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January 20, 2006
Vol. 5, No. 20

John L. Allen Jr.


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The Word From Rome

John L. Allen Jr.

From Where I Stand

Joan Chittister

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Thomas Gumbleton

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Joe Feuerherd

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A digest of links to media coverage of clergy abuse.

NCR's Latin America Series

The churches in Asia gather
Papal Coverage: Read NCR's 25 days of non-stop coverage of the death of John Paul II and the elction of Benedict XVI. This includes Sr. Joan Chittister's essays, An American Catholic in Rome

First encyclical nearly ready; The hard work of ecumenism; Prospects for a consistory ; Duties shift from State to other congregations; The annulment process: New twist in evolution debate Short takes on ecumenism and wealth


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Pope Benedict XVI announced on Wednesday that his first encyclical, Deus caritas est, will be released next week on January 25. The Vatican has scheduled a press conference for that day with Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Archbishop William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Archbishop Paul-Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

The pope offered a foretaste of the contents:

"In this encyclical, I'd like to demonstrate the concept of love in its different dimensions. In today's terms, love appears very far from what a Christian thinks when speaking of charity. For my part, I'd like to demonstrate that it expresses one movement with different dimensions.

"Eros," this gift of love between man and woman, comes from the same source of the Creator's goodness as the possibility of a love which renounces itself in favor of the other. "Eros" is transformed into "agape" in the measure in which the two really love one another, and one does not seek himself, his joy, his pleasure, but seeks above all the good of the other. Thus this love, which is "eros," transforms itself into charity, in a path of purification, of deepening. From the family itself, this love opens towards the larger family of society, towards the family of the church, towards the family of the world.

"I also try to demonstrate that the very personal act that comes to us from God is the one act of love. It has to express itself as an ecclesial act, an organizational act. If it is really true that the church is an expression of the love of God, of that love that God has for his human creature, it must also be true that the fundamental act of the faith that creates and unites the church, and which gives us hope of eternal life and of the presence of God in the world, generates an ecclesial act. In practice the church, precisely as the church, as a community, in an institutional way, has to love.

"So-called caritas is not a mere organization, like other philanthropic organizations, but is necessarily the expression of a deeper act of personal love with which God has created and sustained in our heart the impulse towards love, a reflection of the Loving God who makes us in his image."

Based on an earlier draft read to me by Vatican sources, I reported on the contents of the encyclical on January 6, comparing it to C.S. Lewis' book The Four Loves, in which, like the pope, Lewis reviews ancient terms for love as a way of explaining the Christian understanding of the term.

When I was in Washington a couple of weeks ago speaking to the priests of the archdiocese, Msgr. Peter Vaghi asked me why Benedict had chosen this as the theme of his first encyclical, rather than something more "programmatic," such as the relationship between truth and freedom, clearly one of the pope's core concerns. In that sense, we might have expected Deus veritas est, not caritas, as its title.

First of all, there's a practical motive, which is that the arena of human sexuality, eros, tends to be where the church's message is most controversial these days. The pope wants to argue that Catholicism is not hostile to human love, but, in his view, guides it to a higher level. Second, Benedict will insist that the structures and rules of the church are not ends in themselves, but must be animated by a spirit of self-giving love. Third, picking up left-over elements of what once had been planned as a separate encyclical under John Paul II, Benedict will argue that Christian social service is founded on something very different from the secular understanding of the word "charity."

Underlying all this is Benedict's belief that the Christian message, even those aspects of its sexual morality sometimes seen as "hard-line," are ultimately based not on fear or power, but on love. His argument is that the church is committed to the full flowering of the human person, which sometimes means condemning patterns of behavior or thought which are at odds with that flowering. In the pope's mind, this is never condemnation for its own sake; as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 1993, "Christianity is at its heart a radical 'yes,' and when it presents itself as a 'no,' it does so only in defense of that 'yes.'" Ultimately, according to the pope, the church's "yes" is to love.

The encyclical, in other words, is Pope Benedict's version of "compassionate conservatism."

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I had the privilege of spending five days in Durham, England, Jan. 13-16, on the grounds of picturesque 19th century Ushaw College, the Catholic seminary for northern England, at a unique summit of some of the best ecumenical minds in the English-speaking world.

The gathering began with the bestowal of an honorary doctorate upon Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's top official for Christian unity, by Durham University, which is launching a new program in Catholic studies.

The event was something like a five-day graduate seminar, bringing together bishops, theologians, and ecumenical experts for a wide-ranging conversation that covered such diverse subjects as Eucharistic ecclesiology, differences in theological method between the various confessions, the role of Scripture in ecumenical work, and the politics of ecclesiastical power.

It featured several moving liturgies.

At an opening Anglican service on Jan. 12, Kasper lined up during the distribution of communion to receive a blessing from Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright. The symbolism fired the imagination, in part because both Kasper and Wright are world-class theologians representing for many the "best and brightest" of their respective denominations, in part because the fraternal exchange came at a moment of crisis in Anglican-Catholic relations over the ordination of an openly gay Episcopalian bishop in the United States and the approval of a rite for blessing same-sex unions by an Anglican province in Canada.

Wright later said the exchange with Kasper will be a "treasured memory."

In the same spirit, Catholic Bishop Kevin Dunn of Hexham and Newcastle invited Wright to preach at a Jan. 14 Catholic Mass, and prayed with Wright before the distribution of communion. Asking Wright to give the homily, it should be noted, was slightly envelope-pushing, since church rules restrict the homily to a Catholic priest.

At times, the Durham gathering seemed to swing from hope to despair.

While there was an obvious effort to bring in a variety of perspectives, the center of gravity was clearly on the left, and many of the Catholics expressed grim views about the current state of affairs in the church. Several were veterans of post-Vatican II efforts at church reform, and tend to feel their dream is today being extinguished.

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"I am deeply convinced that the big issue upon which the future of the church depends is collegiality," Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Örsy of Georgetown University said at one point. "It's the only way to break through this excessive centralization."

Dominican Sr. Geraldine Smyth of the Irish School of Ecumenics warned of a trend towards a "hardened canopy of identity."

Several participants expressed dissatisfaction, and even personal pain, over the inability of Catholics and Protestants to share the Eucharist. John Wilkins, former editor of the Tablet, called it "intolerable."

Many participants argued that ecumenical progress is dependent upon Catholic reforms, especially concerning the Vatican and the papacy.

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, former editor of America magazine, said that the Catholic church needs ecumenism in order to reform itself, since, he said, it's often easier for Protestants to talk to the Vatican than for some Catholic theologians.

There was also, however, much positive conversation about the gains made in ecumenism.

"Changing a culture [inside the church] is a difficult exercise, but it is changing," said Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, Scotland. "Look at the degree to which we can associate and cooperate. We're pushing in a direction the church is already going."

Fr. Donald Bolen, an official of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said that the experience of 40 years of dialogue between churches is itself a "foretaste" of full communion.

"We meet together, eat together, pray together and recreate together," he said. "We become a stable and trusting group of Christian friends."

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One unresolved issue was put on the table by Mary Tanner, an Anglican lay theologian and ecumenical pioneer, who raised the question of theological method in ecumenical work.

Is it legitimate, she asked, for a denomination to evaluate the results of ecumenical dialogues on the basis of its own faith statements and formulae? Can the Catholic church, for example, assess the results of dialogue with Anglicans or Methodists by testing them against the Catechism of the Catholic Church?

Tanner's own response is that it's not fair. The ecumenical method, she said, is a joint return to the sources of the faith, above all scripture, and then a mutual attempt to reformulate the shared faith in new terms, overcoming the language that has caused division in the past.

"Neither party can expect to find its own internal language," she said.

Yet in Anglican-Catholic dialogue, Tanner said, each side has tended to judge the results based on its own concepts - thus, in a sense, missing the point.

Wright asked Tanner if perhaps what she was describing was a characteristically Anglican way of doing theology - which he jokingly described as "from Eden to Chalcedon," bypassing five centuries of theological development. Tanner responded that this "joint return to the sources" was also the premise of the 1982 "Lima Statement" of the World Council of Churches, so it's not just an Anglican preoccupation.

Bolen pointed out that Catholic responses to ecumenical statements - prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity - seem to suggest that the Catholic Church is not in principle opposed to the use of new language, but the language must be free of ambiguity to make it clear that the same faith is being expressed.

How to find new language which is at the same time free of ambiguity is, it would seem, precisely the problem. One idea floated at Durham was greater shared study of scripture, which could lead to both a spiritual deepening and a common conceptual repertoire for theological formulations.

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An American cardinal told me last week that he still expects a consistory, the occasion in which new cardinals are created, this February. The traditional date would be Feb. 22, the Feast of the Chair of Peter, though time is running out to make the announcement.

Given that there are presently 111 cardinals under the age of 80 and hence eligible to vote in the next papal election, this cardinal said he expects a small consistory, perhaps as few as nine electors along with one or two "honorary" cardinals who are already 80.

The cardinal pointed out that John Paul II's first consistory, on June 30, 1979, was also a small one, with just 14 cardinals.

Quite often, there's relatively little drama in a consistory, since most choices are dictated by the job a particular candidate holds. Archbishop William Levada is sure to become a cardinal, for example, because he's now the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Archbishop André Armand Vingt-Trois will become a cardinal because he's the archbishop of Paris.

The pope has more discretion with so-called "honorary" cardinals, and various groups are quietly expressing preferences for the next round of picks.

Two names in circulation are Dominican Fr. Servais Pinckaers of Belgium, and Fr. Graham Leonard, the former Anglican Bishop of London who became a Catholic priest in 1994.

Pinckaers' book Sources of Christian Ethics is considered by some as one of the most important works of moral theology in the 20th century. The same ideas were presented in more accessible form for the lay reader in Morality: The Catholic View, the preface for which was written by Alasdair MacIntyre, and translated by Dominican Fr. Michael Sherwin, an up-and-coming theologian who serves with Pinckaers at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.

Pinckaers, 81, has also served as a member of the International Theological Commission.

Given the importance of moral theology to Benedict XVI, as the area where "the rubber meets the road" in the struggle against the "dictatorship of relativism," elevating Pinckaers would be not merely an honor for a valued theologian, but a way of spotlighting his approach to the renewal of Catholic ethics.

Leonard, 84, joined the Roman Catholic church in April 1994, following the decision of the Church of England to ordain women priests. In a 2002 interview, Leonard said of that decision that it "represented the establishment of a new communion, according to which one must believe in something that previously the church never required as a matter of faith."

Influential English Catholics are backing the honor for Leonard, including John Gummer, a former Conservative Cabinet minister, like Leonard a convert over the ordination of women, and Paul Murphy, who stood down as the Northern Ireland Secretary after the 2005 election. Former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe, also a convert, has written to Rome in support of Leonard. An American priest involved in ministry to former Episcopalians told me this week that a number of converts are expressing interest in the possibility.

Yet there are also forces in English Catholicism lukewarm about the prospect, not because they have a low regard for Leonard, but because they fear it would be a divisive move at a time of crisis within the Anglican Communion, potentially seen by some Anglicans as a Catholic form of "triumphalism."

In Durham, an Anglican bishop told me he felt Anglicans would be "decidedly unenthusiastic" about Leonard becoming a cardinal.

If Leonard were to become a cardinal, it would bring at least one interesting twist. He's married and has two sons, so at diplomatic receptions and the like, we could hear an introduction along the lines of, "Cardinal and Mrs. Leonard."

That's certainly not a formula one hears in Rome every day.

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News made the rounds this week that Benedict XVI has transferred responsibility for the appointment of bishops in several Eastern European nations from the second section of the Secretariat of State to the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Oriental Churches.

The Baltic countries (Estonia, Lativa, and Lithuania), plus Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, will now be handled by the Congregation for Bishops, while Oriental Churches will supervise appointments in Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey, where Catholics are largely Eastern rite.

The second section, which handles the Vatican's foreign relations, took over responsibility for bishops' appointments in these countries in the Soviet period, when complicated diplomacy was often involved in trying to name a new bishop.

There's an old bit of Vatican wisdom that "once something goes into the Secretariat of State, it never comes back out." That, combined with the long history of turf wars between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, once headed by Benedict XVI, and the Secretariat of State, may lead some to read this move as Benedict's way of "clipping the wings" of State. In fact, however, sources say that the move was under consideration for the last year and a half of John Paul's pontificate, and is largely a routine administrative transition, reflecting the changed political situation in these countries.

The second section will still handle appointments in Russia and former Soviet states such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

Officials in State who used to handle these appointments have greeted the news with some relief, since, depending on the countries involved, the work could occupy up to 40 percent or more of their time. The process involved sorting through a report from the nuncio, or papal ambassador, along with other documentation, and preparing a detailed recommendation for the pope (which was, according to in-house rules, not to exceed eight pages). Obviously, Vatican officials charged with writing something destined to end up on the pope's desk tend to sweat the details.

Now those officials will have proportionately more time to focus on what is supposed to be the heart of their work, which is tracking political and social developments in their countries in so far as they touch the interests of the church.

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On Thursday, Santa Croce University, the Opus Dei-sponsored campus in Rome, held a symposium on Dignitas Connubii, released in February 2005 after almost 10 years of work by an indicasterial commission (meaning a body formed of officials from several different Vatican offices). The document, formally an "instruction," dealt with the vexed subject of annulments.

Broadly speaking, Dignitas Connubii affirmed the need for a careful judicial process before granting an annulment, on the grounds that declaring a marriage null and void should not just be about healing a difficult pastoral situation, but establishing the truth.

At the Jan. 19 symposium, Msgr. Joaquín Llobell, a professor of canon law at Santa Croce and one of the experts who contributed to Dignitas Connubii, strenuously defended the document.

First, Llobell challenged those who argue that because an "instruction" cannot change canon law, any points in Dignitas Connubii that amount to changes are thereby void. In fact, Llobell argued, there are several sources for church law, not just the formal Code of Canon Law; these include the speeches of the pope to the Roman Rota, the interpretations of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and developments in law carried out by later norms (including particular laws, such as one promulgated for the court of the apostolic nuncio in Spain).

What Dignitas Connubii does, Llobell argued, is not so much create new law as recognize changes in law that have already taken place.

Second, Llobell sternly challenged the notion that church courts should have a primarily "pastoral" orientation, meaning that their role should be largely to reach a declaration of annulment as quickly as possible that so that a divorced Catholic can remarry and be readmitted to the sacraments. The primary function of a court, he argued, must instead be to establish the truth about whether the necessary conditions for a valid marriage existed.

In that connection, Llobell was critical of some statements made in the October 2005 Synod of Bishops, when the theme of divorced and remarried Catholics was much-discussed. Proposition 40 of the synod dealt with the subject.

"From consideration of the speeches given at the last synod, one can deduce that not a few bishops have an imprecise idea about the pastoral function of ecclesiastical tribunals regarding the situation of the divorced and remarried," Llobell said. "Maybe this situation manifests the strong relativistic environment, which can be perceived, according to Benedict XVI, in civil society, and in not a few sectors of the church, especially on themes of affectivity and the family."

Llobell said that the push for easier annulments at the synod is already having consequences.

"Many tribunal judges told me after the synod, 'Look, we have to be more generous in granting annulments,'" Llobell said.

Llobell referred to arguments for relaxing the requirements for annulments as "demagogic and pseudo-pastoral positions."

In fact, he said, at its root the problem is not pastoral but theological, based on Christ's teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and Paul's teaching about the conditions for receiving the Eucharist.

At the same time, Llobell was critical of the lack of trained judges and functional tribunals in many dioceses, as well as the "unjust slowness" with which the Roman Rota, the main appeals court, sometimes operates.

Msgr. Antoni Stankiewicz, dean of the Roman Rota, argued that the "defender of the bond" in annulment cases must do his job, seeking to point out all the arguments in favor of validity.

"The defender of the bond may never suggest an annulment," Stankiewicz said. "At most, he can entrust himself to the judgment of the court."

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There's a growing debate at senior levels of the Catholic Church about what to make of the theory of evolution, and it took a new twist this week with the publication of an article in L'Osservatore Romano by Fiorenzo Facchini, a professor of evolutionary biology of the University of Bologna.

In summary, Facchini argued that "intelligent design" is not a scientific theory and should not be taught in science classrooms, applauding a recent court decision in Pennsylvania to that effect.

It's the latest development in a debate that has been going on since 1996, when John Paul II defined evolution as "more than a hypothesis." To the outside world, it seemed the Catholic church had made its peace with evolution. Yet for some leading Catholic thinkers, that was a dangerous impression, since some people conclude that if evolution explains the development of life, we don't need God.

That worry burst into public view on July 7, with the publication of an op/ed piece in The New York Times by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, asserting that the Catholic church does not accept evolution, in the sense of a philosophy that excludes intelligent design in nature implanted by a Creator. That triggered a fierce reaction from many Catholic scientists, who felt the cardinal was blurring scientific and theological arguments, and inadvertently aligning the church with anti-evolution advocates of "intelligent design" in the States.

Facchini's piece was their response.

One question that a number of American media outlets asked me this week: Is the L'Osservatore article an official Vatican statement?

The quick answer is "no," but as always with quick answers, things are a bit more complicated. The article was not issued by a Vatican dicastery or approved by the pope, and while L'Osservatore is informally known as the "Vatican newspaper," technically only the items in the "Nostre Informazioni" box amount to official Vatican releases. Yet the contents of the paper reflect attitudes and judgments at high levels, and in that sense provide a window onto what at least some Vatican officials are thinking.

All this underscores the point that sometimes it can be difficult to know what "the church" thinks about something, and this is one of those cases.

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Speaking of ecumenism, French Assumptionist Fr. George Tavard lectured on Thursday at the Centro Pro Union on "Hospitality as an Ecumenical Paradigm." The lecture was followed by a Celebration of the Word, and both events were sponsored by the Lay Centre, a residence and study center in Rome for lay students at the various pontifical universities.

Tavard was a peritus, or theological expert, at the Second Vatican Council, and was part of the preparatory commission for the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. Since then, he's served on almost every official dialogue the Catholic church has, including with Anglicans, Methodists, and Lutherans.

When one says "hospitality" in an ecumenical context, the normal tendency is to think of "Eucharistic hospitality," meaning inter-communion. Tavard, however, took it in a different direction. His argument was that Genesis 18, in which Abraham extends hospitality to three strangers, should be the model for ecumenical exchange.

"Every stranger in the world," Tavard said, explaining his reading of the Genesis episode, "bears the face of God."

In that connection, Tavard expressed some regret that recommendations made in the 1968 "Malta Report," which set out the parameters for Anglican-Catholic dialogue, were not fully implemented. That document suggested a series of practical steps, such as a common statement of faith, sharing of facilities, joint formation of clergy, collaboration in scholarship, joint liturgical and sacramental initiatives, prayer in common, and joint statements on issues of international interest. While some have come to fruition, many of these points still represent goals rather than achievements.

In the end, Tavard said, Christians committed to unity must practice the virtue of hope - which, he said, "is an eminently therapeutic remedy for dissatisfaction with the present."

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Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was in Rome this week for a conference on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the North American College titled "The Family in the New Economy: Reflections on the Margins of Centesimus Annus." Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, was to be the keynote speaker.

Sirico spoke at Rome's "Theology on Tap" series Thursday night on the subject of "Can A Rich Man Go To Heaven?"

Sirico argued that when the human person works creatively, he or she acts as the image of God. The premise of capitalism - that people should be able to work freely, and to reap the fruits of their labor - is rooted, Sirico argued, in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Markets are, in his view, the logical outgrowth of the Christian concept of human dignity.

Sirico warned against "canonizing the poor and demonizing the rich."

Concern for the poor, he said, is a Christian moral obligation. How best to help the poor, however, he described as a "prudential step," open to debate.

"Many people have loved the poor so much they have advocated policies that will create more poor people," he said. "I don't think that's moral."

Sirico distinguished himself from the so-called "prosperity gospel," meaning the belief that acquisition of wealth is an indication of God's blessing, which he described as "Calvinism on stereoids." He also criticized liberation theology, which he said claims that the lack of wealth is a sign of blessing. Both, he said, have the same root.

Sirico said he is not advocating a "Madison Avenue" style of capitalism premised solely on consumption.

"I believe in a free society, but a virtuous one," he said

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