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 The Word From Rome

February 6, 2004
Vol. 3, No. 24

global perspective


"Frankly, my advice to the Ukrainians has always been to do two things. First, publicly declare the patriarchate. Second, request Roman recognition, but even if it doesn't come, refuse all mail that doesn't come addressed to the patriarchate. Don't just pretend, but really do it. The Secretary of State sends a letter addressed to the archbishop? We don't have any archbishop, we've got a patriarch. Send it back unopened, 'addressee unknown.' "

Jesuit Fr. Robert Taft,
a leading expert on Orthodoxy in the Catholic church

75th anniversary of the Lateran Pacts; The Lefebvrites on ecumenism; Jesuit Fr. Robert Taft on Orthodox relations; Fr. Baget Bozzo on Italian politics; One more note on pro multis or pro omnibus


Though there will be no five-star happenings to mark the occasion – no fireworks, no papal liturgies, no processions – Wednesday, Feb. 11, is nevertheless the 75th anniversary of a decisive turning point in the history of the modern Catholic Church.

On that date in 1929, the Vatican and the Italian government signed the so-called “Lateran Pacts.” These three agreements — a treaty, a concordat, and a financial settlement — recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See and the Vatican City-State, protected Catholic structures in Italy, and provided the Vatican roughly $85 million ($500 million in today’s dollars) as reparation for the loss of the Papal States.

Cambridge University historian John Pollard compares the significance of the Lateran Treaties to the impact of Constantine in the 4th century. Just as Constantine’s policy of state support for the church laid the foundation for medieval Christendom, the legal and financial independence bequeathed by the Lateran Treaties were the sine qua non for the modern “imperial papacy.”

John Paul’s jet-setting and international diplomacy, for example, would be inconceivable without the deal inked by Pius XI and his Secretary of State, Pietro Gasparri, 75 years ago with the Mussolini regime.

In a Feb. 2 interview with NCR, Pollard distinguished short-term, medium-term, and long-term consequences from the Lateran accords.

In the short term, the treaties helped Mussolini and the Italian fascists, giving them badly needed credibility. For the church, the deal resolved the “Roman question,” clarifying the legal status of the papacy after the collapse of the Papal States in 1870. It meant the pope was no longer in the untenable position of demanding that Italian Catholics abstain from the civic and political life of their newly unified nation.

At a very basic level, it also meant the Vatican, straining under massive debts, could have the roof fixed and pay the light bill.

Medium-term, the preservation of a Catholic infrastructure in Italy, especially through Catholic Action, meant that after World War II the church was the only national institution left standing. It’s possible, Pollard argued, that the Christian Democrats would not have triumphed over the Communists in 1948 had it not been for this factor.

Long-term, the treaty consolidated the Vatican’s status as a sovereign and independent international actor, which has allowed it to play a role in global affairs that no other religious organization enjoys. It also recognized a privileged position for the Catholic church in Italy it never relinquished.

Hence, Pollard said, despite the somewhat unsavory air that surrounds the Lateran Treaties because of their association with Mussolini and fascism, the bottom line is that they were an enormous boon to the papacy.

Pollard is especially interested in the financial dimension of the Lateran deal. His new book, Money and the Rise of the Money Papacy: Financing the Vatican 1850-1950, due out in the fall from Cambridge University Press, promises to be a fascinating read.

 * * *

Italian Cardinal Attilio Nicora, president of the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See, was the architect of the financial dimension of the 1984 revision of the concordat with Italy signed as part of the Lateran Pacts. On Friday, Feb. 6, he sat down for an interview with NCR to discuss the 75th anniversary of these historic agreements.

Nicora said that the treaty that created the Vatican city-state has stood the test of time.

"In this way, Rome remained peacefully the capital of Italy without having to reopen the question of its statutes, and at the same time a small state arose within it, the sign and guarantee of independence for the Holy See," Nicora said. "This solution has endured 75 years, and has overcome extremely serious tests. It's enough to think about the years 1943-45, with the German occupation of Rome, and more generally the entire period of the war."

In fact, Nicora argued, the imaginative result achieved in 1929 could be a model for resolving other seemingly intractable disputes.

"It represents in its own way an example of how, with wisdom and courage, one can find apparently unthinkable solutions to very difficult international questions," he said.

I asked Nicora to respond to the main criticism of the Lateran Pacts, which is that they amounted to a form of support for Mussolini's fascist regime in exchange for a payoff.

"Historically, that this was of benefit to the fascists is indisputable, and in a certain sense that was inevitable," Nicora said. "It's very delicate, very complex, and I think to some extent it's impossible to theorize whether or not in view of this risk, it would have been better to avoid going forward. To me, this is an abstract discussion that goes nowhere."

Pius XI, Nicora said, was not trying to support fascism. Instead, he was trying to be a realistic about the fact that Mussolini was not part of the liberal anti-clerical culture that had dominated Italy since 1870, and hence he was open to finding a solution in a way that previous governments had not been.

The full text of my interview with Nicora can be found in the in the Special Documents section of, or follow this link: Nicora Interview.

 * * *

If Gallup and John Zogby determined approval ratings for popes as they do for presidents, it might surprise people that John Paul’s lowest numbers would probably not be among liberals who support women’s ordination or same-sex marriage, but among conservatives who believe “outside the church there is no salvation.”

One element of that constituency was heard from in Rome on Monday, Feb. 2. The breakaway Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, held a press conference at the Colombus Hotel just down the street from St. Peter’s Square to present their assessment of John Paul’s 25 years as pope. The title of their 50-page analysis says it all: “From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy.”

The booklet and an accompanying letter, both in Italian, have been sent to every cardinal in the world.

Their argument is that by seeking unity with other Christians and other religions, John Paul II has promoted relativism, religious indifference, and the kind of “silent apostasy” one sees in Europe, with declining vocations, low rates of Mass attendance, and defection from Catholic teaching.

“As attractive as he seems at first sight,” the booklet concludes about John Paul, “as spectacular as his ceremonies appear on TV, and however large the crowds that follow him, the realty is extremely sad: ecumenism has transformed the holy city that is the church into a city in ruins.”

Other than the pope, the villain of the story as told by the Lefebvrites is Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who is accused of heresy three times in the 50-page document.

Interestingly, there isn’t one word on what has long been the signature issue for the Lefebvrites: the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass. This confirms what experts have always understood, that the Latin Mass is the tip of the iceberg. The real theological issues, such as ecumenism and inter-faith relations, run much deeper. This is why, Vatican experts on traditionalism say, it was futile to believe that allowing permission for wider celebration of the pre-conciliar Mass, as John Paul did in 1988, would solve the problem.

* * *

Speaking of Kasper, he’s scheduled to travel to Moscow Feb. 16-20 for a meeting with the Patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II. Kasper’s last appointment with Alexy, in February 2002, had to be cancelled in the wake of Orthodox umbrage after the Vatican upgraded four jurisdictions in Russia to full dioceses.

The other shoe now waiting to drop is the erection of a patriarchate for the 5.5 million-strong Greek Catholic church in Ukraine, the largest Eastern church in communion with Rome. Its leader, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, is already regarded as a patriarch by his followers. If Rome formally recognizes him as such in Ukraine, long the vocational and financial breadbasket of Russian Orthodoxy, it is sure to create another firestorm.

In anticipation of Kasper’s trip, I sat down with Jesuit Fr. Robert Taft of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. Taft, a pioneer in Eastern liturgical studies and a veteran of East/West dialogues, is one of the leading experts on Orthodoxy in the Catholic church. He is impatient with a certain dainty kind of ecumenism that he feels cedes too much ground to Orthodox criticisms.

The full text of our interview can be found in the Special Documents section of, or follow this link: Taft Interview. What follows are excerpts.

What’s the argument for erecting a patriarchate for Ukraine?
When an Eastern church reaches a certain consistency, unity, size, consolidation and so forth, it’s a normal step. … Frankly, my advice to the Ukrainians has always been to do two things. First, publicly declare the patriarchate. Second, request Roman recognition, but even if it doesn’t come, refuse all mail that doesn’t come addressed to the patriarchate. Don’t just pretend, but really do it. The Secretary of State sends a letter addressed to the archbishop? We don’t have any archbishop, we’ve got a patriarch. Send it back unopened, “addressee unknown.” 

Is there any intra-Catholic reason to object?
Are you kidding? We’ve got a patriarchate for the Copts whose total membership would fit in this room. … Basically, the scuttlebutt is that the pope said to the Ukrainians, if you can convince Kasper, it’s okay with me. Kasper is going to oppose it, and should. Kasper has been given the job of building bridges with the Orthodox, not to dynamite them. I perfectly sympathize.

What it is that bothers the Orthodox?
They look upon all of these people as their property that has been won away, coaxed away, forced away from them. And they’re right. But what they don’t realize is that you just cannot collapse history the way they do. … These people, the Greek Catholics, have been in the Catholic church since 1596, and want to remain there. The Orthodox propose, and it’s hard to even take this seriously, that Eastern Catholics should be given the “free choice” of joining the Orthodox church or joining the Latin church. That’s like telling African-Americans in Georgia that because you’re the descendants of somebody who got dragged there, you can have the “free choice” of living in Albania or Uganda. Maybe they want to stay where they were born.

So the Catholic church is never going to persuade the Orthodox to accept the patriarchate?
No, and I don’t think we should even try. To hell with Moscow.

What, realistically, can Kasper hope to accomplish on this visit?
He should lay it right out. There are over 300,000 Catholics in European Russia, 65,000 of them in Moscow alone. To say that the church doesn’t have a right to erect a diocese there is absurd, especially when the Orthodox plant metropolitans wherever they want. Let’s take the example of Austria. Vienna has been a Catholic see since the first millennium, yet the Russian Orthodox have a metropolitan, not just “in” Vienna but “of” Vienna. Yet there probably aren’t 5,000 Russian Orthodox in the whole of Austria. Fair is fair. … The problem is, nobody talks to them like that because nobody knows what I know. Catholics hear their complaints and say, “Oh, gee, aren’t we awful.” Give me a break. … There are Orthodox clergy who proselytize among Catholics, we know that for a fact. The Russian Orthodox opened up a parish in Palermo.  Who’s the priest? He’s a converted Catholic. When it was opened up, in the journal of the Moscow patriarchate, it stated quite clearly that this is a step toward recovering the Byzantine heritage of Sicily. Furthermore, there’s a Greek monastery in Calabria that’s also proselytizing among Catholics. There are loose cannons all over the place.

There seems to be a pattern of crisis/reconciliation/crisis in Catholic-Orthodox relations. Are we doomed to repeat this cycle?
I think so. … Basically, there are three groups in the Russian hierarchy. You’ve got a wacko kind of right-wing fringe. These are the ones who agree with calling Rasputin a saint and that kind of garbage. Then you’ve got people like Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk, who are open and ecumenical and intelligent, because he’s got an education. Then you’ve got kind of a middle group that’s very conservative but not frothing at the mouth. Kirill’s group is a very small minority. The patriarch is a juggler trying to keep all these balls in the air.

Given the hassles, is there a case for simply forgetting about dialogue with the Orthodox?
The Russian Orthodox is the largest church in the world after the Catholic church. … So we’ve got to come to terms with Moscow, but they also have to come to terms with us. Like it or lump it.

So, tough love.
Absolutely. That was one of the problems of the Secretariat of Christian Unity under Willebrands. When the Orthodox would say something outrageous, the Vatican would make remonstrances privately, but never in public. You can’t do it that way. That makes them think they’re getting away with it. It’s got to be front page, in your face.

* * *

Despite a recent thaw in relations between the Holy See and the United States, importance differences remain. That point was underscored by an editorial this week in La Civilità Cattolica, the Jesuit-edited journal reviewed by the Secretariat of State.

The editorial called the Iraq war a “Western over-reaction.” Such wars may suggest that “the West has assumed an anti-Islamic position and has the intention to redo, to some extent and with new methods, what it did in the 19th and 20th centuries: that is, a new colonization of Islamic countries with the aim of controlling their oil, using the excuse of carrying democracy.”

In that sense, the editorial said, the Iraq war has actually given a new impulse to terrorism.

“Now many believe – to us, it seems, correctly – that to declare war in Iraq was to act ‘unilaterally,’ without the endorsement of the UN, as is prescribed in the Charter of the United Nations. It also seems to us that in the treatment of captured persons in Afghanistan and taken to Guantanamo, the norms of the Geneva Convention on ‘prisoners of war’ have not been observed.”

Finally, the editorial warned that the American project of exporting democracy to the Middle East risks alienating Muslims, for whom “democracy takes sovereignty away from Allah and transfers it to the people, which for a believing Muslim is an act of ‘misbelief.’”

* * *

When Italy’s conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of his entry into politics, he read aloud a laudatory essay by one of his most ardent supporters, Fr. Gianni Baget Bozzo. The priest from Genoa boldly defined Berlusconi’s launch of his Forza Italia party in 1994 as an inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and Berlusconi himself as a “spiritual event.”

In a Feb. 2 interview with NCR, Baget Bozzo added that he believes Berlusconi was called by God to finally lay waste to the threat of Communism in Italy.

As a priest who wears his Roman collar to every Forza Italia rally, Baget Bozzo illustrates one of the unresolved tensions of John Paul’s papacy, which is how much political activity by a priest is too much.

In recent days, rumors had swirled that Baget Bozzo would be reined in by his new archbishop, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Yet Baget Bozzo told NCR Feb. 2 that a meeting with Bertone that day “went perfectly,” meaning that no disciplinary measures were issued and no instructions were given to distance himself from Berlusconi or the party.

At most, sources suggested, Bertone, formerly the top deputy to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, might write a letter to Baget Bozzo counseling him to avoid “unworthy acts” of a partisan nature.

Some may be tempted to conclude, given this “boys will be boys” attitude, that there are different standards for priest-politicians based on whether they tilt left or right. Examples of tougher reactions to liberals: Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan was compelled to leave the U.S. Congress in 1981; three Nicaraguan priests were suspended in 1984 for refusing to leave the Sandinista government; and in 2002, Peruvian Fr. Salvador Espinoza was suspended after being elected as a regional governor.

One obvious difference is that those priests actually held political office, either appointed or elected, whereas Baget Bozzo is an informal counselor and advocate. In fairness, too, Baget Bozzo has done time in the ecclesiastical penalty box. He was suspended a divinis from 1985 to 1994, after having run for the European Parliament.

Since his alliance with Berlusconi, however, no such measures have been decreed. At the Rome rally, Berlusconi even joked that Baget Bozzo is in such good standing “he says three Masses a day.”

Baget Bozzo’s political thought, in Italian, can be found at

* * *

On Jan. 30, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, was in Abu Dhabi for an extraordinary event: the consecration of an auxiliary bishop for the Arabian peninsula. The ceremony for Paul Hinder, a Swiss Capuchin, was the first episcopal consecration celebrated in the Persian Gulf.

The entire Arabian peninsula, some one million square miles, is considered sacred by Muslims as the birthplace of Islam. Yet there are 1.3 million Catholics, 3 percent of the total population. Arabia has been a Capuchin mission since the 19th century, and I reached their minister general, Fr. John Corriveau, on Feb. 4 to discuss it.

Corriveau told me there are 25 Capuchins scattered around the Gulf Region, in places such as the Arab Emirates, Oman, Dubai, and Qatar. They serve a non-resident “guest worker” population of Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis, Koreans, Americans, Europeans, and a number of other nationalities. The common language is English, but the Capuchins also provide liturgy and pastoral care in several of the native languages of these groups.

Corriveau declined to discuss the situation in Saudi Arabia.

Officially Saudi Arabia, where Islam is rigidly enforced, is off-limits to Catholic priests. Sources tell NCR, however, that a few enter the country in the guise of teachers or social workers, and their ministry to the expatriate community is tolerated as long as they’re unseen and unheard.

Corriveau said the Capuchins’ main challenge in the Gulf is to foster a sense of unity among the extremely diverse Catholic population. Because most Catholics are in low-wage occupations, such as manual laborers or domestics, there’s also a sense of “ministry to God’s poor,” Corriveau said.

While there is no formal dialogue with Islam, Corriveau said, the aim is for a “respectful presence.”

Corriveau said that although Christians in the Gulf region struggle with civil rights, including religious freedom, they are attached to the faith.

In Dubai, for example, Catholics may fulfill their Sunday obligation anytime from Friday morning through Sunday night, since Friday is the Muslim day of prayer and many people find it’s the only time they can get to Mass.

“Over that period, 35,000 people will pass through the church,” Corriveau said. “If you go to a weekday Mass, you may find 1,000 to 1,500. It’s something to see.”

 * * *

A Vatican press conference Feb. 5 presented the program for the 12th World Day of the Sick, to be held in Lourdes in France. (More information can be found at

An Italian reporter asked Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the Vatican’s minister of health, about a case making news here, of a woman who has refused to have a leg amputated despite the fact that she will almost certainly die. What’s the difference, the reporter asked, between that and suicide?

Lozano said the church typically distinguishes between “ordinary” means to sustain life, which are obligatory, and “extraordinary” means, which are permissible but never obligatory. Yet with the pace of technological change, Lozano said, extraordinary means yesterday have become ordinary today. Hence, he said, he prefers to distinguish between “proportionate” and “disproportionate” means.

One can’t determine a priori, Lozano said, which means are proportionate in a given situation. That requires consulting with the patient, the doctor, the family, and the medical facility. The church cannot give hard-and-fast answers, Lozano said, but should restrict itself to general principles.

I asked Lozano about comments by Vatican officials criticizing pharmaceutical companies for not making AIDS treatments available at reduced prices in Africa. In response, I pointed out, the companies protested that they’ve done a lot. I received an eight-page statement from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations arguing that the Accelerating Access Initiative, a U.N. and industry partnership, has increased the number of people in Africa receiving anti-retroviral therapy ten-fold, and that some companies have reduced their prices as much as 95 percent.

What is Lozano’s perspective?

Lozano acknowledged that prices have fallen. Treating an AIDS patient with anti-retroviral drugs used to cost $15,000 a year. Today it’s $3,500. Still, Lozano said, some countries can’t afford even this amount.

Pharmaceutical companies have a legitimate right, he said, to protect their patents and to recoup their investment through a just profit. It’s also unfair to blame the companies for all the difficulties in getting drugs to the sick. In some cases, he said, governments have failed to allocate their resources properly.

“At the same time,” Lozano said, “the rights of private property are not absolute, and have to give way when human life is at stake.”

Hence more needs to be done by all parties to make medicine available, he said, because Africa is in crisis.

 * * *

Last week I noted that the new English translation of the Mass currently awaiting reaction from bishops’ conferences uses the phrase “for all” in Christ’s words over the cup to translate the Latin pro multis, exactly like current practice. Some traditionalists believe it should be “for many.”

In a footnote, I observed that John Paul’s April 2003 encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, says “for all” even in the Latin version. In paragraph two, where the pope cites Christ’s words, he writes: “…qui pro vobis funditur et pro omnibus in remissionem peccatorum.” This, I suggested, is an indication that the pope is not troubled by the “for all” translation.

Several readers pointed out that things are not so simple. While the Latin version of the encyclical issued by the Vatican press office, and the one that appears on the Vatican web site, contains the language I just cited, that is not the version that appeared in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the official registry of the Holy See.

I asked a friend in the Vatican to look it up, and sure enough, in Volume XCV of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, on page 434, the Latin text reads pro multis, not pro omnibus.

One Vatican source told me this is less rare than one might think. Often experts catch small errors in documents after they’re initially released, so that by the time they appear in the Acta some “touch-up” has been done. It is the version in the Acta that is considered definitive.

 * * *

The church lost one of its great canon lawyers this week with the death of Jesuit Fr. Ivan Zuzek, a Slovenian who was the primary force behind the revised Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches in 1990. (This was the first legal code for the Catholic church ever redacted on a computer, which was Zuzek’s IBM-compatible laptop). Zuzek had a dramatic life story. As a young man in Nazi-occupied Slovenia, he managed to escape to England, only to be put on a train by British authorities for return to Eastern Europe. Along the way he jumped out and ended up in Italy, where he joined the Jesuits. Colleagues say he was a great scholar and an exemplary religious, as well as fierce papal loyalist. (If there is a gentle criticism of Zuzek, it is that his rock-solid fidelity to Rome sometimes led to a “Latinization” of Eastern traditions, which will perhaps be addressed in a future revision of the code). His funeral is Saturday, Feb. 7.

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

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