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 The Word From Rome

January 16, 2004
Vol. 3, No. 21

global perspective


"There is a consistent and detailed corpus juridico in international law. Had it been applied in recent years, the shedding of much blood would have been spared, and many crises would have been avoided."

Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran,
former Vatican foreign minister

Archbishop Lajolo on preventive war; The pope's 'State of the World' survey; Cardinal Danneels on condoms; Changes in the liturgy; The pope on parish councils; Chief rabbis of Israel visit the Vatican


In a subtle but potentially significant shift, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the pope’s new foreign minister, has signaled openness to the Bush doctrine of preventive force against terrorism — but under United Nations auspices, not the United States or a “coalition of the willing.”

Lajolo spoke in an exclusive Jan. 14 interview with NCR, his first extended session with an American newspaper. He issued a blunt, if indirect, call to the United States to work more collegially within the United Nations.

“It is clear that the military and economic superiority of one country,” he said, “while giving rise to a particular moral responsibility vis-à-vis other nations (the principle of solidarity), does not automatically translate into an institutional pre-eminence with the subordination of other members (the principle of equality).”

“Simultaneous attention to these two principles would surely render the UN structures more acceptable and efficient,” Lajolo said.

The full text of the interview is here: Interview with Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo.

Lajolo, 69, an Italian, was named to the Vatican’s top foreign policy job in October, replacing French Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, who was subsequently made a cardinal. Tauran had been the architect of the Vatican’s opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and some observers have sensed a slightly more nuanced stance under Lajolo.

His NCR interview may lend support to that impression, as Lajolo appeared to move the Vatican from near-absolute condemnation of preventive force to a kind of tacit acceptance, albeit under the U.N. mantle.

“Certainly there is the need for prompt intervention, indeed prevention of acts of terrorism,” Lajolo said.  He made clear that he meant prevention by military force if other measures fail. Yet he linked this concession immediately to U.N. authorization.

“Here also we see how justified is the pope’s call for an internationally recognized authority, on the world level, supported and controlled by the member states of the U.N., and endowed with juridical competence and adequate means to act in a timely manner.”

This strikes a somewhat different tone than earlier Vatican comments.

“The concept of preventive war does not appear in the Catechism,” Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s top doctrinal official, said on Sept. 21, 2002.

On Oct. 1, 2002, the director of Vatican Radio, Jesuit Fr. Pasquale Borgomeo, bluntly said preventive war would be a “harsh blow to international law.”

Yet if the Bush administration can take some cheer from Lajolo on prevention, there remains a clear difference between the White House and the Vatican on the role of the United Nations.

Lajolo said exaggerated notions of national sovereignty can be dangerous.

“An absolute sovereignty of States is a dangerous myth, the consequences of which are wars,” he said.

Lajolo defended the U.N. from charges of being too cumbersome and inefficient to respond to terrorist threats.

“After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Security Council Resolutions Nos. 1373 and 1377 set in motion a system of international cooperation to eliminate the financing of terrorism, to control the movement of suspected terrorists, to avoid the creation of ‘safe havens’ and to eradicate places of refuge,” Lajolo said. “This system of cooperation is working.

“Also, the way in which the U.N. confronted the difficulties in Afghanistan, with Resolutions Nos. 1378 and 1383 legitimizing military intervention, cannot be characterized as ‘cumbersome.’ ”

Anyway, he said, resisting a rush to arms is not always a bad idea.

“The complexity of the problems and the collateral effects which certain decisions can have on the world level call for prudence and account for certain delays,” Lajolo said.

“Even the technical advances in police work, border and finance controls, etc., which are capable of responding to new challenges, are inevitably complicated and slow to implement.”

Lajolo said the struggle against terrorism must be multi-dimensional.

“It is necessary not only to single out and eliminate the centers that arm terrorists, but also to identify and correct their cultural and spiritual centers,” he said.

“I must mention the necessity, among other things, to ensure that certain schoolbooks used in some countries by which the young are taught to feel contempt or even hatred for people of other religions or diverse nationalities be duly corrected.”

Lajolo said the anti-terrorism push also requires policy choices in favor of justice.

“Here, too, the pope has indicated some specific approaches,” Lajolo said. “He has called for the establishment of a just international business and finance environment, effective international economic aid and also — with requisite guarantees — the cancellation or substantial reduction of the foreign debt of the poorest countries together with the transfer of scientific and technological knowledge.”

Finally, Lajolo said it’s not just Iraq that demonstrates the need for a more effective U.N.

“One can think of the international community’s lack of response to the massacres in some regions of Africa,” Lajolo said. “The search to find adequate means to avoid such limitations and delays can no longer be put off.”

* * *

Tauran, Lajolo’s predecessor, made a presentation about the contribution of the Holy See to international relations on Jan. 15 at the Opus Dei-run University of the Holy Cross. (Tauran’s titular church as cardinal is Sant’Apollinare, which is attached to the university).

Ironically, Tauran repeated the harshly critical language about preventive use of force that Lajolo appeared to soften. The Holy See, Tauran said, rejected the idea of preventive war, which he called an ad-hoc concept (meaning that it was designed to justify an invasion of Iraq). Preventive force is not supported by the United Nations charter, he said, which establishes precise rules of behavior when facing an aggressor.

“There is a consistent and detailed corpus juridico in international law,” Tauran said. “Had it been applied in recent years, the shedding of much blood would have been spared, and many crises would have been avoided.”

Tauran offered three bedrock principles that he said guide Vatican diplomacy:

• The centrality of the human person and of human rights
• The promotion and defense of peace
• The realization that peace is much more than the absence of conflict

A large contingent of ambassadors turned out for Tauran’s talk, a sign of the respect he won over 13 years as foreign minister. (Especially since Tauran is now in a relatively low-profile assignment as head of the Vatican library, ambassadors have no particular reason to keep their contacts with him fresh aside from personal esteem).

One of the great things about the embassy circuit was seeing the ambassador from Iran and the deputy chief of mission from the United States at the same reception afterwards with Tauran. It occurred to me that the Holy See is one of the few venues that can bring such a variety of diplomats together on neutral turf to reflect on issues of conscience, and perhaps that alone is enough to justify its diplomatic activity.

* * *

In his most-anticipated foreign policy speech of the year, John Paul II addressed diplomats accredited to the Holy See on Monday, January 12.  This annual session amounts to a “State of the World” survey.

John Paul said he would steer clear of rehearsing his opposition to the Iraq war.

“What matters today is that the international community help the Iraqis, freed from a regime which oppressed them, so that they might be in shape to take up the reins of their country,” the pope said.

In language sure to cheer observers in the Bush and Blair administrations, John Paul excoriated terrorism.

“How could we not mention international terrorism, which sowing fear, hatred, and fanaticism — dishonors all the causes it pretends to serve?” the pope asked.

At the same time, John Paul issued a pointed reminder of his opposition to the use of force: “One thing is certain,” he said. “War never resolves conflicts among peoples!”

The pope called for “a more effective collective security system that gives the United Nations its proper place.”

John Paul offered an even-handed appraisal of the Middle East, lamenting both “recourse on the one hand to terrorism and on the other to reprisals.” He also referred to neglected African conflicts that produce “deterioration of the social fabric, plunging entire peoples into despair.”

Finally, the pope observed that Europe is having “difficulty in accepting religion in the public square,” and urged that the continent recover its Christian roots.

* * *

On Jan. 13, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson met with members of the press at the American embassy, near the Circo Massimo, to discuss the pope’s speech.

“The pope’s message was on all fours with the position of the United States on all the subjects he covered,” Nicholson said. He cited in particular John Paul’s language about terrorism and his call for a new international legal order.

Nicholson sought to minimize differences between Bush and John Paul over the war. “They were two good moral men seeing the situation differently,” Nicholson said. “But the pope never said it would be immoral for us to go into Iraq, he never said that war is immoral.”

“Now the pope is saying that a ruthless regime has been suppressed, and that [we have] opportunities to reconstitute this country with new freedoms for its people,” Nicholson said. “We totally support that.”

2004 will mark the 20th anniversary of full diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See, and Nicholson is planning four conferences to mark the occasion:

• Religious liberty (with a keynote address by Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court)
• Legal instruments to deal with stateless terrorism
• Human trafficking
• Food, especially the application of genetic science

I asked Nicholson what impact he believes the pope has on world events. Ever the media-savvy former Republican activist, he replied with a factoid. When John Paul II went to Toronto for World Youth Day in 2002, Nicholson said, 2,200 journalists were on hand. When the G-8 met in Western Canada a few weeks later, 600 journalists showed up. Nicholson’s point: John Paul has a big megaphone, and has to be taken seriously.

As evidence of how the Bush team heeds Vatican concerns, Nicholson told a story.

“I once got a call from the [Holy See’s] foreign minister, who had just gotten a call from the pope, and this was at night,” Nicholson said. “The president was on his way to Russia. It was asked if the president might bring up a certain matter in his bilateral meetings in Moscow related to religious freedom. I made a call that night to certain people in a certain airplane. It happened.”

Nicholson cited a deeper motive for engagement with the Holy See.

“In the end, it isn’t he who’s got the best night vision goggles and so forth who’s going to be successful, but rather he who can forge a moral consensus,” he said.

* * *

I appeared on a Dutch TV show last Saturday, talking about John Paul II’s legacy and the challenges facing the next papacy. The program has become a hot property, but, alas, not because of anything I said.

It was another guest, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who grabbed headlines with his comments on condoms.

“When someone is HIV infected and his partner says, ‘I want to have sexual relations with you,’ I would say, do not do it,” Danneels said. “But if he does it all the same, he should use a condom. Otherwise he adds a sin against the fifth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ to a sin against the sixth, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’”.

Later, Danneels said: “It is a matter of prevention to protect oneself against a disease or against death. You cannot judge that morally to be on the same level as using a condom as a method of birth-control.” The cardinal added that bishops must be practical in their interpretation of rules.

A spokesperson for Danneels later clarified, in response to a question from the Dutch network, that the cardinal was not talking only about partners in a marriage, but also extra-marital sex.

“That does not mean the cardinal is promoting extra-marital sex,” the spokesperson said.

Especially in light of recent remarks by Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, that condoms should not be used to block transmission of HIV (in part, Lopez asserted, because the virus can penetrate a latex condom), Danneels’ statements received wide coverage. News agencies reported that the 70-year-old Belgian prelate had “challenged” or even “contradicted” church teaching.

Not so, according to Redemptorist Fr. Brian Johnstone, a moral theologian at Rome’s prestigious Alphonsian Academy.

“From what I understand based on news reports, what the cardinal said is consistent with traditionally accepted principles in Catholic moral theology for dealing with complex moral situations,” Johnstone told NCR Jan. 14.

 Those who think Danneels “contradicted” church teaching, Johnstone said, don’t understand the difference between two levels of moral discourse: one is a moral rule, the other the application of that rule in a complex situation. Considering how to apply a norm in a particular situation, he said, is not to undermine that norm.

Danneels’ position could be justified, Johnstone said, by appeal to either of two concepts: the principle of double effect, or of counseling a lesser evil. Johnstone was not necessarily endorsing Danneels’ view, but explaining how it could be supported from within Catholic tradition.

Double effect, a concept that dates at least to the 1600s, holds that if one anticipates both a good effect and a bad effect from an action, under certain conditions one can morally perform that act. Those conditions are: the action must not be morally wrong on other grounds; one must intend the good effect, not the bad; the good effect must not result from the bad; there must be a proportion between the good to be achieved and the harm to be done.

One could make a “reasonable argument,” Johnstone said, for Danneels’ position using these criteria.

Counseling a lesser evil, on the other hand, envisions a situation in which a confessor or spiritual guide is dealing with a person clearly committed to performing an evil act. If you can’t persuade them not to do it, the principle holds, you can at least persuade them to do something less serious. St. Alphonsus Liguori, for example, said that a priest counseling a criminal who was determined to kill someone, and who could not be talked out of it, could legitimately advise the criminal to beat the person up instead.

Johnstone noted that some moral theologians do not accept this principle, but it has never been rejected or condemned by church authorities.

What about the argument that use of a condom is intrinsically wrong?

“A piece of rubber can’t be intrinsically evil,” Johnstone said. “Morally that doesn’t make any sense. You have to refer to the end for which it’s used.”

Finally, Johnstone noted that it is perfectly possible to disagree with Danneels from within the Catholic tradition.

“Both views would have to be considered acceptable,” he said.

A political footnote. Danneels has been touted as a papal candidate, among other places in my book Conclave. However defensible his comments on condoms may be, they will probably boost impressions in some circles that Danneels is too liberal for the church’s top job.

* * *

Ever since the Vatican document Liturgiam Authenticam appeared in May 2001, demanding more literal translations of liturgical texts from Latin into English, observers have waited to see what practical difference it would make in Catholic worship.

This week we got our first look.

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has been working on a translation of the Order of Mass, the core prayers for Sunday worship, in light of Liturgiam Authenticam. Drafts have been circulating in liturgical circles. I obtained a copy last week, and although it is already out of date, sources confirmed that the following changes have survived the most recent editing:

• Gone is the familiar “And also with you” response to the priest’s greeting, “The Lord be with you,” and at other points in the Mass. According to the draft translation, the congregation responds, “And with your spirit,” a more literal rendering of the Latin.

• In the Creed, the congregation begins each section by saying “I believe” rather than “We believe,” a shift to the plural seen by some critics as part of an excessive post-Vatican II emphasis on the communal dimension of worship.

These two changes were mandated by Liturgiam Authenticam.

 • In the penitential rite (often known by its Latin opening word, Confiteor), the congregation recites “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” while striking their breasts, a custom that hearkens back to the mea culpa from the Latin Mass prior to Vatican II.

• In several places, sacral adjectives deleted in current texts for the sake of simplicity are restored. For example, the people would now say: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his holy church.”

• In the “Glory to God,” an extra phrase is added: “We praise you, we bless you, we worship you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory.” This restores Latin phrases originally dropped from English translations to avoid what was seen as redundancy.

• In the Eucharistic prayer, when the priest says “Let our hearts be lifted high,” the people respond, “We hold them before the Lord,” rather than the familiar “We lift them up to the Lord.”

• In the fourth Eucharistic prayer, use of the word “man” to mean “human being,” which had been eliminated by an earlier ICEL draft rejected by the Vatican in 2000, is restored in some cases. On the other hand, there are also instances where the text currently in use says “man” that the new draft uses the more inclusive “men and women.”

In general, the translation sounds more formal than what is currently in use, in part because it sticks much closer to Latin cognates and Latin syntax.

Perhaps predictably, observers who backed Liturgiam Authenticam seem pleased, while those who criticized the Vatican document are not. I report on those reactions in the Jan. 23 issue of NCR. Look for the headline: “New Mass translation said to be ‘elegant,’ closer to Latin.”

This week, the draft goes to English-speaking bishops’ conferences for review. The bishops who govern ICEL will meet again in July to sift through reactions from the conferences and to issue a final text. It will then be up to the individual conferences to petition Rome for final approval. If the U.S. bishops approve the translation in November 2004, it could conceivably be ready for use in American parishes by early 2005.

* * *

Last week I noted, in the context of Vatican reaction to new reports about the American sexual abuse scandals, that the defense of clerical authority is among the Holy See’s core concerns.

As if on cue, John Paul II underlined the point in a Jan. 10 address to the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Clergy. The assembly had been studying the status of “consultative organisms,” such as parish councils, diocesan finance councils, and (in the wake of the scandals) sexual abuse review boards.

The pope’s main concern was to differentiate these bodies from organs of democratic government.

“The legitimate pastors, in the exercise of their office, must never be considered simply executors of decisions based on majority opinions that emerge in the ecclesial assembly,” the pope said.

“The structure of the church cannot be conceived on the basis of merely human political models. Its hierarchical constitution rests on the will of Christ, and as such, is part of the ‘deposit of faith,’ which must be conserved and transmitted integrally in the course of the centuries.”

Many observers, especially Anglo-Saxons steeped in democratic culture, tend to regard such language as a smokescreen for the preservation of clerical privilege. There’s truth here: any institution made up of human beings has politics, and no doubt the will to power forms part of many ecclesiastical debates. (Not just from the clerical side, by the way).

At the same time, one will misunderstand the psychology of the Holy See by assuming that power is the only, or even the primary, consideration behind such statements. Rightly or wrongly, a core Vatican belief is that “hierarchy is healthy.”

One does not need to reach back to antiquity to understand how this view colors attitudes towards lay councils. Consider Eastern Europe in the 20th century under Communism.

In Hungary, a state-sponsored lay council, called the Free Church Council, promoted an autonomous “Hungarian” Catholic Church. Arguments were similar to those of today’s reformers, that the Vatican is an authoritarian institution foisting its cultural patterns upon local churches. The government sponsored a “patriotic priests” organization, called Opus Pacis, promoting loyalty to socialism. Some priests became informants for the regime.

In Czechoslovakia between 1950 and 1955, the bishops of all 14 Czech dioceses were removed, and five were imprisoned. Administration was handed over to mixed clerical/lay councils subservient to the government. In the 1960s, new bishops were chosen who, in the end, abandoned thousands of clergy and believers to the gulag.

The parallel between 1950s-era Eastern Europe and 21st century Western Europe or North America is obviously inexact. Nevertheless, the Holy See has a long memory, and this background helps explain the concern.

For a more optimistic view of democratic structures in the church, one can consult It’s the home page of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, a group founded in 1980 by laity and clergy in the wake of Vatican condemnations of such theologians as Edward Schillebeeckx, Jacques Pohier, and Hans Küng. The case for democratic governance is outlined in detail.

* * *

The Vatican announced this week that John Paul II will not make his annual visit to the Church of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill for Ash Wednesday. Santa Sabina is the Dominican headquarters, and by tradition the Dominican master general joins the pope.

This year John Paul will lead the Ash Wednesday observance in the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican.

The trek to Santa Sabina is a custom that reaches far back, perhaps as early as the sixth century, and this will be the first time John Paul II has missed it. It’s further confirmation of a Vatican desire to pare his calendar back to the absolute essentials.

* * *

In the long list of firsts in John Paul’s pontificate, a new entry was registered on Jan. 16. For the first time, the chief rabbis of Israel visited the pope in the Vatican.

The two rabbis, Yehuda Metzger and Shlomo Amar, met with the pope for 35 minutes Friday morning. Also present was the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, Oded Ben-Hur, and several Vatican officials, including Archbishops Stanislaw Dziwisz and James Harvey, papal secretaries, and Fr. Norbert Hofmann, a German who heads the Vatican desk for Catholic/Jewish relations.

The rabbis, in Rome to attend a "concert of reconciliation" at the Vatican on Saturday evening, held a press conference at the Rome synagogue after their papal audience. They said they used the meeting to press the pope on three issues: anti-Semitism, terrorism, and a request that the Vatican give to Israel either a manuscript of the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides or an object of equivalent historical value.

Prior to leaving Israel, Amar had said he also intended to ask about objects from the ancient Temple of Jerusalem carted away by Roman legions in the first century, including a menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome, that he believed to be in Vatican storage. Amar told reporters, however, that he did not raise the issue with John Paul.

A Vatican official told NCR Jan. 16 that the pope did not react to the rabbis’ requests. From the Vatican point of view, he said, the meeting was important not so much for its content as for the fact it happened. He said it forms part of a budding dialogue between the Holy See and the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The two parties have met three times, most recently Dec. 1-4 in Jerusalem.

The rabbis also announced that the Jewish community of Rome has invited the pope to join them for the 100th anniversary of the present Rome synagogue on May 23. If John Paul accepts, it would mark his first time at the synagogue after his historic visit of April 13, 1986, when he became the first pope after the age of Peter to set foot in a Jewish place of worship.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

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