National Catholic Reporter ®

February 7, 2003
Vol. 2, No.24

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Cardinal Stafford: Celebrating the Eucharist, envisioning war don’t go together

 “The concept of a ‘preventive’ war is ambiguous. 

'Prevention’ does not have a limit; it is a relative term and is subject to self-serving interpretations. "

Cardinal Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for Laity
If Michael Novak is arriving in Rome today with the ambition of changing the Vatican’s mind on a “preventive war” in Iraq, it’s looking more and more like a fool’s errand. (For the record, the stated purpose of the visit is not to convert the Holy See, but to “stimulate some new thinking about today’s threats and the nature of a moral response.”)

     Novak, an American lay Catholic scholar best known for his defense of capitalism, is expected to meet on Feb. 8 with officials in the Vatican’s Secretariat for State and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. On Feb. 10 Novak will meet the press, then lecture to the public at Rome’s Center for American Studies. Novak’s visit has been arranged by the U.S. embassies to the Vatican and to Italy.

     Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Council for Justice and Peace, sat down for an interview with NCR on Feb. 4 just ahead of Novak’s visit, and he sounded like a hard man to persuade.

     “We all know what the pope has said on so many occasions now. If Novak can reverse what the pope has said, well, good for him,” Martino said.

     Martino, 65, has emerged in recent weeks as the pope’s answer to Donald Rumsfeld — a tough, outspoken, pull-no-punches senior aide, willing to speak his mind to the press. The difference is that Rumsfeld’s hard line is pro-war, Martino’s pro-peace.

     A story based on my interview with Martino can be found here:

     Meanwhile, a group of 60-some American Catholics, including prominent lay people and men and women religious, has written to U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson protesting the decision to bring Novak to Rome. An article on the controversy can be found here: 

     The bottom line is that Martino and the Vatican seem resolved to oppose a U.S.-led war. There were other indications this week of mounting opposition from the leadership of the Catholic Church.

     American Cardinal Francis Stafford, president of the Pontifical Council for Laity, put out a strong statement Feb. 3, asserting that “the American government has not offered conclusive evidence of imminent danger to its national security.” Stafford had been contacted by Inside the Vatican magazine, and released a written statement to several press outlets.

     “The concept of a ‘preventive’ war is ambiguous,” Stafford wrote. “‘Prevention’ does not have a limit; it is a relative term and is subject to self-serving interpretations. Objective criteria must be applied with intellectual rigor. The threat must be clear, active and present, not future. Nor has the American administration shown that all other options before going to war have proven ‘impractical or ineffective,” he wrote.

     Stafford contrasted the call to arms coming from the political leadership of America, Britain and Iraq with John Paul II’s call to youth to be agents of peace and hope. 

     I spoke with Stafford Feb. 5, to ask if he could envision any circumstances under which a war in Iraq might pass moral muster.

     “I come at this as a Christian and religious leader who celebrates the Eucharist every day,” Stafford said. “It’s not possible for me to celebrate that Eucharist and at the same time to envision or encourage the prospect of war.”

     In my interview with Martino, he argued that Catholic just war teaching is evolving, like the church’s position on the death penalty, toward a much more restrictive stance. I asked Stafford if he agreed, and he said yes.

     “The very existence of certain kinds of modern weapons, including biochemical and nuclear weapons, is a threat to the future of humanity,” Stafford said. “The environmental harm caused by weapons of mass destruction also creates an indirect threat to human welfare.” Hence, Stafford said, it’s almost impossible to imagine a set of circumstances in which opening the door to the possible use of these weapons would be just.

     I asked Stafford the same thing I asked Martino: If the church is so strongly against the war, what do we say to the thousands of Catholic men and women who might be called upon to fight?

     “I can’t make the decision for them,” Stafford said. “As mature, baptized Christians, each lay person has to decide if their being in Christ Jesus, whose peace extends to all persons, allows them to proceed to the destruction of some persons. Each person has to weigh what is being said by the country’s leaders … and come to their own conclusion.”

     Stafford added that the church has always supported a right to conscientious objection, and he hopes that such a right would be available this time as well if it comes to armed conflict.

     Meanwhile, the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, walked up to the brink on Feb. 1 of calling American policy in Iraq stupid.

     “To define a preventive war as a sensible act means not to have, or not to know how to exercise, the intelligence necessary at certain levels,” L’Osservatore stated in its Feb. 1 Italian edition. 

     In another article, the official Vatican newspaper wrote that “the international media, determined to understand in the nuances of diplomatic statements the possible development of the Iraqi situation, often forget to concentrate attention on the principal victim of the crisis: the civilian population.”

     “Tested by a long embargo and vexed by a dictatorial regime, the Iraqi people [have] lived for months under the exhausting threat of a conflict.”

     International Catholic opposition also continues to build. In the Feb. 2 edition of the popular German weekly Bild am Sonntag, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, the president of the German bishops’ conference, wrote that a preventive war in Iraq would be “ethically impermissible.” 

     “The law of the church says that war is possible only in extreme situations and only as the very last resort,” Lehmann wrote. “An example would be the ending of massive human rights violations such as genocide.”

     Meanwhile, in the Philippines Cardinal Jaime Sin urged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo Jan. 31 not to support the U.S. on a war against Iraq. 

     “Be a peacemaker!” Sin said. “Show the world that we Filipinos are promoters and defenders of peace.” He reminded Macapagal-Arroyo that a few days after her inauguration, she declared at the Manila Cathedral that she would be a faithful daughter of the church. With the present situation, it would be a good opportunity for her to follow the Holy Father, “rather than be aligned with the super powers of the world.”

     One footnote: Despite the marked differences between the Vatican and the Bush administration on Iraq, Martino emphasized that the overall relationship remains strong. 

     “It’s excellent, excellent,” he said. “I was at the United Nations for 16 years, and I can see the difference. I know our relations and the difficulties we had to negotiate with other American administrations, and also the European Union, especially at the Cairo Conference. … We still have a lot of collaboration with this administration, especially on the problem of cloning. We acted together just weeks ago.

     “It’s the issue, not the persons involved, that’s the problem,” Martino said. “The American people are the most generous people I have ever met in my life, not only during my 16 years in the United States, but in all my 41 years of diplomatic service. I can write books about the generosity of the Americans. This is absolutely not a closure.”

* * *

     One of the more remarkable Vatican documents in recent memory appeared Feb. 3, in the form of Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age.’ The 88-page work is a joint project of four Vatican offices: the Pontifical Council for Culture, the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Since the subject raised doctrinal issues, there was also input from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

     One might ask about the need for the document, since the “New Age” movement is by now rather old. Yet if one walks the aisles of most bookstores these days, as a Vatican official pointed out, the glut of titles under the heading of “Mind/Body/Spirit” suggests the public appetite for feel-good, unconventional spirituality has not faded. The document asserts that the diffuse, relativistic pantheism implied in a good deal of New Age thinking is very much part of the cultural bloodstream. 

     The surprising aspect of the document is not the content, since the Vatican could hardly be expected to approve crystal-gazing and channeling as spiritual disciplines. In essence, the document insists that Christianity implies faith in a personal God and a historically unique savior, Jesus Christ. The Christian God cannot be reduced to an abstract life force, and Jesus cannot be seen merely as one “healer” or “avatar” in a universe of infinite spiritual options. As the document points out, for Christians, “their ‘New Age’ began 2,000 years ago, with Christ.” 

     This is more or less the same message presented in the Sept. 2000 Vatican document Dominus Iesus. What is striking this time around is the language and tone with which the message is delivered.

     As a colleague from the Reuters news agency pointed out at a press conference, none of us really expected to live to see a Vatican document with section headings such as “The Magical Mystery Tour” and textual references to the musical “Hair.” The authors of this document obviously take popular culture seriously (even if the references are a bit dated), and although they are critical of “New Age” spirituality, they nevertheless refrain from hurling anathema or issuing prohibitions. 

     “There is no condemnation here,” Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, prefect of the Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, told the press. (This soft approach isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I repeated Fitzgerald’s quote over lunch to a rather conservative friend who teaches at one of Rome’s pontifical universities, who arched an eyebrow and asked, “And he was proud of that?”)

     The document strikes a self-critical note, calling Christians “to understand the often-silent cry in people’s hearts, which leads them elsewhere if they are not satisfied by the church.”

     With popular practices such as the enneagram, a nine-type tool for character analysis, the document warns of “ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith.” Yet in response to a direct question, the officials responsible said the intent is not to prohibit the practice, but rather to “encourage discernment.”

     Hence the Vatican offered this document as a help in reflection to local churches, trusting them to find the appropriate application to their circumstances. For those who harbor images of a ruthless, all-controlling Vatican power structure, here is a classic counter-example.

     To probe how the authors might apply some of the principles in the document, I noted at the press conference that there are several references in the text to magic. What do they think of the “Harry Potter” phenomenon, which some Christians have criticized for its rather positive portrayal of magic?

     Fr. Peter Fleetwood, an Englishman who is a former official of the Pontifical Council for Culture and one of the primary authors of the document, responded.

     “No one in this room grew up without images of magicians, witches, spirits and angels,” Fleetwood said. “These are not bad things, and I certainly don’t think ‘Harry Potter’ is flying some kind of anti-Christian banner.

     “As far as I can tell, the chief concern of the author is to help children to understand the conflict between good and evil. This seems very clear.

     “The author, J.K. Rowlings, is a Christian. She may not be practicing in the way a priest might like, but she is a Christian by conviction in her way of living and in her writing. I don’t see the least problem in the ‘Harry Potter’ films.”

* * *

     I recently listed the transformation of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, the agency charged with translating liturgical texts from Latin into English, as one of the “top ten neglected Catholic stories” of 2002. In short, the “old” ICEL, seen as one of the driving forces in the pro-inculturation, pro-living language liturgical renewal, has been reshaped to bring it into coherence with the Vatican’s concern for uniformity and fidelity to the Latin originals of liturgical texts.

     The campaign is now also shifting to other language groups.

     The German equivalent of ICEL, formally entitled the Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Liturgischen Kommissionen im deutschen Sprachgebiet but known by the acronym IAG, will also be restructured in light of the May 2001 Vatican document Liturgiam Authenticam, which promulgated a new set of conservative principles for liturgical translation. IAG is based at the Deutsches Liturgisches Institut in Trier, and has long been similar to ICEL in its basic outlook on translation.

     Cardinal Joachim Meisner, chair of the German bishops’ liturgy committee, made a December trip to Rome, during which time he met with officials of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Then in January, at an annual IAG meeting in Augsburg, Meisner told the group it would have to be restructured based on Liturgiam Authenticam. 

     Fr. Eberhard Amon of the Deutsches Liturgisches Institut, who serves as IAG’s secretary, told me Feb. 6 that he expects two new bodies to result from the overhaul. One would be a bishops’ committee to oversee the work of liturgical translation, another a committee to facilitate joint projects and original texts. Amon said he expects the restructuring to be completed by this summer, which would be extraordinarily rapid in “church time.”

     The Germans are said to be of concern to the Vatican in part because their translations are widely used in Eastern Europe as base texts for translations into those languages.

     The French may be the next in line. In 2002, the French translation of the marriage rite was rejected by Rome, and the Vatican sent a letter to the French bishops asking that re-translations of other liturgical texts in light of Liturgiam Authenticam begin. 

     Meanwhile, the English-speaking story also continues this week. The new executive secretary of ICEL, Fr. Bruce Harbert, was in Rome for Feb. 5-6 meetings with the staff of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The meetings, though not expected in themselves to produce any dramatic new developments, are a sign of how much things have changed. 

     As the relationship between the “old” ICEL and the congregation reached a low point in June 1999, the former chair of ICEL’s governing board, Scottish Bishop Maurice Taylor, proposed a meeting between Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, then the prefect of the congregation, and two key ICEL figures. One was Fr. Chris Walsh, a scholar and then the chair of the ICEL advisory board, and Dr. John Page, then the executive secretary. Medina’s reply was that “collaborators”(Walsh) and “employees” (Page) had no standing to be present at meetings at the congregation. 

     The refusal to meet was widely seen as an indication that the die was cast, since it broke a long, albeit informal, tradition of meetings between the ICEL staff and the congregation. Page had been involved in these meetings from 1980 until Medina’s ban in 1999.

     Obviously, the climate has changed, and ICEL’s new leadership is welcome in the congregation. This is not just a matter of the transition from Medina to the new prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Francis Arinze, because Harbert and the new chair of the governing board, English Bishop Arthur Roche had a meeting with Medina shortly before he left office.

     Harbert and Roche will be back in Rome on Feb. 18 for a more formal meeting with ICEL bishops and the congregation to talk about a new set of statutes governing ICEL’s work. The session follows a working meeting of a small ICEL working party in early January in Leeds, England. The bishops and Rome have been at odds over several matters, chief among them the congregation’s insistence on granting a nihil obstat, amounting to veto power, over staff and advisors. Sources tell NCR there is “positive movement” towards resolving this disagreement in a direction that would satisfy the Vatican’s concerns.

* * * 

     Speaking of ICEL, I had the privilege this week of having dinner with Archbishop Denis Hurley, now retired from Durban, South Africa. Hurley is in Rome as a guest of the Community of Sant’Egidio, which celebrates its 35th anniversary Feb. 7.

     Hurley, 87, was consecrated a bishop in 1947, and took part in all four sessions of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He was one of the founding fathers of ICEL, and has always been a champion of inculturation and the participation of the faithful as key liturgical principles. He remembers Italian Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, the architect of post-conciliar liturgical reform and a major villain to some on the Catholic right, with fondness. Conversely, he is not a fan of Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, whose tenure at the Congregation for Divine Worship (February 1998-October2002) witnessed the crackdown on ICEL.

     Hurley was a major force in the anti-apartheid awakening in the South African Catholic Church. He authored the first critical statement on apartheid adopted by the South African bishops, in 1952. He was also responsible for a subsequent bishops statement in 1957, which for the first time defined apartheid as “intrinsically evil.” 

     For more than 50 years, Hurley has been a voice of conscience in his country. In 1985, he was hauled before a court on charges of libeling a police unit for denouncing abuses during the war in Namibia. His case, however, was dropped at the last minute for fear of giving Hurley an even greater national following.

     Hurley reminisced over dinner about the council, about the struggle against apartheid, and about his concerns for the future of the church. Despite the years and the burdens of office, he is still a man of great pastoral concern as well as lively intelligence . Catholics around the world have long wondered why Hurley has not been made a cardinal. Given John Paul’s habit of nominating a few “honorary” over-80 cardinals in each consistory, it’s still possible. If so, it could mean a return trip for Hurley as early as June, and I’d be delighted to buy dinner again.

     A Hurley footnote: Few realize that he wears the episcopal ring of József Mindszenty, the Hungarian cardinal who took refuge from his country’s Communist government in the U.S. embassy in Budapest during the 1956 Hungarian uprising, eventually crushed by Soviet tanks. In 1971, after an agreement between the Vatican and Hungary, Mindszenty left for the Vatican, and shortly afterwards settled in Vienna. After his release, Mindszenty visited Hungarian populations around the world, and along the way he stopped in South Africa. Hurley, making conversation, observed that Mindszenty had never sealed the back of his episcopal ring and hence it was too loose. He offered to let Mindszenty try his, and it fit perfectly, so the two men swapped. To this day you can see Mindszenty’s name engraved on the inside of the gold band Hurley wears. The irony that Hurley, a progressive Vatican II stalwart, ports the ring of the staunch traditionalist Mindszenty is another reminder of what the “catholic” in Roman Catholic Church really means.

* * *

     I was in the press pool for the Feb. 6 visit of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to John Paul II, which meant that I was able to spend some time in the papal apartments watching the pope up close. The pope looked tired, sluggish and not very animated, but none of his close aides appeared alarmed.

     The best moment of the morning came when I first walked into the apartments, where I saw Bishop James Harvey, the American who heads the papal household. Readers may remember that I recently spotted Harvey and Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston at dinner at Rome’s Cecilia Metella restaurant, at the beginning of the fateful week that ended with Law’s resignation. My sighting was the first confirmation of Law’s presence in Rome, and it made the rounds of American press agencies.

     Harvey, who does not lack a sense of humor, walked over and said: “Hi John. Eat at any good restaurants lately?”

     I laughed, responding: “Actually I was at the Cecilia Metella just last week. I didn’t see you there.”

     “I haven’t been back,” Harvey said, smiling.

* * *

     If the early days are any indication, 2003 promises to be as schizophrenic a year in Catholic/Russian Orthodox relations as 2002. 

     After Pope John Paul II lambasted Russia for its crackdown on Catholic clergy in his address to the diplomatic corps on Jan. 13, an official of the Moscow Patriarchate shot back that Russia has “a very small Catholic minority, which is fully free to pray and engage in public activities. This freedom is enough, because the Catholic churches barely have enough believers to fill them, as the idea of a large-scale Catholic mission to Russia has failed.” Yet four days later, Catholic Bishop Vincent Paglia of Terni, Italy, a key figure in the Community of Sant’Egidio, was in Moscow handing over relics of St. Valentine to the Moscow Patriarchate, to smiles and good cheer all the way around. Moreover, the Russian government has just granted a permanent residence permit to Bishop Clemens Pickel after a year of refusing entrance visas to Bishop Jerzy Mazur and a handful of Catholic priests.

     To try to make sense of it all, I rang up Fr. Borys Gudziak, rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in L’viv, an institution of the Eastern rite Greek Catholic Church. Because the Ukrainians straddle both East and West, they are on the ecumenical front lines. 

     Gudziak acknowledged that 2002 “was not a fruitful year” for relations between Moscow and Rome, and he understands the case for pessimism. Yet, Gudziak said, the tensions of the past year have actually been fruitful, in that “some issues are finally being laid bare.” 

     Fundamentally, Gudziak said, some ecumenical enthusiasts had not appreciated before 2002 the depth of anti-Western resentment in the post-Soviet world, and how much that complicates relations with the Catholic Church. 

     “Many of the public statements and gestures that we see [from the Orthodox] are epiphenomena of these fundamental underlying factors,” Gudziak said. “This is connected with the misconception that Russia has moved towards democracy, which is not the case.”

     At the same time, Gudziak acknowledged that the Catholic side is not without blame.

     “The Catholic Church can do better in living its sister-churchness,” he said. “We can best promote Christian witness in traditionally Orthodox countries by supporting a revival of Christianity as it has existed for centuries in those cultures.” That’s his indirect way of saying that anything that smacks of poaching, of taking advantage of Orthodox weakness, is unhelpful.

     A new flashpoint in Catholic/Orthodox ties is the intention of the Greek Catholics to move their headquarters from L’viv, in western Ukraine, to Kiev, the national capital in the east. The Orthodox see this as another sign of Catholic expansionism, though Gudziak rejected that reading. He pointed out that when the Union of Brest was signed in 1596, L’viv was the center of the opposition, while the Metropolitan of Kiev accepted it. 

     Anyway, Gudziak said, most Ukrainians like the idea of the Greek Catholics having a greater presence on the national stage, because they admire their patriarch — Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who readers may recognize as my dark horse candidate to be the next pope.

     In Western Ukraine, Gudziak said, polls show that Husar is the most trusted and respected figure in society. “They respect his articulation of Christian social principles in the context of a highly corrupt political culture,” he said. “He embodies the tradition of resistance, of non-conformism, in our church.”

     In that sense, Gudziak said, Husar is also pointing the way forward for ecumenical progress.

     “I hope Christians in Ukraine will be more articulate in calling a spade a spade in the political and social spectrum,” Gudziak said. “We need to gain a prophetic voice, especially on the issue of corruption, which is the greatest scourge in the country. If we do that, there will be a toll. There will be martyrs.”

     “The future of Christianity, of ecumenism, is not in picture sessions, but in rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty in the different circles of Ukrainian society,” he said.

     Ambassador Nicholson, by the way, said at a recent reporters’ lunch that he had raised the issue of the denial of visas to Catholic clergy by the Russian government with the Russian ambassador in Rome. “I said that this is not the way a civilized society behaves,” Nicholson said. 

     The response? “He generally demurred,” Nicholson said.

* * *

     On Saturday, Feb. 1, I was in Naples for a meeting of the Naples Press Association, on the theme of “The Credibility of the Journalist: Why Newspapers Sell So Poorly.” I had been asked to provide an American perspective, which I attempted to do in my least broken Italian.

     My contribution aside, it was interesting to hear Italian journalists, politicians, and academics discuss the theme. One remark in particular struck me, offered by Maurizio Dente, a journalist with ANSA, which is the Italian version of the Associated Press.

     “We don’t write for the public,” Dente said, speaking of Italian journalists. “We write too often for those in power who are our points of reference, above all the politicians.” He described a colleague whom he ran into recently who was excited because the press aide of a leading politician told him, “You had exactly the right headline.” 

     “For whom are we producing the newspaper?” Dente asked. “Are we putting out a product for the public, or for our patrons?”

     I think Dente’s comment is astute, and one certainly sees this tendency on the Vatican beat. It’s easy to get caught up in an insider’s game, taking pleasure that Cardinal So-and-So liked your latest piece. To some extent this is legitimate; after all, those on the inside know the situation the best, and when they affirm your work as adequately respecting the complexities of the situation, one can feel good. Yet the desire for affirmation from one’s sources can lead to a form of self-censorship, in which journalists screen out (sometimes unconsciously) information and perspectives that might displease those about whom they write. Ultimately, doing so jeopardizes the reporter’s credibility, and leads readers into intellectual ghettoes in which all they ever hear is what already coheres with their point of view. 

     The tension between being close enough to understand, yet distant enough to be critical, is a constant one, especially on a highly specialized beat such as the Vatican, and I’m glad Dente put it into perspective.

* * *

     Two weeks ago I wrote about the remarkable Fr. Diego Lorenzi, who served as private secretary to Pope John Paul I. In the course of the article, I made a pitch for supporting a project of Lorenzi’s Don Orione fathers to eliminate tuberculosis in a badly depressed Manila slum called “Payatas.” (

     Unfortunately, based on a typographical error, I misstated the amount needed to fund the project. I wrote that it would take $4,800. In fact the amount required is $48,000. Hence any “Word from Rome” readers who hesitated, thinking their help would not be needed, are encouraged to make the plunge.

     Contributions should be addressed to: Don Orione Fathers, 111 Orient Avenue, East Boston, Massachusetts, 02128 (USA). Mark checks for “Payatas project, Manila.” The Orione Fathers, by the way, are a tax-exempt charitable organization under American law. 

     In the meantime, one more Lorenzi/John Paul I story. The two met for the first time in December 1973, when Lorenzi was a young priest of the Don Orione Fathers and Albino Luciani, who would become John Paul I, was the patriarch of Venice. Lorenzi had been assigned the task of establishing an institution for the handicapped at Chirignago, and was having problems generating funds. He happened to mention the problem to Luciani.

     His response? Luciani auctioned off his episcopal ring to raise money for the insitute. (Shades of Paul VI, who auctioned off his papal tiara to raise funds for the poor. Both men were criticized by some who found their gestures a bit flamboyant, like Thomas Becket giving away his goods before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury). 

     The memory of Luciani’s generosity is one of the reasons Lorenzi is a believer in divine providence. One prays for a similarly unexpected breakthrough for the Payatas project.

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

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