The Word From Rome
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July 15, 2005
Vol. 4, No. 40

John L. Allen Jr.


Benedict's busman's holiday; The papal entourage; Communion and Liberation; Vatican finances; Cardinal Sodano on terrorism ; Ratzinger homestead up for sale


Benedict XVI is on vacation this week in Les Combes di Introd, a small locality in the Val d'Aosta region in the Alps of northern Italy. He's staying in the same chalet , built by the Salesian religious order, that John Paul II used 10 times for brief summer breaks. The only public appearances on the pope's schedule are two Angelus addresses, July 17 and 24.

The pope will leave the Alps on July 28 to head for Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence overlooking Lake Albano. That respite will be interrupted by his August 18-21 trip to Cologne, Germany, for World Youth Day. I'll once again be on the papal plane for that trip.

This being Joseph Ratzinger, "vacation" does not mean idleness or leisure in the traditional sense. Unlike John Paul II, Benedict is not a man given to long walks in the mountains as a form of meditative prayer. Instead, he has shipped several cases of books and papers to the nine-room, two-story chalet in Les Combes as resources for his thinking and writing. Since his normal round of audiences, meetings with heads of state and curial officials, and other ceremonial duties are suspended, he has time to concentrate on shaping the main intellectual and administrative lines of his pontificate.

Some time ago, the pope made reference to this dimension of his break: "I can't wait to go on vacation, because I have much to think about."

By general agreement, the main tasks on the pope's agenda in Les Combes are the following:

  • First encyclical: In modern papacies, the encyclical has emerged as the most important instrument of teaching, and the first one of a pontificate is generally considered the "programmatic" encyclical, where the "big ideas" of the papacy are laid out. Paul VI's Ecclesiam Suam in 1964 was a meditation on the church, and Paul's program of upholding the essentials of its tradition while adapting to new circumstances; John Paul II's Redemptor Hominis in 1979, meanwhile, underscored the centrality of the human person, which would be the theological underpinning of his challenge to the Soviet system, as well as to Western consumerism and secularization.
  • Most expect that in his first encyclical, Benedict XVI will take up the relationship between truth and freedom, laying out the philosophical and theological basis for his struggle against the "dictatorship of relativism" in the developed West. A related theme is likely to be the centrality of Christ in human history, over against forms of religious relativism that treat Christ as one savior or source of revelation among the variety of the world's great religions.

  • Appointments: Most observers believe Benedict wants to do more than play musical chairs; he wants to change the culture of the Roman Curia, anchoring it more in doctrinal and evangelical considerations, and less in bureaucratic, careerist, and diplomatic impulses. In that regard, the choice of an eventual successor to Cardinal Angelo Sodano as the Secretary of State looms as critically important. Inside the Roman Curia, the monsignori who work at the Secretariat of State represent something of an aristocracy, and graduates of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the elite school for diplomats, who traditionally govern the Secretariat of State, form an aristocracy-within-an-aristocracy. If the pope wants to reorient the sociology of the Vatican, therefore, this is where he will begin.
  • Under John Paul II, it was long believed that the leading candidates for Secretary of State were Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, currently prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, currently prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Both are Italian, both are products of the Academy. Both have served in overseas diplomatic postings, and both have worked inside the Secretariat of State. Both are known as efficient managers and flexible problem-solvers.

    These characteristics, however, no longer seem automatic guarantees of advantage.

    Neither do the current deputies in the Secretariat of State, 61-year-old Italian Archbishop Leonardo Sandri (the sostituto), or 70-year-old Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo (the foreign minister), necessarily seem to fit Benedict's bill. Lajolo, for example, was the nuncio in Germany at the time of a dispute over a system of abortion counseling that pitted pragmatists among the German bishops and at Secretariat of State against Ratzinger's more doctrinaire stand.

    One rumor making the rounds is that Benedict XVI may go outside the diplomatic service to select the next Secretary of State. One widely mentioned candidate is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, the pope's former deputy at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Bertone, an Italian, is familiar with the Secretariat of State from his time in the curia -- he knows both its strengths and its defects. As a Ratzinger lieutenant, he also knows the pope's vision. A Salesian, Bertone has an outgoing personality and "people skills." He was, for example, the Catholic church's top negotiator during the soap opera surrounding Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo and his on-again, off-again wedding to a member of the Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in the summer of 2001.

    As important as it is, the Secretary of State is just one item on a long list of important appointments the new pope has to make. Within the Roman Curia, there are six other officials who are either at, or very near, the typical retirement age of 75: Cardinal Moussa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, who will be 75 in September; Dario Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, 76; Cardinal Stephen Hamao, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees, 75; Cardinal Julian Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, 75; Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who turns 75 on August 30; Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Vatican City-State, 77.

    Some Italian observers have predicted a "tsunami" of personnel moves in the Vatican this fall, and while Benedict will no doubt take measured and thoughtful steps, these open slots already suggest a "changing of the guard."

    In addition, there are important residential appointments to be made around the world. One keenly anticipated decision will come in the United States, where Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., turned 75 on July 7. Whether Pope Benedict chooses to quickly accept his resignation, and, if so, who he taps as McCarrick's successor, will be important signals. Other major sees where the incumbent is already past 75 include Detroit, Toronto, Warsaw, Kampala and the pope's own home diocese, Munich-and-Freising.

    For the record, the oldest cardinal-archbishop in the world still in the saddle, so to speak, is Cardinal Kazimierz Swiatek of Minsk in Belorussia, 90. Most observers believe he will eventually be replaced by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, currently head of the Archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow. Kondrusiewicz, who grew up in Belorussia, was apostolic administrator in Minsk from 1989 to 1991. The problem is finding a suitable replacement for Kondrusiewicz in Moscow, since it's important for political reasons not to import another Pole as head of the Russian Catholic church.

  • Trips: When he was in peak health, John Paul generally scheduled three or four major foreign trips each year. No one expects Benedict XVI to travel as much or as extensively, which means that proportionately more thought has to be invested in selecting the trips he does want to make.
  • Further, at 78, Pope Benedict is aware that the years in which he will have the physical capacity to travel are no doubt limited.

    Given the ecumenical thrust of his pontificate, one criterion that will be applied to prospective trips is whether they promise some benefit in terms of Christian unity. This is why many observers take seriously the prospect of a papal trip to Istanbul for the Feast of St. Andrew on Nov. 30, the patronal feast of the Phanar, the headquarters of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

    At least two factors will have to be considered.

    First, Benedict is concerned about advancing the relationship with the Orthodox across the board, but perhaps especially in Russia, which is the largest branch of the Orthodox family and in many ways the most influential. There is a rivalry between the Patriarch of Constantinople, the primus inter pares among Orthodox patriarchs, and the Patriarch of Moscow. That tension is likely to accelerate if, as rumored, the three branches of the Orthodox church in Ukraine decide to unite and request recognition of autocephalous (i.e., independent) status from Constantinople, a move that would be a devastating blow to Moscow, which receives a sizeable chunk of its vocations, faithful and financial support from Ukraine. Benedict will have to be sure that his outreach to Constantinople does not further drive a wedge between the Catholic church and Moscow.

    Second, the diplomatic subtext to the trip will be the question of Turkey and the European Union. On several occasions, then-Cardinal Ratzinger expressed doubts about Turkey's candidacy; most recently in his book The Europe of Benedict in the Crisis of Cultures, he wrote that admitting a nation in Europe whose roots are non-Christian would mean that "God has nothing to do with public life and the basis of the state." The pope's Turkish hosts would try to encourage the pope to soften his line, while opponents of Turkey's entry would be looking for a reaffirmation of his opposition.

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    * * *

    Corriere della Sera, the most-read newspaper in Italy, published a much-anticipated issue of its weekly magazine on Thursday, titled "The Clergy of Ratzinger." Sporting a cover photo of Fr. Georg Gänswein, the pope's private secretary, the issue was dedicated to the key people around the pope -- those already in place, and those yet to come.

    Never let it be said that Vatican personnel don't have a streak of vanity like the rest of us. I stopped by the newsstand in St. Peter's Square at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, and copies of the magazine were already sold out.

    Though all of this is speculation, the magazine suggested that two figures who were constantly at the side of John Paul II, papal liturgist Archbishop Piero Marini and Prefect of the Papal Household Archbishop James Harvey, will soon be replaced by two longtime Ratzinger intimates. Msgr. Franco Camaldo, who handled ceremonial functions for Ratzinger as a cardinal, would get Marini's spot, and Bishop Josef Clemens, Gänswein's predecessor as Ratzinger's secretary, would move into Harvey's post. (The piece noted, however, that some have also suggested Biblical scholar Bruno Maggioni for Marini's job).

    The piece also suggests that Sepe may soon be leaving the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, to be replaced by Indian Cardinal Ivan Dias of Mumbai. Under this scenario, Sepe could end up replacing Cardinal Michele Giordano in Naples, Sepe's home.

    On other matters, an intriguing sidebar offers some details on Benedict XVI's eyewear. The pope's vision is "anisometropic," which means that he sees fine at a distance out of one eye and close-up in the other. He wears Serengeti sunglasses, the same brand as actor Val Kilmer, and his regular glasses are by Cartier.

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    * * *

    I've often been asked what Benedict XVI's relationship is with the so-called "new movements," such as the Focolarini, the Neocatechumenate, the Legionaries of Christ, Opus Dei, and so on.

    As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had plenty of opportunities to get to know the movements. Members of Focolare, for example, work in the congregation as secretaries and staff. Three members of Opus Dei serve as consultors: Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz, vicar-general of Opus Dei, and thus the number two official in Opus Dei; Msgr. Angel Rodriguez Luño; and Msgr. Antonio Miralles. All three men teach in the theology faculty at the University of Santa Croce, the Opus Dei-run institution in Rome. Ocáriz was one of the principal authors of the 2000 document Dominus Iesus, on the relationship between Christianity and other world religions, a theme at the heart of the pope's theological concerns.

    In addition, the new pope has one other source for insight into the world of Opus Dei - his private secretary, Gänswein, who is not a member of Opus Dei, but who taught on the faculty of canon law at Santa Croce for five years. His area was the munus docendi, or the teaching office of ordained ministers in the church.

    Among all the new groups, however, perhaps the one to whom the pope has the closest tie is Communion and Liberation, a movement founded in Italy in 1954 by Fr. Luisi Giussani. Its aim is the "mature Christian education" of its members, to the end of carrying out the evangelizing mission of the church in all sectors of society. In Italy, after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the ciellini, as they are known, represented a more conservative alternative to reform-minded progressive currents in the church, especially in Milan. Communion and Liberation is also known for its political engagement, bringing a Christian vision of society to public policy debates. Its annual meeting in late August in Rimini always attracts a cross-section of Italian and European political elites.

    In February, when Guissani died at 82, Ratzinger was tapped by John Paul II to deliver the funeral homily.

    "Father Giussani grew up in a family that had little bread but a lot of music," Cardinal Ratzinger said. "But such beauty was not enough for him for he wanted a greater beauty, an infinite beauty, and found it in Christ".

    In addition to the writings of Guissani, Pope Benedict has one very intimate connection to Communion and Liberation: the celibate lay women who belong to Memores Domini, a branch of the movement, who take care of the papal kitchen both in Rome and on the road (two female members of Memores Domini are residing with the pope now in his chalet in Les Combes).

    Members of Memores Domini put their property in common, practice chastity, and live obedience, but they do not wear religious habits nor take vows. They are supposed to devote at least a couple of hours of their day to prayer and contemplation, but remain "totally immersed in the world" and earn their living by their own work. In that sense they resemble numeraries of Opus Dei, who live together in centers and turn over much of their income to Opus Dei activities, but who remain secular professionals holding lay jobs.

    On December 8, 1988, Memores Domini was approved by the Vatican as a "Private Universal Ecclesial Association" by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, at the time headed by an American, Cardinal Francis Stafford.

    With members of Memores Domini inside the pope's household, meaning his most intimate circle of collaborators and friends, it's a good bet that Communion and Liberation will get more than a fair hearing in this pontificate.

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    * * *

    In what has become an annual summer ritual, the Vatican once again presented its annual financial statement on July 10. As reported in "The Word from Rome" last week, the Vatican was in the black for 2004, after three straight years of deficits.

    The Vatican budget includes costs for the various departments of the Roman Curia, including 2,663 employees and 1,429 retirees, as well as diplomatic missions in 118 countries and nine international organizations.

    Basically speaking, it costs about $250 million a year to run the Vatican. The money comes from three principal sources:

    • Contributions from bishops' conferences, dioceses, religious orders, individual lay donors and "other entities." For 2004, that total came to $89 million. Of this amount, roughly $27.2 million came from individual dioceses under the terms of canon 1271 of the Code of Canon Law, which obligates dioceses to contribute to the financial support of the Holy See. (The sum represents an 8 percent increase over the previous year). This means that the 2,883 ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the world gave an average of $10,000 each in 2004, though no doubt wealthy archdioceses gave much more, and lots of smaller dioceses gave little or nothing.
    • Earnings on real estate, which refers principally to roughly 30 buildings and 1,700 apartments owned by the Holy See in Rome, which in 2004 produced revenue of $64.5 million, owing to the inexorable rise in property values in urban Rome.
    • Earnings from investments and other financial activities, with the Vatican's portfolio divided into 80 percent bonds and 20 percent stocks. In 2004, the financial statement did not provide a comprehensive total for this sector, but doing the math, earnings must have been in the range of $100 million. The statement noted that the sector showed an improvement of $21.5 million, attributed to an improved situation in financial markets in 2004.

    A July 9 statement from the Vatican also indicated that contributions to Peter's Pence, a fund to support papal charities that is not part of the regular Vatican budget, totaled $52 million in 2004, a decline of 7.4 percent. Officials did not indicate which countries were responsible for the decline.

    The final surplus of $3.74 million was touted by officials as an impressive result, especially given that Vatican employees got a 9 percent raise in 2004.

    Officials said they did not yet have an estimate of the costs associated with the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI, which they said would be presented with the financial statement for 2005.

    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 financial news last week during meetings in Rome. While pleased with the slight surplus in 2004, frustrations remain about certain aspects of the Vatican's financial management, above all its extraordinarily conservative investment policy with a mix of 80 percent low-yield bonds and 20 percent stocks.

    Cardinal Sergio Sebastiani, president of the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, called this a "prudent policy" in a July 11 press conference, motivated by a desire to protect the Vatican's patrimony. That patrimony dates from the 1929 Lateran Pacts, which resolved the "Roman question" with a lump sum payment from the Italian state to the Holy See in compensation for the loss of the Papal States

    Some cardinals, however, think this prudence is carried too far. They have proposed that the Holy See contract with an outside financial agency to manage the Vatican's investments, setting reasonable expectations for performance and evaluating the firm accordingly.

    To the objection that the Vatican already has a staff for such things, one cardinal told me last week, "We could pension them all off tomorrow and make back whatever it would cost, and then some, in the course of one year."

    This is a sore point for residential bishops obligated to contribute funds for Vatican operations, who feel that a responsible but slightly more aggressive investment policy could reduce the burden on local dioceses at a time when many other demands are competing for resources.

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    * * *

    There was a mini-flap last week in the Vatican over the wording of Pope Benedict's July 8 telegram of condolence to Cardinal Cormac-Murphy O'Connor of Westminster in response to the London bombings. Signed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Secretary of State, in the name of the pope, the telegram condemned the bombings as "barbaric acts against humanity."

    An earlier draft of the telegram prepared by Sodano, however, also called the bombings "anti-Christian," seeming to raise the specter of a religious dimension to the violence. That version was leaked by Sodano's office to the Italian news agency ANSA, which ran it as the official version of the pope's comments. Even though the phrase was not in the official text released just moments later, many news outlets continued to repeat it throughout the day.

    The NCR story on the episode can be found here: Pope's condolence telegram causes flap.

    On one level, the story is a journalistic cautionary tale -- do not put words into sources' mouths, even when their own staffs leak a text. We all know that the communiqués of presidents and prime ministers go through several drafts before becoming official, and there's no reason the same thing shouldn't happen with popes.

    On another level, it's a reminder to Vatican diplomats to pick their words carefully. In the over-heated atmosphere a terrorist strike always causes, many experts say, the last thing people need is a respected world leader ratcheting up the tension by suggesting an element of "holy war." That was not the intent, but it could have been the effect.

    On July 10, after Sodano took possession of a new titular church following his election as dean of the College of Cardinals, he spoke to reporters about the telegram incident, explaining what he meant by "anti-Christian."

    "Terrorism is always anti-Christian," Sodano said.

    "It is a crime that offends the law of Christ, it is certainly anti-Christian. In the sense that it goes against the law of love that is the law of Christ. This has always been the line of the magisterium of the church, which indicates as anti-Christian murder, theft, every immorality, every violation of the dignity and the rights of the human person."

    "I don't therefore see the reason for so much scandal and so many reservations about this term, at least if one enters into our way of confronting the problem."

    "I understand that there was a question of whether this was opportune," Sodano said, "but I insist on saying that the pope and the bishops have always qualified as 'anti-Christian' the inhuman crime of terrorism, whoever the author of the crime and whoever the victim. They've called it [anti-Christian] in Ireland, in Spain, in Latin America, in the Middle East, and in various African countries starting with Rwanda. The magisterium can't do any less than affirm that every act of terrorism is anti-Christian, because it is against the law of God, which is the law of universal love."

    "It would be interesting to re-read the speeches of the late John Paul II," Sodano said, "delivered during visits in various countries tormented by terrorist violence, from Drogheda in Ireland to Loyola in Spain, to Ayacucho in Peru. I believe that such research would illustrate well the affirmation that I made before, that every act of terrorism is anti-Christian."

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    * * *

    I've been to the two-story house in Marktl-am-Inn, Bavaria, where Joseph Ratzinger was born in 1927, but that was before he became pope. In those days, the house was marked by a small sign saying that Ratzinger, the prefect of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation, was born there, and nobody paid much attention.

    In the weeks since his election, however, the house has become a major media attraction and pilgrimage site, rendering the life of its current owner, a physiotherapist and single mother named Claudia Dandl, and her two girls, 8 and 10, well-nigh impossible.

    As a result, Dandl has hired a real estate specialist in Munich to help her sell the property. Bidders have until Aug. 22 to make offers.

    The mayor of Marktl-am-Inn, Hubert Gschwendtner, has said he wants the town to buy the property and convert it into a museum. In reports carried widely in German and Italian media, Gschwendtner has warned, however, that the town may not have the resources to compete against deep-pocket bidders, and has now raised the specter of a potential embarrassment: the Scientologists, Gschwendtner says, want to buy the pope's house.

    Acting through an intermediary, the mayor said, the Church of Scientology is bidding to become the new owner, for purposes that remain obscure. It's not clear how the mayor knows this, nor why the Scientologists would pay top dollar for a facility in a small Bavarian town that seems unpromising territory for new recruits.

    It's probable that Marktl-am-Inn will take its place alongside Wadowice, Poland, the hometown of John Paul II, as a modern Catholic pilgrimage destination. Who exactly will be there to welcome the pilgrims remains to be seen.

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

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