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 The Word From Rome

June 4, 2004
Vol. 3, No. 41

global perspective


John Paul's June 5-6 trip to Switzerland offers something of a checkup on the state of the relationship between John Paul and his flock in the affluent, highly educated Western world.


President Bush and the Pope; Preview of John Paul's Swiss trip; The next 25 years


Both short-term consensus and long-term clash were on display as President George W. Bush, head of the world's lone political and military superpower, met June 4 with Pope John Paul II, head of the world's leading religious superpower.

Despite the best efforts of both sides to put a happy face on things, there were clear echoes of the differences between the Bush administration and the Vatican on the war in Iraq and the broader question of America's role in the world.

"Your visit to Rome takes place at a moment of great concern for the continuing situation of grave unrest in the Middle East, both in Iraq and in the Holy Land," the pope told Bush. "You are very familiar with the unequivocal position of the Holy See in this regard."

John Paul later appeared to make reference to the prisoner abuse scandal.

"In the past few weeks other deplorable events have come to light which have troubled the civic and religious conscience of all, and made more difficult a serene and resolute commitment to shared human values," the pope said. "In the absence of such a commitment neither war nor terrorism will ever be overcome."

John Paul urged Bush to pursue "deeper and fuller understanding between the United States and Europe."

At the same time, the pope praised the commitment of the United States government to overcoming "the increasingly intolerable conditions in various African countries," and also thanked Bush for his commitment to "the promotion of moral values in American society, particularly with regard to respect for life and the family."

John Paul spoke in English, and while he was at times difficult to understand, he read all but one paragraph of his prepared text. He smiled repeatedly and twice belted out, "God bless America!"

Bush praised the pope as a "hero of our times."

"I bring greetings from our country where you are respected, admired and greatly loved," he told the pope. "I also bring a message from my government that says to you, sir, that we will work for human liberty and human dignity in order to spread peace and compassion. We appreciate the strong symbol of freedom that you have stood for and we recognize the power of freedom to change societies and to change the world."

Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls put a positive spin on the meeting, calling it "cordial" and saying that Bush and the pope found "some points of agreement, especially regarding the process of normalization in Iraq."

The Bush brain trust, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chief of Staff Andrew Card also met with the Vatican's top diplomats, including Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Secretary of State.

Bush arrived at the Vatican at a few minutes past noon and spent 15 minutes in his private one-on-one meeting with the pope. The larger meeting with senior Vatican officials followed.

In one sign of the esteem Bush has for John Paul, the president awarded the pope the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States. (John XXIII received the award posthumously in 1963). In November, the U.S. congress encouraged Bush to give John Paul the prize.

The Vatican had been a ferocious critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and in the run-up to Bush's visit, there had been speculation about a papal dressing-down. In fact, in the short run, there seemed to be a meeting of minds. Both the Bush team and Vatican diplomats said they want a quick hand-over of sovereignty to the Iraqis, a more robust role for the United Nations, and no immediate withdrawal of coalition forces in order not to seed chaos.

Beyond those questions, however, the White House and the Vatican still have some basic differences over issues such as the legitimacy of preemptive force, the binding character of international law, the role and authority of the United Nations, and the uncontrolled spread of American values around the world. There was no sign June 4 that the Bush foray had resolved these underlying disputes.

On Friday, Rome braced for protests of the Bush visit, with a security clampdown that produced citywide gridlock (some 77 bus lines were deviated). Conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one of Bush's most reliable European allies, warned about possible violence from protestors. By mid-afternoon, however, the turnout appeared lower than projections, and no serious problems had materialized.

Bush and Berlusconi were expected to hold a joint news conference Saturday morning, June 5.

The June 4 encounter was the third time Bush has met John Paul, another sign of the importance he attaches to the relationship. Analysts say this is a result both of Bush's personal affection for the pontiff, and of the importance Republican political strategists attach to the Catholic vote in the United States.

* * *

The day before Bush's meeting with the pope, I published an op/ed piece in The New York Times, The Campaign Comes to Rome, about what each man had at stake.

* * *

John Paul II leaves tomorrow for a two-day trip to Bern, Switzerland, where he is to take part in a national gathering of Catholic youth. It's his third trip to Switzerland, following a one-day visit to the U.N.'s International Labor Organization in 1982 and a five-day pastoral visit in 1984.

The centerpiece of this swing is a national youth festival Saturday, with all the familiar trappings of a John Paul-style "Catholic Woodstock," including a German-language Swiss band called "Starchaddition" that will pump out pop-funk, hip-hop, R&B and Latin rhythms. The program also calls for "meditative dance, campfires, festivals of light, Eucharistic adoration, a room of silence and an ecumenical prayer led by the Taizé community. One special Swiss touch will come on Sunday, when the pope meets with an association for ex-members of the Swiss Guard. The corps, which today numbers 110 members, celebrates its 500th anniversary in 2006.

For the wider world, John Paul's Swiss weekend seems to have three layers of significance.

First is the pope's physical health. This will be his first trip outside Italy since last September's visit to Slovakia, when John Paul's slump on the first day, especially an unscheduled pit stop in Trnava, had the Vatican press corps scrambling to spell, and define, "defibrillator." An analysis I did a couple of weeks ago shows that while John Paul is still operating at 60 percent capacity in Rome, he's down to about 25 percent on the road. Despite its brevity, the Switzerland swing will thus be an important "reality check" about the possibility of future papal travel.

Second, this is John Paul's first European outing since the recent expansion of the European Union to include 10 member states from Central and Eastern Europe. Certainly the future of Europe will be on the pope's mind. One symbolic expression of this question concerns Europe's new constitution. Last Friday, the foreign ministers of seven countries, including two old EU members (Italy and Portugal) and five new ones (Poland, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and the Czech Republic), sent a letter to Ireland, current holder of the EU presidency, supporting an explicit reference in the constitution to Europe's Christian roots. France and England are opposed (France adamantly so), along with Spain's new Socialist government.

Switzerland, given its long tradition of neutrality, is actually not a member of the European Union, but it is a sort of Europe in miniature: 26 separate cantons and four linguistic groups living in relative peace and harmony. John Paul will certainly want to use this occasion to once again warn Europe of the dangers of historical amnesia, and to call upon Europe to recover its soul.

Third, the pope faces in Swiss Catholics one of the local churches that has been most resistant to his charm over the 25 years of his pontificate. Swiss Catholicism is deeply democratic and egalitarian, and there is a deep resistance to perceived Roman authoritarianism that Hans Urs von Balthasar brilliantly described as an "anti-Roman complex." The emblematic rebel theologian of the early years of John Paul's papacy, Hans Küng, is Swiss.

Even if the intense feelings of these days have to some extent subsided, the resentments and suspicions are still there. Many Swiss Catholics felt targeted by the recent Vatican document on liturgical abuses Redemptionis Sacramentum, because it called for a halt to liturgical "abuses" such as lay preaching and inter-communion that are common practice in parts of Switzerland. On May 18, 40 prominent Swiss Catholic theologians marked the pope's birthday by publicly asking him to resign.

In that sense, John Paul's June 5-6 stop offers something of a checkup on the state of the relationship between John Paul and his flock in the affluent, highly educated Western world. Can the pope find a language that can begin to heal some of these old antagonisms? Or is the strategy to "write off" the generation that now dominates the universities, the journals and ecclesiastical bureaucracies, appealing over their heads to the youth?

It will be interesting to see if John Paul has something to say along these lines when we hear him in Bern's "Ice Palace."

* * *

Last week I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the convention of the Catholic Press Association. It's a gathering of writers, editors and other staffers representing the nation's diocesan publications, and I had been asked to share a panel with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus of First Things. Our topic was the next 25 years in the life of the Catholic Church.

We were introduced by Matthew Bunson of Our Sunday Visitor, and Greg Erlandson of the OSV offered some concluding remarks. (One purpose for the panel was to promote OSV's annual Catholic Almanac, which is surely carrying coals to Newcastle, since this is a publication that sells itself).

I approached the topic through the lens of papal politics, sketching the four political parties I've identified in the College of Cardinals, and then trying to tease out what it might mean over the next quarter-century if each one of those parties were to prevail in the next papal election. It's a speculative exercise, but it does help throw into relief some of the choices facing the church.

The text of my presentation follows.

* * *

I'm honored to be here for two reasons. First, it's a delight to be at the convention of the Catholic Press Association, among friends and colleagues whose work I have long admired. Second, it is a special honor to share this platform with Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, whose contributions to public discussion in the Catholic church help all of us think through very complicated issues. I make no pretense of having either Fr. Neuhaus' depth of experience or clearly articulated point of view, and I will limit myself to a more strictly reportorial approach, which I will outline in a moment.

First, however, I'd like to briefly lay out the perspective I bring. I am what the Italians call a Vaticanista, meaning that it is my full-time professional work to track the vicissitudes in this 108-acre island of ecclesiastical life in the heart of modern urban Rome called "the Vatican." Concretely, this means that several times a year I have the opportunity to go to the third floor of the Apostolic Palace, into the papal apartments, to watch the Holy Father receive some dignitary, usually a head of state. Almost every day I'm in Rome takes me in and out of some office of the Roman Curia. I'm in constant phone and e-mail contact with officials of the Curia, trying to keep my finger on the pulse of what's going on. My life is composed of a seemingly infinite series of congresses, symposia, plenary assemblies, book presentations, press conferences, lunches and dinners and embassy parties. All are venues in which contacts are developed that are the lifeline of covering any beat, especially one that emphasizes a personal rapport with sources like the Vatican. Finally, I move when the pope moves. In the last three and a half years, therefore, I've been with the Holy Father to Greece, Syria, Ukraine, Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Spain, Croatia, Slovakia and Bosnia.

The advantage of my job is that I get to watch this institution day in and day out, developing a warts-and-all understanding of what makes it tick. That is true not just of the Vatican, but also of the College of Cardinals, the body that will elect the next pope (and out of whose 125 members under 80 the next pope will be selected). By this stage, I've interviewed more than 60 cardinals about their vision of the future of the church, and the profile of the kind of leadership the church will need. Hence what I hope to offer this morning is the fruit of that experience.

What I intend to do is a bit of political analysis. I will sketch what I have come to see as the four basic currents of thought within the College of Cardinals, identifying in each case a representative cardinal who is currently regarded as a serious contender to be pope. Then I will tease out consequences of this cardinal's election on three key issues sure to be on the next pope's agenda: collegiality; evangelization; and the church's relationship with Islam. In this fashion, I will put together four possible scenarios of where the Catholic church might go over the next 25 years.

Let me briefly outline the three issues. I did not select these three themes at random; they are instead the most common issues I hear in conversations with cardinals, when I ask what will loom largest when it comes time for them to vote.

  • Collegiality: This terms gathers up a number of questions about how power is exercised and decisions made in the Catholic church. A number of cardinals believe that for a variety of complex historical reasons, the power of Rome in the 19th and 20th centuries over the local churches was expanded to an unprecedented degree, and that various attempts to inject balance have been largely unsuccessful. Some of these cardinals would argue for a greater role for bishops in setting policy in the universal church, while others support greater freedom for bishops in governing their own dioceses. Others, however, see a strong papacy as essential in a world in which secularism, relativism, and various nationalisms threaten the unity of the church. Still others see "collegiality" as a code word for broader questions about power in the church, especially how laity can collaborate on matters such as personnel, finance and administration.
  • Evangelization: While the Catholic church recorded impressive gains in parts of the world in the 20th century, especially Africa, Latin America and Asia, the traditional cradle of Catholic culture in Europe is experiencing an ecclesiastical winter. Vocations have experienced dramatic declines, Mass attendance rates are in some cases in single digits, and the diminished public influence of the church can be seen from the fact that 12 European nations now have some form of civil registration for same-sex unions, and three offer full marriage rights. Given the rising tide of Islamic immigration, some fear a day when Christianity will no longer be the dominant religious impulse in Europe. One striking statistic: there are already more practicing Muslims who go to mosque on Friday in the United Kingdom than practicing Anglicans who go to church on Sunday. While the signals are more mixed in North America, one can certainly find similar indicators of crisis. What pastoral strategy is best suited to revitalize Christianity in the developed world will certainly be among the front-burner debates.
  • Islam: Before Sept. 11, 2001, several cardinals believed that the church's relationship with Islam was among the most important challenges facing the next pope. Now, virtually all think so. Broadly speaking, there are two camps. Doves believe that the church must reach out to moderate centers of opinion. By denouncing social and political injustices that the suffering of Muslim peoples, the church will demonstrate its friendship to Islam, as well as its independence from Western political agenda. Efforts to convert or confront Muslims are rejected. Hawks say it is naďve to believe there is such a thing as moderate Islam, in terms of social influence. In the near term, they believe that in the zones where Christians and Muslims rub shoulders -- Indonesia, North Africa, the Arab world, Europe -- the reality is likely to be conflict, and Christians had better be ready. That means demanding reciprocity for religious freedom in the West, calling a spade a spade when Muslims engage in terrorism, and not turning the other cheek when Christian communities are under assault.

The Parties
Let me briefly sketch what I see as the four "political parties" in the College of Cardinals. Obviously, these are not parties in the traditional sense -- there are no conventions, no bumper stickers, no soft-money issue ads. They are more like loosely defined bodies of thought. At the same time, they do represent distinct options for the future of the church.

  1. The Border Patrol: These are theological conservatives worried about the impact of relativism and secularization. The principal fear is that Catholicism will gradually assimilate to the surrounding culture. The remedy is doctrinal clarity. Catholicism must have the courage to speak its traditional truths boldly, even, perhaps especially, in the face of a culture that no longer wants to hear them. The price may be contraction in size and social influence, but the church will be more faithful and therefore stronger. The champion of this view within the College of Cardinals is clearly Joseph Ratzinger, the Holy Father's top doctrinal official.
  2. The Reform Party: These cardinals support internal reform in the church along the lines indicated by the Second Vatican Council. For example, greater "collegiality," meaning decentralization, a greater tolerance of diversity and experimentation, and a reform of the Roman Curia in order to make the papacy more acceptable ecumenically. They are less negative in their diagnosis of contemporary secular culture than the Border Patrol. They grant the dangers of relativism and secularization, but are also encouraged by more positive trends such as the contemporary human rights movement, which create the possibility for dialogue. One exponent of this view is Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels, Belgium.
  3. The Integralists: "Integralism" refers to the belief that society should be ordered according to the teachings of the Church. The state should protect, fund and promote the church, and the church in turn blesses and demands obedience to the state. Integralists insist that one's political choices be clearly aligned with Church teaching (think Archbishop Raymond Burke's position on Catholic politicians and abortion). Integralists tend to have a special focus on cultural issues such as gender, sexuality and biotechnology, and hence they include some of the church's most fierce "cultural warriors." One leading voice is Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, Italy.
  4. The Social Justice Party: The interest of these cardinals lies in social issues such as debt relief, globalization, and racial justice. While their motivation is rooted in gospel values, these cardinals are less committed to specifically "Catholic" arguments. Instead, they tend to seek coalitions with other movements and forces in society that share similar objectives. One of their emblematic causes is the massive international campaign seeking debt relief for the most heavily impoverished nations of the Third World. One cardinal associated with this point of view is Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Brazil.

Four Papacies
Despite the astonishing stamina of John Paul II, at some point the Holy Father will go to his reward and the Catholic church will find itself at a crossroads. Let's consider what each of these four prospective pontificates might mean over the next 25 years.

A Ratzinger Papacy: Ratzinger is a classic conservative with a distrust of bureaucracies, and is wary of over-concentration of power, including in Rome. At the same time, there is no doubt that on core issues of Christian identity, Ratzinger would lead a strong papacy. One key governance concern is strong bishops -- shepherds capable of teaching, sanctifying and governing. Anything that diminishes the bishops' authority would be problematic. Hence there would be little enthusiasm for instruments such as National Review Boards. On evangelization, a Ratzinger papacy would be deliberately counter-cultural. In a world that is toxic to Christian values, and after a post-conciliar period in which the church uncritically let down its guard, Ratzinger would promote a more inward-focused Catholicism, intent on speaking its own language and living in its own subculture. The church cannot evangelize, this logic runs, if it is not itself evangelized. On Islam, a Papa Ratzinger would be in the "hawk" camp, steeling Christianity for struggle. Dialogue would continue, but it would be more critical. Overall Ratzinger would seek a smaller but more unified Church, a "mustard seed," one whose reduced size produces a more intense fidelity.

A Danneels Papacy: Papa Danneels would aspire to be the pope of collegiality. One could expect to see a deliberative role for the Synod of Bishops and a thorough reform of the Roman Curia, limiting Rome's capacity to intervene with local churches, and ensuring that its composition reflects the broader Catholic community. (Among other things, Danneels has said he would name women to run curial dicasteries). Another ecumenical council is possible, but in the meantime conciliar structures at lower levels, such as regional synods, would develop. On evangelization, Danneels believes that a more engaged and optimistic church, using the language of beauty rather than condemnation, is the right dialogue partner for the Western world. A Danneels papacy would not change the church's teaching on sexual morality, for example, but would issue fewer disciplinary documents, and spend more time promoting Christian families in order to offer models of faithful monogamous heterosexual marriage. On Islam, Danneels would pursue the "dove" program of reaching out to moderates and critiquing injustices that harm Islamic peoples. His foreign policy would reflect the basic outlines of the European Union approach on matters such as the Middle East and Iraq.

A Scola papacy: An essential difference between the Border Patrol and the Integralist instinct is that Integralists are more focused ad extra, more optimistic about the church's capacity to form culture. As such, reform of ecclesiastical structures would be a comparatively low priority, stacked up against the urgent work of fostering distinctively Christian cultural proposals -- a Catholic understanding of gender, for example, to counter the influence of secular feminism. Evangelization would be the hallmark of his papacy, but not in the sense of "inculturating" the Christian message to make it more digestible. Instead, Scola would challenge the ethos of tolerance that pervades pluralistic democratic cultures -- on abortion, on reproductive rights, on new biotechnological innovations. It would mean a more scrappy, confrontational Catholic church, closer to what Americans have come to call "the religious right," though with a more solid intellectual underpinning. A Scola papacy would be contentious with respect to Islam, since it would foster an integrally and explicitly Christian vision of the virtuous society. One flashpoint would be Europe, since a Scola papacy would try to revitalize the continent's Christian identity, seeking to contain the influence of Islam.

A Hummes Papacy: Though Hummes is conversant with the theological literature in the West, he regards many debates over the fine points of how the synod works, or the primacy of the universal church, as analogous to counting how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The overwhelming challenge facing the church, from this point of view, is addressing the structural inequalities in the world that condemn millions of God's people to poverty, disease, and civil unrest. Hence, Hummes would practice collegiality, but may not pursue a thorough program of structural reform because he would have other priorities. On evangelization, Hummes would address resources to developing nations, seeing the struggle for human dignity as itself a form of evangelization. He would also focus on resisting the inroads of aggressive evangelical and Pentecostal "sects" in Latin America and, increasingly, Africa. To that extent, his might be a somewhat less "ecumenical" papacy than the present. Reflecting his Latin American background, Hummes is not well schooled in Islam, but could be expected to bring sympathy for the underdog to key Islamic concerns such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

While I cannot guarantee that one of these four men will be the next pope, I can construct plausible electoral scenarios in which each could be elected. This reflects the reality that no one of the four parties has a two-thirds majority in the College of Cardinals, and hence trade-offs will be inevitable. The outcome is impossible to anticipate. In other words, the deck has not yet been stacked and the die has not yet been cast. The story of the next papal election is being written now, and the psychology of the cardinals who will cast ballots is still being shaped by the public discussion in the church today. For all those concerned with the future, this is a conversation well worth joining.

* * *

The Vatican has denied that Cardinal Bernard Law will receive a stipend of $12,000 a month in his new Roman job, as reported May 28 by the New York Times.

Instead, Law's monthly allotment will be $5,000, which must cover not only his personal expenses, but also the costs of a car and driver as well as the living expenses of two or three religious sisters who will run his household.

Law was appointed May 28 as Archpriest of St. Mary Major, one of four "patriarchal basilicas" in Rome. The post is considered relatively low profile, since its chief responsibility is routine administration of the basilica located near Rome' main train station.

Citing an anonymous "former Vatican official," the Times reported that the outgoing Archpriest of St. Mary Major, Italian Cardinal Carlo Furno, received a monthly stipend of 10,000 Euro (roughly U.S. $12,000). The story suggested the post could thus be "lucrative" for Law.

On May 31, however, Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls told NCR that Law's stipend would be 4,000 Euro a month (roughly $5,000), the standard figure for a cardinal serving in the Vatican. That amount, Navarro said, must cover the expenses noted above.

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

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