|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: http://www.natcath.org/
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: http://www.natcath.org/
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.”
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
* * *
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
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
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
I laughed, responding:
“Actually I was at the Cecilia Metella just last week. I didn’t see you
“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.
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.”
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
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
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,”
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
“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
“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.” (www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word).
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.
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
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.
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