The Word From Rome
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July 8, 2005
Vol. 4, No. 39

John L. Allen Jr.


Benchmarks of Catholicity' for universities; Holy See finances in the black; Document on homosexuals in seminary in pope's hands; Anti-poverty rally blessed; Ecumenical outreach: Moscow and Istanbul; Preparing the synod on Eucharist; Bombing in London

BREAKING NEWS, July 9: Pope's condolence telegram causes flap


When Pope John Paul II's apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae on Catholic higher education appeared in 1990, it triggered a decade-long debate, principally in the United States, about the requirement that theologians obtain a mandatum, in effect a license, from the local bishop. The American bishops eventually adopted norms to that effect in 2001, though there are still lingering questions about implementation and follow-up.

No doubt, the debate over the mandatum raised important questions about the ecclesial character of theology, and academic freedom at Catholic institutions. Both in Rome and the States, however, there has long been frustration that the mandatum controversy sidetracked the deeper reflection about Catholic identity that Ex Corde was intended to stimulate, the scope of which cannot be limited solely to theology departments.

Now that the 2001 norms have, at least in principle, resolved the mandatum issue, and given that the sexual abuse crisis in the United States has receded enough to allow other concerns to surface, the theme of Catholic identity at colleges and universities is likely to come in for serious attention -- especially under a pope as concerned about the life of the mind as Benedict XVI.

One forum for that conversation came in late June in Rome, when a group of presidents, trustees, administrators and faculty from the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities made the rounds of several offices of the Roman curia, as part of a program organized and hosted by the Lay Centre, a residence and resource center for lay students at pontifical universities.

Perhaps the most important visit was to the Congregation for Catholic Education, where the group met with Archbishop Michael Miller, the secretary of the congregation, and the former president of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. They discussed how to identify, and to measure, what one might call "benchmarks of Catholicity."

I sat down with Miller on July 5 to talk about those benchmarks.

Miller argued that in light of widespread attention in American higher education, both secular and religious, to "outcomes assessment," meaning how well an institution accomplishes its stated goals, it should be possible for Catholic educators to agree on some measurable "markers" of Catholic identity. In the aggregate, these markers would provide data in trying to determine how "Catholic" a given institution actually is.

Some possible benchmarks, Miller said, might include:

  • Concern for social justice
  • Sacramental and devotional life
  • Curriculum -- are theology and the Christian tradition core elements?
  • Percentage of Catholics among faculty, trustees, and staff
  • Religious and doctrinal attitudes of students over time
  • Practice of the faith -- do students pray, go to Mass, express an interest in religious vocations, etc.?

Miller stressed that no one of these measures, taken in isolation, is decisive -- there may be good reasons, for example, that a particular college has not produced many vocations to the priesthood or religious life, or why few students take part in on-campus sacramental and devotional opportunities (a commuter college, for example, may score low on such an index through no fault of its own). Hence it's not a matter of "scoring" institutions, but of providing basic data that, taken together, may point up areas that need attention.

"If, at one institution, kids say they don't pray or go to Mass, and another place the weekly Mass attendance rate is 70 percent, that's probably an indicator of something," Miller said. "Even there, you'd have to do studies over time, comparing a group when they come in as freshmen and when they leave as seniors, to determine what difference the institution makes, so it's a complex analysis."

"We're all sometimes tempted to blow hot air," Miller said. "Having some hard data to work with would be helpful."

Miller pointed to one recent analysis, based on data from UCLA's Higher Education Institute, of surveys at 38 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States. The surveys compared attitudes of a group of students as freshmen in 1997 and seniors in 2001, and found that over those four years they actually became more supportive of abortion, gay marriage and sex before marriage.

"We need more studies like this before conclusions can be drawn, but it illustrates the seriousness of the issue," Miller said. He stressed that the results of such studies could be kept confidential, reported only to the institution for its own analysis.

"You have to take the results as limited, and to some extent subjective, but what else have you got?" he said.

Miller said he does not believe the Holy See can or should take the lead in an initiative of this kind.

"For one thing, it's a bit of an American idea," he said. "In American academic culture, there's already a system in place. There's an Office of Institutional Research most places, and we already collect all kinds of data for the federal government and other purposes. This isn't done in such a scientific way in other countries."

"The Holy See is interested in fostering Catholic identity, but there are tools available in the U.S. not so readily found elsewhere," Miller said.

For another thing, Miller said, much Catholic higher education in Europe is delivered through faculties of theology at state-run secular universities, which makes assessment more complicated.

Miller said that he hopes the ACCU or other groups could develop a kind of "Catholic identity" instrument for the network of more than 200 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, the largest in the world.

On the mandatum question, Miller said it's "pretty much resolved in the life of the universal church," and that he does not believe it has caused "great disruption or heartburn."

"I think it's a good and reasonable thing to expect a Catholic professor teaching Catholic theology to be in communion with the church," Miller said. "That does not seem an excessive demand."

Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Miller said, does not grant "absolute status" to academic freedom, since the discipline of theology presupposes the teaching of the church. At the same time, he said, the document "does not want to suppress creative theological work."

The Congregation for Catholic Education, by the way, has recently published an Index of Universities and Institutes of Superior Instruction of the Catholic Church, which presents a list of Catholic universities, colleges and faculties around the world, along with basic data on enrollment, type of institution, and so on. It's the first time the Holy See has attempted to put together a comprehensive global list of Catholic post-secondary institutions. In this case, the lists from each country were compiled by the apostolic nuncio, usually in collaboration with local bishops.

Miller said that if an institution is in the Index, it means it's recognized as officially Catholic. Omission of a given institution, however, could simply be an oversight. Also, in some cases institutions that are Catholic "in spirit" but not in terms of jurisdiction don't appear -- some universities affiliated with Opus Dei do not appear on the list, for example, because they're independently owned and operated as secular enterprises, even though few would mistake their Catholic ethos.

The Index is available from the Vatican publishing house for 25 Euro.

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The Vatican's annual financial statement will be presented at a press conference on Monday, July 11. We can anticipate the main headline here -- after three straight years running a deficit, the Holy See finished 2004 in the black.

The Council of Cardinals for the Study of Organizational and Economic Questions of the Apostolic See, composed of 15 cardinals from local churches around the world appointed by the pope to help oversee Vatican finances, got the news this week during meetings in Rome.

Despite the positive balance for 2004, cardinals did not come away from their meetings entirely satisfied. Some still worry about Vatican Radio, generally the most serious drain on the Vatican budget each year. Since the radio service does not take advertising or corporate sponsorship, its annual budget of $30 million for staff and equipment must be sustained almost entirely by the Holy See. (Vatican Radio has more than 400 staff and broadcasts in 47 languages). Some cardinals feel that alternative funding models for Vatican Radio must eventually be found.

Other concerns include the relatively low earnings from the Vatican's investments, which are heavily vested in low-yield bonds, and its currency exchanges, which last year actually lost money. One cardinal said that the Holy See is probably the only institution in the world which actually loses money on the currency market.

Some cardinals have suggested that the Holy See bring in outside investment firms to manage at least a portion of its portfolio, setting benchmarks for acceptable performance. To date, however, the Holy See has resisted such proposals, arguing that the office of the Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See already has a staff to handle investment activity.

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Sources indicate that the long-awaited Vatican document on the admission of homosexuals to seminaries is now in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI. The document, which has been condensed from earlier versions, reasserts the response given by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2002, in response to a dubium submitted by a bishop on whether a homosexual could be ordained: "A homosexual person, or one with a homosexual tendency, is not fit to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders."

That reply was published in the November-December 2002 issue of Notitiae, the official publication of the congregation.

It is up to Benedict XVI to decide whether to issue the new document as it stands, to send it back for revision, or to shelve it on the basis that for now such a document is "inopportune."

Several American bishops were in Rome last week for the June 29 pallium ceremony, and I spoke to some of them about the document.

Privately, some hope Benedict will decide to put the document in a desk drawer for the time being, on the grounds that it will generate controversy and negative press without changing anything in terms of existing discipline.

As one bishop put it to me, the policy against ordaining homosexuals is already clear -- the only interesting question is, what do you mean by a "homosexual"? At one end of the continuum, it could refer to anyone who once had a fleeting same-sex attraction; at another, it could be restricted to someone who is sexually active and openly part of a "gay pride" movement. Most people would exclude those extremes, but where is the line drawn in between?

Vatican sources have made clear the document will not enter into these details, and hence this bishop believes it's an unneeded headache.

Further, the bishop said, the document may make candidates less likely to be honest with formation directors about their psycho-sexual development, even though some degree of experimentation and ambivalence about orientation is not unusual, and by itself should not disqualify potential priests.

"The risk is that we drive the conversation underground," he said.

Others, however, hold that the document is needed for two reasons.

One, it will come with a higher level of authority than a response to a dubium published in the bulletin of a curial agency. This document will come with the clear authorization of the pope, perhaps in forma specifica, meaning that it draws on his personal authority. In that sense, the bishop said, it's like the relationship of John Paul's 1994 document Ordinatio sacerdotalis, on women priests, to the 1976 document Inter Insigniores from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the same subject. The teaching didn't change, but the level of authority and clarity did.

Two, the document will reject a solution that some seminaries, religious communities and bishops have tended to adopt in recent years -- that it doesn't matter if a candidate is gay, as long as he's capable of remaining celibate.

"I suspect some people, in good will, have gravitated to this idea," one bishop said. "But that's not what the church is saying, and this document will make that clear."

To date, there's been no indication of what the pope intends to do.

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Last Saturday will no doubt be remembered primarily for the "Live 8" concerts around the world, but the same day also saw a rally of 200,000 people in Edinburgh, Scotland, ahead of the G-8 summit, demanding justice for the world's poor. The event was part of the "Make Poverty History" campaign.

The rally had a decidedly Catholic flavor.

Hundreds of Kenyans march holding placards as part of the Make Poverty History campaign in the streets of the capital, Nairobi, July 2. The march was part of a day of linked events to push the G-8 industrialized nations to take action on poverty, partic ularly in Africa.
In the front lines among the protestors were Cardinals Keith O'Brien of Edinburgh, and Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England.

O'Brien said he is "scandalized by the needless suffering poverty causes," which he described as "a crime against humanity, a great injustice and one to which we must all respond. To be passive or indifferent is to be an accomplice in barbarity."

O'Brien recently visited Ethiopia, and said the experience has strengthened his commitment to anti-poverty efforts.

"Such conditions are all too often commonplace, such conditions destroy human dignity, such conditions shame us all," he said.

"Listen to the voice of your people!" O'Brien said. He urged politicians to remind themselves of "the great good it is in their power to deliver."

Pope Benedict XVI also sent a message to the rally. The full text of his message, addressed to O'Brien, follows.

"The Holy Father was pleased to be informed of the Make Poverty History rally beginning on Saturday 2 July in Edinburgh in preparation for the G8 summit. He sends greetings to all who are gathered for this event, united by their concern for the welfare of millions of our brothers and sisters afflicted by extreme poverty. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, 'God intended the earth and all it contains for the use of everyone and of all peoples; so that the good things of creation should be available equally to all' (Gaudium et Spes, 69). For this reason, people from the world's richest countries should be prepared to accept the burden of debt reduction for heavily indebted poor countries, and should urge their leaders to fulfill the pledges made to reduce world poverty, especially in Africa, by the year 2015. His Holiness prays for the participants in the rally and for the world leaders soon to gather at Gleneagles, that they may all play their part in ensuring a more just distribution of the world's goods. In the ardent hope that the scourge of global poverty may one day be consigned to history, he cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing."

On the subject of Africa, the Special Council for Africa of the Synod of Bishops met in Rome June 21-22, in part to make preparations for the special Synod on Africa that Benedict XVI has announced. Though no dates have yet been set for that session, the council identified certain key themes that should figure prominently in its discussions: evangelization, the social activity of the church, reconciliation and peace. The council will meet again in February 2006.

All this suggests that the activist, socially engaged church Benedict XVI desires under the rubric of a "creative minority" is not focused exclusively on cultural issues such as gay marriage. In equal measure, Benedict intends to push the issue of global development, especially in Africa.

This, too, shapes up as a key front in the struggle against the "dictatorship of relativism," defending the dignity of human life.

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Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly made clear that ecumenism is among the top priorities of his pontificate, and in that regard outreach to the Orthodox churches of the East takes pride of place.

A looming moment of truth awaits the pope on that front -- and, as is often the case with the Orthodox, the focal point is Ukraine.

The Russian Orthodox Church considers Ukraine part of its "canonical territory," and has long feared expansion of the 5.5-million strong Greek Catholic Church in that country, headed by Cardinal Lubomyr Husar. In part, this is an ecclesiological concern about rival ecclesiastical jurisdictions on the same territory; in part, it's a simple preoccupation with survival, since a significant percentage of Moscow's vocations, money and faithful come from Ukraine. Anytime the question of relations with the Roman Catholic Church comes up, the Russian Orthodox generally site Ukraine as a serious impediment.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, made a visit to Moscow June 20-23 for meetings with senior officials of the Russian Orthodox Church. Before the trip, he was asked by the Russian weekly Svet Evangelia if Ukraine would come up.

"No, it is not my task to speak about matters linked to another Church," Kasper said. "They themselves must do so, and this is not the scope of my negotiations. I must say that on this point, the new pope takes the same position as John Paul II."

Yet shortly after the meeting, Orthodox officials told reporters that Ukraine indeed had been on the agenda. Specifically, the Interfax news agency quoted Orthodox officials as saying that if the Greek Catholics relocate their headquarters from L'viv in the West to Kiev, the national capital, in the East, and if Husar should adopt a title that includes "Kiev," these acts would have a devastating impact on Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

Using deliberately strong language, Orthodox officials referred to "the canonical, ecclesiastic and pastoral unacceptability" of the move to Kiev.

To date, such warnings have not cowed the Ukrainians. Husar has announced that the transfer of the seat of his church, known as the "Kyiv-Halych Metropolitanate" (which covers all of Ukraine except for the Transcarpathian region), will happen sometime between August and November. The dedication of the new Resurrection Cathedral in Kiev is slated for October.

Hence, the pope's moment of truth: Will Benedict instruct Husar to slow down, in order not to offend the Orthodox?

Critics of what they saw as the Ostpolitik of John Paul II, which meant doing everything possible not to alienate Moscow, are hoping that Benedict XVI will take a firmer line. Too often, they charge, the late pope was willing to sacrifice the well-being of local Catholic churches within the Russian sphere of influence upon the altar of ecumenical progress. Other observers, however, charge the Greek Catholics with being nationalistic and intemperate in their push for relocation to Kiev, and recognition of their church as a patriarchate. Critics say the Ukrainians are unwilling to see the big picture, which is the effort to heal a millennium-old division in the Christian family.

To govern is to choose, as De Gaulle once said, and in his ecumenical policies, Benedict has some interesting choices ahead.

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Also on the ecumenical front, there has been talk in Rome of a possible papal visit to Istanbul, home of the Patriarch of Constantinople, in late November for the Feast of St. Andrew. Patriarch Bartholomew had hoped that John Paul II would make the trip last year, but for reasons of health and logistics it didn't happen. He's now invited Benedict to come, and given the new pope's ecumenical thrust, the invitation will no doubt get serious attention.

I asked a senior Vatican official about it on July 6, and this was the response:

"Bartholomew invited the pope to visit him in Istanbul. The pope thanked him for the invitation. No formal acceptance was issued. Besides, the pope only visits countries when he has received invitations both from religious and civil authorities."

One expects that Turkish authorities would be delighted to welcome the pope, despite his reservations about Turkey's candidacy to join the European Union. If they can successfully host the pope in spite of that, it would be a perfect way to show the world that Turkey tolerates differences of political opinion -- a very "European" virtue.

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On July 7, the instrumentum laboris, or working document, for the Synod of Bishops in October was presented to the press. The 90-page document sets out the main points of discussion for the synod, dedicated to theme "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church."

The document is organized into four sections: "The Eucharist and Today's World"; "The Faith of the Church in the Mystery of the Eucharist"; "The Eucharist in the Life of the Church"; and "The Eucharist in the Mission of the Church."

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, secretary of the synod, said that the document reflects a more than 90 percent response rate from the 113 bishops' conferences, 11 synods of Eastern Catholic churches, 25 dicasteries of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General (the main umbrella group of male religious). In general, the document seems concerned to promote a proper celebration of the Eucharistic rites, without much additional gloss or improvisation.

Eterovic said few respondents expressed much enthusiasm for a return to the pre-Vatican II "Tridentine" Mass.

"The overwhelming majority of responses affirmed the liturgical reforms, noting the great contribution they have made to the life of the church," Eterovic said. "There is no turning back."

"At the same time," he said," some worry about excessive verbosity in the Mass. There is a desire to let the rites speak for themselves. The people of God know the language of symbols."

Eterovic also explained procedural changes in the upcoming synod, to be held Oct. 2-23.

Benedict XVI had already announced that the synod would be shortened to three weeks from four, reflecting long-standing complaints from bishops that synods kept them out of their dioceses for too long. To accommodate the shortened schedule, the amount of time allotted for individual speeches will be pared back to six minutes from eight, and the meetings of the circoli minores, the small groups that discuss propositions to submit to the pope after the main floor sessions are concluded, will be reduced.

Responding to another long-held frustration about a lack of exchange during the proceedings, for the first time each day will conclude with an hour, from 6:00 to 7:00 pm, reserved for open discussion.

In another ecumenical gesture under Pope Benedict XVI, the number of ecumenical observers has been doubled, from six to 12. They will be able to give talks and participate in the circoli minores, but they will not have a vote on the final propositions.

It was the habit of John Paul II to attend the Synod of Bishops each day, generally missing only Wednesday mornings when he held the General Audience. I asked Eterovic if Benedict XVI also intends to be present every day, and he responded, "You have to ask the Holy Father."

Eterovic said, however, that Benedict has a great interest in collegiality, and the synod is a "privileged moment" of fraternity between members of the College of Bishops and the head of the college, the pope. Eterovic noted that Benedict has reserved the month of October on his calendar, suggesting he plans to be a regular at synod sessions.

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The Vox Clara Committee, an advisory body to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on matters of liturgical translation in English, met at the Vatican July 5-7.

Members reviewed draft translations of the new Sacramentary, or book of prayers for the Mass, produced by the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), and discussed the translation process to see where improvements could be made. Members of Vox Clara were presented to Benedict XVI during the General Audience on July 6, and then had a luncheon afterwards.

"The members noted, with great satisfaction, that the most recent renderings of ICEL constitute an immense step forward in the translation project of the Roman Rite as envisioned by the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam," a July 8 press statement read.

That statement indicated that Vox Clara hopes that ICEL can finish its work on the Sacramentary in a hurry.

"While the Committee shares the general concern for the reception of these texts by the Bishops, priests and people of the English-speaking world, the members expressed their conviction that this reception would be impeded by delays in a timely completion of the project." The release also said that Vox Clara has completed work on a draft Ratio Translationis, meaning a set of guidelines for translation of liturgical texts into English. It's intended to set out the "rules of the game" for ICEL translators and others.

Vox Clara will meet again in November 2005.

As the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was well aware of the debates surrounding liturgical translation in English, and knows the principal figures well.

In fact, on July 6, when one consultor was presented to the pope, Benedict, who obviously recognized the man, smiled and said: "So, you're still writing about liturgy?" It was one more small sign that Benedict XVI has a consummate grasp of the players and issues in intra-ecclesiastical debates; he does not need a scorecard to follow the game.

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At 2:37 pm Rome time on July 7, the Vatican released the following telegram from Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano, addressed to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England, expressing Benedict XVI's condolences in the wake of that day's bombings in London.

The text follows:

"Deeply saddened by the news of the terrorist attacks in central London, the Holy Father offers fervent prayers for the victims and for all those who mourn. While he deplores these barbaric acts against humanity, he asks you to convey to the families of the injured his spiritual closeness at this time of grief. Upon the people of Great Britain he invokes the consolation that only God can give in such circumstances."

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

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