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 The Word From Rome

July 2, 2004
Vol. 3, No. 45

global perspective


"The current decisions you face are of monumental ecclesiological importance. ... As we see it, the kind of answer you will give to the current situation will tell us what kind of communion you are."

From the report of a special Anglican/Roman Catholic sub-commission

Common Ground lecture; Tough document on Anglican crisis; Patriarch of Constantinople in Rome; Jews press for campaign against anti-Semitism in Latin America; Pope to Lourdes; Once more on human trafficking


Last Friday, June 25, I delivered the Common Ground Lecture on the campus of the Catholic University of America. Given that previous speakers have included such ecclesiastical heavyweights as Cardinals Basil Hume, Avery Dulles and Walter Kasper, not to mention Catholic intellectuals Fr. Joseph Komonchak and Scott Appleby, it was a rather overwhelming challenge.

The full text of my address can be found in the Special Documents section on Common Ground Lecture.

I was honored not only by the invitation, but also by Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School, who responded to my lecture. Glendon is one of America's most prominent lay Catholics, and currently serves as president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago launched the "Common Ground" project in 1996 in an attempt to overcome polarization in the American Catholic Church. It's a profoundly important effort, and from my personal experience of lecturing across the United States over the last three years, I can testify that Bernardin's intuition was correct. The problem is not merely that Catholics seem angry with one another, but that they increasingly seem to be speaking separate languages. Self-identified "progressive" Catholics read their own publications, listen to their own speakers, attend their own conferences, and think their own thoughts. Self-identified "conservatives" do the same. Hence when you bring people from these two camps into the same room, they have moved so far down separate paths that even if there is good will for a conversation, quite often a shared intellectual and cultural framework is missing.

In my lecture, I asked the provocative question of why Common Ground didn't work - that is to say, why are we more divided, more strangers to one another, today than we were eight years ago?

I theorized that the proper analogy may be to substance abuse. Addicts cannot be helped if they do not want help, and similarly disputants in the culture wars cannot be brought into dialogue if they do not feel they have anything to learn. People have to first "bottom out," grasping the sterility of ideological warfare, before any program for dialogue can succeed.

To that end, I suggested five elements of what I called a "spirituality of dialogue." They include:

  • Epistemological humility, meaning awareness of what we don't know;
  • Learning in the Christian tradition;
  • Patience;
  • Perspective, meaning the ability to see issues through the eyes of the other;
  • Maintaining a clear Christian identity.

I ended by arguing that the quest for dialogue is urgent. Given that the United States is the leading political, military and commercial power in the world, and the Holy See the leading voice of conscience, then American Catholics and the Vatican should be collaborating on a Catholic perspective on global concerns. The cause of human dignity is not served by a breach between Rome and the American Catholic "street," or within the American Catholic community between pro- and anti-Roman voices.

I took comfort from the fact that a number of twenty-something Catholic University students approached me after my talk, eager to discuss how a robust sense of Catholic identity can be blended with genuine interest in the other. That these young people gave up a Friday night for a lecture on dialogue is remarkable in itself, and their passion for doing something about it was all the more encouraging.

If Common Ground has a future, perhaps it rests with the next generation of leaders now taking shape at places such as Catholic University. The task for the rest of us may boil down to staying out of their way.

* * *

A much-anticipated report from a special Anglican/Roman Catholic sub-commission appeared in June. Titled Ecclesiological reflections on the current situation in the Anglican Communion in the light of ARCIC, the report was composed by four Anglicans and four Catholics, and is intended to help guide Anglican reflection on the crisis posed by the consecration of an openly gay bishop in the United States.

The consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, and its confirmation by the Episcopalian Church USA, has generated turmoil not only within Anglicanism, but also between Anglicans and Catholics. A recent letter from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to leaders of the Anglican Communion, quoted in the sub-commission report, makes the point:

The current decisions you face are of monumental ecclesiological importance. ... As we see it, the kind of answer you will give to the current situation will tell us what kind of communion you are.

In the wake of such alarm, the ad-hoc Anglican/Catholic sub-commission was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and by the Vatican's top ecumenical official, Cardinal Walter Kasper, to apply the results of official Anglican-Catholic dialogue to the current situation. Its mandate was not to address homosexuality, but to deal with ecclesiological issues. The sub-commission was styled as a way for the Anglican-Catholic dialogue to have a voice in internal Anglican deliberations, so its creation all by itself has ecumenical significance.

Though the Anglicans are getting plenty of input, this is likely to be the most consequential contribution reflecting Catholic thinking. The full text may be found in the Ecumenical Affairs and Studies section of the Anglican Web site: Look for the update of the Lambeth Commission on Communion from the Second Plenary Meeting at Kanuga.

The document is sober and carefully argued, but it pulls no punches in suggesting that the consecration of Robinson, and its subsequent confirmation, is deeply problematic. Although the document is careful not to dictate choices, it does seem to suggest that only a stronger central authority in the Anglican Communion, meaning in part more power to the Archbishop of Canterbury, could adequately respond to this kind of challenge.

It's a position sure to cheer some Anglicans and worry others, especially those most alarmed about a "creeping papalism."

"If Anglican Dioceses or provinces were to embrace the notion of a 'local option' for important decisions about the teaching of the Church in matters of faith and morals, and if bonds of communion were weakened in the direction of a federation of autonomous provinces rather than a relationship of mutual responsibility and interdependence, then our consensus on the ecclesiology of communion would be seriously undermined, and perhaps irreparably damaged," the document warns.

"A federal arrangement cannot adequately express the profound link between the visible gathering of God's people and its life giving source, and is a pale shadow of a proper ecclesiology of communion."

The document suggests a parallel between the 4th century and the situation facing the Anglican Communion today. In both cases, theological crises and problems of institutional organization had to be confronted at the same time. In the 4th century, Christians worked out a system of interdependence among local churches based on episcopal leadership as well as a universal primacy. That experience, the document argues, may hold lessons for Anglicans today.

The document poses a series of questions. They include:

  • When fundamental changes arise which may impair the communion of the church, then concern for others, mutual forbearance, deferring to others, putting the interest of others above one's own are marks of the way of communion. We ask whether these attitudes were shown towards all sections of the Anglican Communion and towards the holders of all shades of opinion in the Communion?
  • How can the effective governance of the church on diocesan and provincial levels be complemented by collegial and primatial structures in such a way that the unity of the Anglican Communion is creatively maintained in the Apostolic faith and not under recurring threat of dissolution?
  • How can a bishop whose ordination made him a cause of controversy (leading others to break communion with him and with those who consecrated him) represent the local community in the councils of the church? How can he mediate the unity of the universal church to his diocese when he is at odds with large segments of the universal church, the latter arguing that he has departed from the moral teaching of the apostolic faith?

The Lambeth Commission, the body set up by Williams to advise him on how to respond to the crisis, is expected to report at the end of September. Their work is expected to be made public in October. We'll know then how much difference, if any, this document made.

The members of the sub-commission responsible for the document are:

Bishop David Beetge, Highveld, South Africa.
Bishop John Baycroft, former bishop of Ottawa, Canada, and former director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.
Dr. Mary Tanner, lay Biblical scholar and ecumenical expert.
Rev. Canon Gregory Cameron, director of Ecumenical Relations for the Anglican Communion.

Fr. Peter Cross, priest of the Melbourne diocese and long-time participant in Anglican-Catholic dialogue.
Fr. Paul McPartlan, professor of ecclesiology at Heythrop College, London, and member of the International Theological Commission.
Fr. Liam Walsh, Irish Dominican and former professor of theology at University of Fribourg.
Fr. Donald Bolen, Pontificial Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

* * *

Speaking of dialogue, the major Vatican story this week is the visit of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, his first journey to Rome in nine years. Bartholomew took part in June 29 celebrations of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, which culminates in the consignment of the pallium, a band of wool that functions as a symbol of authority, to metropolitan archbishops appointed during the last year. Bartholomew also met with the Community of Sant'Egidio, long a leading broker of Catholic/Orthodox dialogue, and also inaugurated a new church, St. Theodore's, which has been renovated by the Rome archdiocese for use as an Orthodox parish.

Bartholomew's visit, seen as a gesture of rapprochement, comes at a time when Catholic/Orthodox dialogue has been severely strained, above all by the vexed question of whether Pope John Paul II will recognize the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine as a patriarchate. The Orthodox see the 21 Oriental churches in communion with Rome as a "Trojan horse" for Catholic proselytism, and also reject the idea of two patriarchates in the same territory on ecclesiological grounds.

Just this past February, Bartholomew, acting as the historical "first among equals" in the Orthodox world, sent a testy letter to John Paul warning that a Ukrainian patriarchate would mean a break in relations.

"[It] will cause strong reactions on the part of all the Orthodox sister churches and will put a stop to attempts to continue the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and Orthodox churches," Bartholomew wrote. He said there is a danger "of returning to the climate of hostility that reigned up to a few decades ago."

Such language irritated many Catholic observers. Ukrainian Greek Catholics remember that some Orthodox clergy collaborated during the era of Communism, and hence were arguably complicit in their oppression. Others point out that it's not as if the Orthodox are innocent when it comes to proselytism; there are Greek Orthodox monasteries in southern Italy, for example, where the monks openly boast of making Catholic converts.

Despite such rejoinders, most Vatican observers believe that the project of a patriarchate for the Greek Catholics is on hold for the moment, yielding to what is seen as the greater good of not rupturing ties with the Orthodox world.

* * *

With this as backdrop, Bartholomew's weeklong visit was a reminder of the progress that has been made in ecumenical dialogue despite recent tensions. It fell on the 40th anniversary of the historic encounter between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964, when the two men embraced in Jerusalem and mutually rescinded the anathemas that the Eastern and Western churches hurled at one another following the split in 1054.

John Paul, as he so often does, used the occasion to "purify the memory" of the Catholic church, offering what amounted to a muted apology for the Fourth Crusade of 1204, when Western forces sacked Constantinople.

He referred to the "painful episodes of history" that had cast a shadow over the Catholic/Orthodox relationship.

"In particular, we cannot forget what happened in the month of April 1204," he said. "How can we not share, at a distance of eight centuries, the anger and the pain?"

In remarks at the June 29 Mass, John Paul called the Catholic church's commitment to ecumenism "irrevocable," while Bartholomew urged swift resolution of all Catholic-Orthodox differences that are not "dogmatic or essential."

Marking the ecumenical spirit of the June 29 liturgy, an Orthodox choir chanted an opening doxology in Greek while Bartholomew and John Paul II processed in together. The gospel reading, Peter's confession of Christ as the son of God, was chanted in both Latin and Greek. In the final flourish, both Bartholomew and John Paul delivered homilies.

Bartholomew said this was an occasion of both joy and sadness, joy at the progress that has been made in overcoming old antagonisms, but sadness that "we have not reestablished full communion between our two churches."

As a sign of that incomplete communion, Bartholomew got up after the liturgy of the word was complete, and before the pallium ceremony, and left the altar. He took a chair among the cardinals facing the pope and followed the rest of the liturgy as an observer rather than a celebrant.

Two footnotes.

Bartholomew delivered his homily in fluent Italian, a legacy of his days from 1963-1968 as a student in canon law at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. Observers who knew him then said he was "open," "friendly," and "actively engaged in the life of the institute." It was obvious, they say, he was going places.

It's striking that there were no metropolitan archbishops from any of the Oriental churches in communion with Rome in line to receive the pallium June 29. One has to imagine this was not left to chance. The last time Bartholomew came to Rome for the Feast of St. Peter and Paul was in 1995, and on that occasion an Oriental archbishop was scheduled to be part of the ceremony: Judson Procyk, the Ruthenian Archbishop of Pittsburgh in the United States. Procyk had been accompanied by a group of well-wishers expecting to see him in St. Peter's Square, but at the last minute he was informed that he would instead receive the pallium privately from the pope. In deference to Orthodox sensitivities, Procyk was scrubbed from the public ceremony. That sort of brutta figura was evidently avoided this time around.

* * *

Bartholomew I and John Paul II released a common declaration July 1. It was largely a rather generic fervorino in favor of continued ecumenical progress, but it did contain one specific commitment. The two men called for the resumption of work by the Mixed International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, the official vehicle for dialogue between the two sides. The commission has been suspended for four years, after talks in Baltimore broke down over the question of the Eastern Catholic churches.

The commission "can remain a worthy instrument for studying ecclesiological and historical problems that are at the base of our difficulties, and for identifying hypotheses for solutions," the two leaders said.

"It is our duty to continue in a decisive commitment to reactivating its labors as soon as possible."

* * *

Four Americans received the pallium June 29: Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Archbishops Sean O'Malley of Boston, Henry Mansell of Hartford, and Raymond Burke of St. Louis.

The origin of the wool used in the pallium is among Rome's most charming traditions. Every year on January 21, the feast of St. Agnes, the pope blesses several baby lambs raised by the Trappist Fathers of the Abbey of the Three Fountains. When the time comes, the lambs are sheared and their wool made into the pallium by the Sisters of St. Cecilia. According to tradition, the lambs are later slaughtered and served for the Easter meal by the sisters.

The palliums are blessed by the pope on June 29 and then placed in a coffer below the Altar of the Confession in St. Peter's Basilica, so they may rest for a year near the remains of the first pope. Hence the palliums received this year were actually produced one year ago.

The ceremony is a good opportunity to catch archbishops in Rome. I happened to bump into the normally media-adverse O'Malley, for example, in Roberto's, one of my favorite Roman restaurants. I asked him if he had brought a group of well-wishers from Boston, and O'Malley replied that given the "tough times" in Boston, he felt it would be inappropriate to be too festive. In fact, some pilgrims from Boston did accompany O'Malley, who celebrated a Mass for them on Friday. It was not, however, at archdiocesan expense, and O'Malley did everything possible to avoid impressions of a junket.

O'Malley's trip to Rome comes on the heels of a widely anticipated and controversial decision to close 65 parishes in the Boston archdiocese.

* * *

I was invited to a luncheon this week with a delegation from the Anti-Defamation League, an American activist group dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism around the world, which was in Rome for meetings with Vatican officials.

Their agenda was to ask the Vatican to push Latin American church leaders to be more aggressive in fighting anti-Semitism, since ADL polling shows that 44 percent of Latin American immigrants in the United States are "seriously infected" with anti-Semitic attitudes. That compares with 20 percent of native-born Hispanics in the United States, suggesting that the problem originates in Latin America.

Abraham Foxman, director of the ADL, told journalists at the luncheon that he believes the Latin American Catholic church has not taught the Vatican II declaration on non-Christian religions, Nostra Aetate, with the same vigor as the Catholic church in North America and Europe. That failure, he argued, combined with poverty and a general lack of education, breeds anti-Semitic prejudice.

"We're asking the Vatican to take a leadership role," Foxman said. "The priests, bishops and cardinals in Latin America need to speak like they do in the United States. If the Vatican makes this a priority, it will happen."

Foxman suggested that Latin American Catholic leaders use the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate in October 2005as an opportunity for a major push to combat anti-Semitism. He also said that the current meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, happening now in Buenos Aires, Argentina, would be a good occasion to begin organizing such a campaign.

Foxman said that aside from general alarm over anti-Semitism anywhere, there are two reasons that Latin American Catholicism is of special concern to American Jews. First, because the Hispanic community is growing rapidly in the United States, swelled by immigrants from Latin America; and second, because the Latin American church is likely to have a growing influence in global Catholicism.

While in Rome, the ADL delegation met with Fr. Norbert Hoffman, the staff officer for the Council for Religious Relations with Jews; Msgr. Pietro Parolin, the number three official in the Secretariat of State; and Cardinal Georges Cottier, theologian of the papal household.

Finally, I asked Foxman which American Catholic leader in his experience has been the best on Jewish issues. He responded, as I suspected he would, Cardinal William Henry Keeler of Baltimore, who has a long track record of concern for the Jewish community. Foxman added that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., has also been supportive.

* * *

The Vatican has confirmed that John Paul II will visit Lourdes, the famous Marian sanctuary in France, August 14-15. The official occasion for the trip is the 150th anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on Dec. 8, 1854, in the bull Ineffabilis Deus.

Two points to clarify that are sure to come up in media discussion of the trip.

First, the phrase immaculate conception does not refer, as is sometimes assumed, to the belief that Mary conceived Jesus without sexual relations, i.e., while remaining a virgin. That's the Feast of the Annunciation. The immaculate conception refers to the belief that Christ's mother, Mary, was herself born without the stain of original sin.

Second, the fact that the church did not declare this dogma until the 19th century does not mean that Pius made it up. In fact, church fathers as early as the 2nd century called Mary "the new Eve," and devotion to her immaculate conception can be found in the Eastern church by the 7th century. To be sure, the doctrine was resisted. It's one of the few theological arguments that St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, ever lost; Aquinas believed that every act of natural conception, including the birth of Mary, involved the transmission of original sin. Still, the point is that Pope Pius IX's decision was more like the resolution of an old debate than an innovation.

Nevertheless, the two 19th century dogmas of the Catholic church, the immaculate conception and papal infallibility (declared in 1870), form one of the most serious challenges in ecumenical dialogue. Since they arose after the split between East and West and the Protestant Reformation, the question is whether it's fair for Roman Catholics to insist on adherence to these doctrines as a condition of reunion.

It's not clear whether the pope will take up this question during his brief stop in Lourdes, marking his seventh visit to France and his second to the Lourdes sanctuary (the other came in 1983).

He will certainly, however, touch on the famed healing properties of Lourdes.

The sanctuary's official Web site lists 66 cures at Lourdes that have been officially recognized as miraculous by the church, the first coming in 1858 and the most recent in 1987. Popular tradition, however, recognizes untold thousands of interventions due to Our Lady of Lourdes and the miraculous waters of the shrine, and hence Lourdes has become a global symbol of healing. John Paul will pay special tribute to this aspect of Lourdes by staying overnight in a house for the sick.

* * *

Any good communicator knows that it's not enough just to say something once. To really get a message across, it must be repeated over and over, so that it penetrates the rattle and hum of ordinary distractions.

Ambassador James Nicholson, America's representative to the Holy See, gets the point.

Nicholson was at it again June 30, pushing the issue of trafficking in human beings with a three-way videoconference. The meeting linked John Miller, the State Department's top official on the trafficking issue, and his staff in Washington with the American embassies to Italy and to the Holy See. The conference was hosted and coordinated by Nicholson.

Conventional estimates are that some 800,000 to 2 million people are victims of trafficking each year, some 80 percent women and most involved in the sex trade. The truth, however, is that no one really knows exactly what the numbers are, because, as Miller said during the conference, "victims don't line up, raise their hands and say, 'count me.' "

Nicholson has made the anti-trafficking push a front-burner priority during his term at the Vatican, among other things arranging for State Department funding for a new program to train religious women around the world to become anti-trafficking activists. He's enlisted the aid of Consalata Sister Eugenia Bonetti, who leads anti-trafficking efforts for the Italian Conference of Women Religious. In a recent U.S. State Department report, she's listed as one of eight "heroes" in the worldwide anti-trafficking campaign.

Bonetti was present at the June 30 videconference.

The event came on the heels of a June 17 conference organized by Nicholson in conjunction with the Gregorian University, on the theme of "A Call to Action: Joining the Fight Against Trafficking in Persons."

"I think we have a moral obligation to remove the shackles that today keep hundreds of thousands - perhaps millions - of men, women and children from enjoying their freedom," Nicholson told that gathering.

One new horizon in the anti-trafficking effort, Nichsolon said, is a focus not just on supply mechanisms, especially criminal syndicates, but also on demand in developed countries.

"The criminals are also those whose demands make trafficking a lucrative business," Nicholson said. "[It's also] the so-called entrepreneurs who want low-cost labor for their factories; homeowners who want cheap maids and babysitters and gardeners; surgeons and their patients who do not care where a donor organ may come from; and, the men who willingly pay to sexually exploit women and children."

Also on hand for the June 30 videoconference were Msgr. Ettore Balestrero of the Secretariat of State; Fr. Francis Thoolen from the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples; Msgr. Frank Dewane from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Fr. Frank Case, a senior Jesuit official; and Fr. Hugh Cleary, superior general of the Holy Cross fathers.

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

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