theological ammunition to resist church
officials, up to and including the Holy Father, should they ever decide
to canonize two previous popes identified with the reforming spirit of
the Second Vatican Council.
All this suggests a thought
exercise: Is someone who argues for a right of dissent from acts the Vatican
regards as infallible a “conservative”? The answer depends, in part, on
what one is trying to conserve.
* * *
Recently I interviewed
Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, S.J., the secretary of the Congregation for
Catholic Education, for an upcoming piece on the future of Catholic higher
education in the United States. Pittau, 74, is one of the real gentlemen
of the Roman Curia, someone who defies all the stereotypes about preening
hierarchs and scheming careerists. He comes across as mild-mannered, humble,
Pittau spent much of
his career in Japan, where he served as rector of the Jesuit-run Sophia
University and also as the Jesuit provincial. Pittau has always prized
the life of the mind; he studied political science, for example, at Harvard
University, and he retains a fluent command of English.
In October 1981, however,
he was recalled to Rome when Pope John Paul II imposed new leadership on
the Jesuits. The pope named Fr. Paolo Dezza (later made a cardinal in 1991)
as temporary head of the order, with Pittau as his deputy, rather than
allowing the Jesuits to hold a General Congregation to elect a successor
to the ailing Pedro Arrupe. It was a signal of disapproval, and some Jesuits
were angry with Dezza, who was 80 at the time and nearly blind, and Pittau
for going along with it.
When the pope finally
allowed a General Congregation to meet two years later, in September 1983,
the Jesuits did not elect Pittau to any of the offices under the new Father
General, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. Even though this was more an assertion
of independence from Vatican control than a personal affront to Pittau,
nevertheless it had to be difficult for someone who had never sought to
be the object of controversy.
After the dust settled,
Pittau returned to academic work, serving from 1992 to 1998 as the rector
of Rome’s Jesuit-run Gregorian University, the city’s flagship papal university.
In 1998, he was appointed to his present Vatican job.
I can anticipate here
two of the more interesting points from our December interview.
We spoke a fair bit about
Corde Ecclesiae, the pope’s August 15, 1990, apostolic constitution
on higher education that caused much controversy in the United States.
Pittau said his office is monitoring the implementation of the American
norms for Ex Corde, which were finally approved by both the U.S.
bishops and the Vatican in 2000 after a decade-long debate. Those norms
call for theologians to receive a mandatum, or license, from the
local bishop. Anecdotal accounts suggest widely varying practices across
the United States, with some bishops simply inviting theologians to apply
for the mandate, and others doing nothing at all.
Pittau declined to say
whether the Vatican was “satisfied” with implementation of the norms, saying
merely that they are following the situation. He acknowledged that the
sexual abuse crisis of the past year has made it very difficult for many
American bishops to take up the challenge of Ex Corde (or anything
Pittau stressed repeatedly,
however, that the aim of Ex Corde was not to set up an adversarial
relationship between bishops and universities, but to ensure that the universities
are fully integrated into the local church, and that bishops and academics
see themselves as partners in fulfilling the church’s pastoral mission.
Aside from the mandate,
another controversial point from the Ex Corde debate has been the
idea that Catholic universities should strive to maintain a certain percentage
of Catholic faculty members. This idea is expressed in article 4, point
4.a, of the American particular norms: “The university should strive to
recruit and appoint Catholics as professors so that, to the extent possible,
those committed to the witness of the faith will constitute a majority
of the faculty.”
Here Pittau actually
struck a less prescriptive note. He argued that on-going formation of faculty
in the Catholic faith, not necessarily a certain percentage of Catholic
professors, should distinguish a Catholic university. He appealed to his
experience in Japan, where most professors at Sophia University in Tokyo
were not Catholic, and yet, he said, “They had a great respect for the
Catholic faith and were able to transmit that.” Pittau said that the non-Catholics,
some of whom were Buddhists and some if whom had no religious background,
had a strong appreciation of the need for “coherence” between faith and
life. (With a twinkle in his eye, Pittau jokingly added, “Sometimes more
than the Catholics!”)
The bottom line, Pittau
said, is that he would place less emphasis on the numerical ratio of Catholics
to non-Catholics, and more on what the university does to foster a sense
of Catholic identity.
We also talked about
what the future might hold for Catholic universities in the United States,
and Pittau had a surprising pitch to make. American Catholic colleges,
he said, should seek to help build the intellectual framework for an effective
international political order.
“The Holy Father has
spoken about the need for a public authority at the international level
with power to serve the common good, such as human rights,” Pittau said.
The interview took place shortly before the release of John Paul II’s message
for the World Day of Peace, in which he stressed this idea.
“The United States must
play a central role in this effort, and the Catholic universities, perhaps
especially those in Washington, are in a position to offer a very important
contribution.” Though Pittau did not say so explicitly, it seemed that
he regarded this as an especially urgent task given that the present U.S.
administration has serious reservations about the role and authority of
international political entities, above all the United Nations.
There’s a challenge for
places such as Georgetown and Catholic University to chew on.
* * *
All leaders have their
ways of signaling favor, and over the holidays there were a number of small
but telling gestures that suggest deep papal affection for the Legionaries
of Christ, a religious order founded by Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado
in 1941, and its lay branch, called Regnum Christi. Both the Legionaries
and Regnum Christi are conventionally seen as “conservative” (though note
what I said above about the slippery nature of these labels).
Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, carried a laudatory page four
piece in its post-Christmas issue about the Dec. 24 ordinations of 44 new
Legionary priests. It mentioned the presence of Maciel at the ceremony,
celebrated by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri (the sostituto, hence the
number two official in the Secretariat of State). The article says that
Maciel has seen the “small seed” he planted 62 years ago become a “great
Second, on Dec. 25, Christmas
day, John Paul II offered the traditional Urbe et Orbe blessing
in St. Peter’s Square. Despite offering greetings in 62 languages, the
pope was in good form at the end, and bantered with the crowd. There were
a number of Regnum Christi members present, holding banners and chanting
a traditional Spanish cheer for the pope: “Si vede, si sente, il papa
sta presente!” (“You can see, you can feel, the pope is present!”)
The pope beamed, then shot back: “Regnum Christi sta presente!”
The crowd exploded.
Third, on Sunday, Dec.
29, the pope again acknowledged Regnum Christi members, this time a contingent
in St. Peter’s Square for his Angelus address. He improvised a greeting
for them that was not in the official text of his prepared remarks. I happened
to be watching the event on Telepace, an Italian channel that carries the
official Vatican TV feed, and the commentator added that he was “especially
moved” by that papal touch. The commentator, it turns out, was a Legionary
Fourth, on Jan. 6 the
pope ordained 12 new bishops, including two destined for important positions
in the Roman Curia. One is Bishop Brian Farrell, who is the new secretary,
or number two official, in the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian
Unity. Farrell is also a member of the Legionaries of Christ. He becomes
the second Legionary of Christ to be ordained a bishop. The first is Bishop
Jorge Bernal, the prelate of Chetumal-Cancun in Mexico, who was consecrated
Finally, on Jan. 8 a
group of Legionary priests, including the 44 newly ordained, and around
500 Regnum Christi members took part in the regular Wednesday general audience,
and were greeted by the pope. Vatican Radio carried a lengthy feature on
Regnum Christi later in the day.
carried a picture of the pope with a smiling Maciel on Jan. 9, with the
young Legionary priests looking on.
All this will strike
many readers as simply the natural fondness any pope would feel for a youthful,
enthusiastic movement that makes a point of its loyalty. Some, however,
will question these gestures, since Maciel faces charges of sexual abuse
by seven ex-members of the Legionaries. The Vatican has never publicly
rendered judgment on a canonical complaint these ex-Legionaries filed in
1998, although both Maciel and the Legionaries have strenuously denied
the charges. Given the crisis in the United States and elsewhere provoked
by the sex abuse scandals, John Paul’s embrace of Maciel is noteworthy
* * *
Speaking of Brian Farrell,
his appointment to the Council for Promoting Christian Unity raised a few
eyebrows because he had been in the English section of the Secretariat
of State since 1981, with little direct involvement in ecumenical work.
Some saw the move as an effort by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Secretary
of State, to place someone he trusts in the inner circle of Cardinal Walter
Kasper, who runs the Christian Unity office, and whose independent-mindedness
does not always go down well in some Vatican circles. According to this
theory, Farrell’s role would be to supply “balance.”
(A footnote: Perhaps
it is just coincidence, but shortly before Farrell’s arrival, Kasper announced
administrative changes to his staff that beef up the role of mid-level
officials, meaning that fewer decisions may be referred to the secretary).
As I have mentioned before,
Farrell is not entirely a newcomer to ecumenical concerns. His 1984 doctoral
thesis at the Gregorian University was written under Jesuit theologians
Fr. Karl Becker and Fr. Francis Sullivan. The former is a consultor for
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the other a theologian
legendary for his ecumenical concern. The subject was inter-communion among
Catholics and other Christians.
I recently popped over
to the library at the Gregorian to read the thesis, entitled “Communicatio
in Sacris: A Theological Study of the Policy Adopted by the Second
Vatican Council.” It offers an analysis of the teaching of the Second Vatican
Council on inter-communion, which Farrell found to be scattered and sometimes
implicit. Nevertheless, he argues that Vatican II marked a breakthrough,
not because it changed the traditional principles governing inter-communion,
but because it changed the Catholic Church’s understanding of the ecclesial
status of non-Catholic churches and communities. The key idea was the vestigia
Ecclesiae, genuine elements of the one Christian church retained to
varying degrees by non-Catholic bodies, above all valid baptism. On this
basis one can say there is a “real if imperfect” communion between Catholics
and other Christians.
Farrell quotes approvingly
from a 1970 article by J.L. Witte: “The exclusive Church is changed
into the inclusive Church; not inclusive in the sense of dominating
over all, but as acknowledging that every Church is used by the Spirit
of Christ as an instrument for the sanctification of its believers and
is gifted with several visible elements of Church-unity.”
“In a changed ecclesiology,
the ‘old’ principles produce a ‘new’ policy!” Farrell observes.
Although Farrell was
described by the Irish Times on Jan. 6 as “ultra-orthodox,” his
thesis does not read that way. He lists the traditional four criteria for
determining when a non-Catholic may participate in the Catholic Eucharist:
a valid baptism, acceptance of the Catholic understanding of Eucharist,
“good faith” with regard to the Catholic Church, and “grave necessity”
of the sacrament. While ecumenical conservatives would interpret “grave
necessity” in a highly restrictive manner, Farrell seems more tolerant.
“Situations of need,
then, are not merely extreme cases of necessity such as danger of death
and other circumstances, but rather situations that are not normal,”
he wrote. He suggested that mixed marriages and inter-church families might
create such “need,” still a debated point. He also quoted approvingly Cardinal
Jan Willebrands from the 1980 Synod of Bishops, who argued that inability
to approach one’s own minister is “less closely connected with Eucharistic
doctrine and faith” and hence may not be an absolute condition for establishing
Farrell’s general conclusion
was cautious, but sensitive.
in sacris reflects the ‘sinfulness’ of division with the Church, it
must remain the exception and not the rule, and we must share the
suffering of not being able to have as much communication as we might wish,
even in cases where the theological conditions of its possibility have
been met. ‘The danger of disregarding this rule,’ said Cardinal Suenens,
‘is not primarily that of disobedience but of compromising the efforts
towards visible unity by taking for granted that all our ecumenical concerns
are already resolved and by dismissing their true finality.’”
The overall impression
given by the thesis is not of someone thinking daring new thoughts, but
of a writer struggling to understand the teaching of the Council and to
interpret it from a reasonably pastoral, ecumenically inclined point of
Of course there can be
differences between someone’s views as a graduate student and the choices
he makes as an administrator. For precisely that reason, the ecumenical
community will be watching.
* * *
A few other notes from
the Vatican beat.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
John Paul II will seemingly be making only four brief
trips, all to European destinations, this year. In Spain, Cardinal Antonio
María Rouco Varela and the Spanish bishops’ conference have confirmed
a May 3-4 visit to Madrid, while Croatian authorities say the pope will
visit their nation June 5-8, with stops in Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Zadar and
Osjek. The pope is expected to beatify Maria Di Gesu Crocifisso Petkovic
and Ivan Merz during his Croatia tour. Reports also suggest the pope will
make a day-trip to Bosnia, to the city of Banja Luka, in June, and a quick
visit to Slovakia in September.
On Jan. 3, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, who
heads the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, celebrated Mass
in Rome’s Church of Sant’Andrea della Valle (where the first act of Puccini’s
opera “Tosca” is set) commemorating a Sicilian saint, Giuseppe Maria Tomasi,
a Teatine priest and later cardinal. It was a marvelously inter-cultural
event; Somalo, a Spaniard, preached to the largely Sicilian crowd after
an African priest sang the gospel in perfectly accented Italian. Tomasi,
it turns out, was a forerunner of the liturgical reformers of the Second
Vatican Council. As early as the seventeenth century, Tomasi was making
an argument for Mass in the vernacular languages. Somalo offered a cautious
endorsement of liturgical reform, insisting that “authentic aggiornamento,”
or updating, must “build on the antique.” Somalo, 75, was appointed in
1993 as the “camerlengo,” which means that he will administer the property
and finances of the Holy See in the interregnum when the pope dies.
An indication of what John Paul II is up against
in his efforts for unity with the Orthodox came in early January from the
holy island of Mt. Athos, off the coast of Greece. (In one sign that feminism
has yet to penetrate much of the Orthodox world, no female, not even livestock,
can set foot on the island). The 107 monks of the Esfigmenou monastery
on Mt. Athos have been given until Jan. 28 to vacate. The reason? The monks’
defiance of the Orthodox authorities who govern the island, especially
over the issue of ecumenical dialogue with John Paul II and the Roman Catholic
Church. The monks’ attitude can be glimpsed from a flag proclaiming “Orthodoxy
or Death!” that has flown for 30 years above Esfigmenou. Recently another
with the slogan “The Pope is Anti-Christ” appeared. It’s not clear where
the monks will go, but they have said they will continue opposing détente
with the Catholic Church. The Esfigmenou monks are legendary for their
tenacity; the name of the monastery is said to come from the founder, who
wore his cassock tied very tightly with a belt to stress the need for discipline.
Hence the monastery became tou Esfigmenou (“of the tightly belted
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