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 The Word From Rome

October 3, 2003
Vol. 3, No. 6

global perspective


Contrary to conventional wisdom, which holds that John Paul II should have "stacked the deck" with like-minded conservatives in order to ensure that his successor is a man much like himself, the pope has given the Church quite a diverse bunch of new cardinals.?

The pope's health; A look at the new cardinals; More news of the liturgy abuse draft document


The pope’s physical struggles in Slovakia, the cancellation of his Sept. 24 general audience, and an interview with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the German magazine Bunte in which Ratzinger invited prayers for the pope, produced widespread alarm this week that John Paul was about to die.  I received scores of panicked phone calls from editors and special project planners wanting to know if the curtain was about to go up on what TV contracts euphemistically refer to as the “papal death event.”

My response? Calm down.

One of these times, of course, the alarmists will be right. Given the pope’s age, the burdens of office, and the cumulative toll of his Parkinson’s disease and other ailments, he could take a dramatic turn for the worse at any moment. I spoke to a member of the pope’s inner circle on Oct. 1, and for the first time in our conversations he allowed that John Paul’s overall fragility — his immobility, his breathing, his motor functions — has him worried. The pope’s heavy schedule in October, with at least one major public event almost every day, is also a source of concern.

Yet anyone who has followed John Paul knows that rumors of his demise have been around for 20 years. Even if we are in a new phase, in which the pope becomes increasingly more of a spectator to his own pontificate, that phase could endure for a long time. Between now and the inevitable, there will be a series of false alarms, and while it’s wise to be prepared, it’s also a good idea not to get terribly carried away with every rumor that floats along.

On Oct. 2, a colleague from The Australian helped get me into a small press briefing with Alexander Downer, the Australian Foreign Minister, after his meeting with John Paul. I asked Downer about his impressions of the pope’s health. He confirmed what many have said, which is that John Paul simply does not look or sound like someone in grave crisis.

“It’s not like in the media,” Downer said. “He’s not a man on the brink.”

Downer said he found John Paul to be “a very gentle, decent, spiritual old man,” who was “in the circumstances, engaged in the conversation and very interested in Australia.”

On Oct. 1, the pope seemed in good form at his Wednesday general audience. Time will tell how he holds up over the next four weeks.

* * *

Interest in the papal succession has been revived not merely by the pope’s health, but by his announcement Sept. 28 of 31 new cardinals to be created in a consistory Oct. 21. The timing caused eyebrows to go up across the Catholic world.

Most observers, including me, had expected a consistory in February rather than October. That would have been consistent with the traditional timing. Consistories are generally held either on Feb. 22, the feast of the Chair of Peter, or on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Both feasts emphasize the link with Peter that is at the heart of the cardinal’s identity.

In my conversations with Vatican officials as late as early September, they felt that holding a consistory in October would be premature. Moreover, it would detract from what they wanted to be the main story of that month, which is John Paul’s 25th anniversary on Oct. 16. Inevitably, too, moving up the consistory date would fuel speculation about the pope’s health.

In the end, however, common sense prevailed. Since all the cardinals of the world have to be in Rome for the anniversary and the beatification of Mother Teresa on Oct. 19 anyway, the most rational thing was to proceed with the consistory now rather than forcing them to come back four months later.

* * *

Contrary to conventional wisdom, which holds that John Paul II should have “stacked the deck” with like-minded conservatives in order to ensure that his successor is a man much like himself, the pope has given the Church quite a diverse bunch of new cardinals.

Of the 31 appointees, four are past the age of 80 and therefore ineligible to vote for the next pope. One was appointed in pectore, meaning secretly.  That leaves 26 new electors.

Of these 26, only seven are clear doctrinal conservatives whose primary interest lies in intra-church debates. They include: George Pell, 62, of Australia; Justin Rigali, 68, of Philadelphia; Tarcisio Bertone, 68, of Genoa; Marc Ouellet, 59, of Quebec; Oscar Scheid, 70, of Rio di Janiero; Philippe Barbarin, 53, of Lyon; and Angelo Scola, 61, of Venice.

Meanwhile, six of the new cardinals are doctrinal moderates generally sympathetic to reforms such as decentralization of power and greater freedom for theological debate. They are: Keith O’Brien, 65, of Scotland; Stephen Hamao, 73, of Japan, presently head of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees; Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, 69, of Vietnam; Bernard Panafieu, 72, of Marseilles, France; Francesco Marchisano, 74, an Italian who is the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica; and Ennio Antonelli, 66, of Florence.

The largest single group in the new roster of cardinals is composed of men whose primary interest is in social justice questions outside the Church, where they take a moderate-to-progressive stance. They include: Jean-Louis Tauran, 60, currently the Vatican’s foreign minister; Renato Martino, 70, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Anthony Olubunmi Okogie,  67, Lagos, Nigeria; Josip Bozanic, 54, Zagreb, Croatia; Gabriel Zubeir Wako, 62, Khartoum, Sudan; Telesphore Placidus Toppo, 64, Ranchi, India; Rodolfo Quezada Toruno, 71, Guatemala City, Guatemala; Archbishop Carlos Amigo Vallejo, 69, Seville, Spain; Peter Erdo, 51, of Budapest, Hungary; and Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, 55, Cape Coast, Ghana.

Meanwhile, three new cardinals embody a throwback form of traditionalism that seeks to translate church teaching quasi-automatically into social policy. They are: Julian Herranz, 73, a Spaniard who heads the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts; Javier Lozano Barragan, 70, of Mexico, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care; and Attilio Nicora, 66, of Italy, prefect of the Administration of Patrimony of the Holy See.

* * *

Speaking of Pell, Downer thanked John Paul II for Pell’s nomination as a cardinal in his Oct. 2 meeting with the pope. Downer told reporters that he had thanked the pope for the honor to Pell, saying that “most Australians” were pleased — an indirect reference to criticism from more liberal Australians, including the auxiliary bishop of Canberra, Pat Power.

Power has said, “I suppose what concerns me is that many of the values that I think are dear to Australian Catholics — such as the dignity of the human person, the primacy of conscience, the theology of communion, the need for dialogue in our church, reading the signs of the times — I don’t think that they're values that are particularly clearly enunciated by Archbishop Pell.”

It should be added that a whole host of prominent Australians also lined up to offer congratulations, including Archbishops Philip Wilson, Denis Hart and Barry Hickey.

On background, sources said the negative reaction to Pell from some quarters had come up in Vatican meetings and Downer made the rounds. Vatican officials, according to those sources, seemed well aware of the reaction but not especially concerned. It was discussed in terms of how it illustrates differing conceptions of authority in the Catholic Church.

* * *

Some quick notes on each new cardinal:

1.      Jean-Louis Tauran, 60, French: The Vatican’s foreign minister, Tauran is cautious and carefully spoken. Some have touted him as the successor to Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger in Paris, but his delicate health may make that unlikely. Tauran was among the leading spokespersons for the Vatican’s opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and believes strongly in the United Nations and multi-lateralism in foreign affairs. He is multi-lingual and nimble intellectually, though sometimes shy.

2.      Renato Martino, 70, Italian: Now head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Martino was for 16 years the Holy See’s observer at the United Nations. He is a passionate, uninhibited figure on the Vatican scene. Core concerns include the Church’s social doctrine and the United Nations system. In a 2002 interview with NCR, Martino argued that the Church’s position on war, like capital punishment, is evolving towards a quasi-abolitionist stance. Theologically Martino is no radical, but belongs to a broad centrist current.

3.      Francesco Marchisano, 74, Italian: the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, Marchisano has spent a staggering 45 years in the Roman Curia. He led the commission on the cultural heritage of the Church, a job that put him in charge of the Jubilee for Artists in 2000. He earned high marks for his respectful, open dialogue with the artistic world. Looking back on his curial career, Marchisano identified his decades of ecumenical work, especially with the World Council of Churches, as a highlight.

4.      Julian Herranz, 73, Spanish: Herranz becomes the world’s second Opus Dei cardinal, after Juan Luis Cipriani of Peru. As president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, he is the Vatican’s attorney general. He has earned a reputation as humble, approachable, and intelligent, if also staunchly traditional. During the U.S. sexual abuse crisis, Herranz dealt with canonical questions. In April 2002 he criticized a climate of “exaggeration, financial exploitation and nervousness” in the United States. Herranz also complained of a “tenacious scandalistic style” in the American press.

5.      Javier Lozano Barragan, 70, Mexican: Lozano heads the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers. He is an affable, avuncular figure. He speaks English fluently, and is an old friend of American Cardinal James Francis Stafford. The two met as students at the Gregorian, and once shared an Atlantic crossing on the Andrea Doria. Lozano is rigid on doctrinal questions. In a 2002 interview with me, he said: “To understand that life is a gift from God, that it does not belong to us, that we cannot manipulate it, is quite easy. The doctrine is as clear as two plus two equals four. What’s difficult is to apply it.”

6.      Stephen Fumio Hamao, 73, Japanese: Hamao is a convert to Christianity whose family was close to the Japanese royal court (his older brother was the emperor’s butler). Hamao embodies the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences spirit of humility, simplicity, and openness to other religions. That approach has brought the FABC into conflict with conservatives, who worry that the Asian church emphasizes dialogue rather than mission. Hamao is an outspoken progressive on social questions. In a 2002 interview with me, he spoke against war in Iraq in strong terms: “A war between the United States and Iraq could not help but seem to many of the world’s people a war between white Westerners and Arabs. It would complicate relationships everywhere. It must be avoided.”

7.      Attilio Nicora, 66, Italian: Nicora, currently head of the Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See, is a specialist on church/state relations who was the architect of the 1984 revision to the concordat between the Italian bishops’ conference and the Italian government. In 1996, while he was bishop of Verona, Nicora condemned an attempt by the progressive “We Are Church” movement to collect signatures demanding reforms. Nicora argued that the petition represented a “democratic” initiative inconsistent with the Church’s identity as a communion. Collectively, he said, calls for women priests, for an OK of birth control, and so on, represent an adaptation of the gospel to modern life.

8.      Angelo Scola, 61, Italian: The patriarch of Venice, Scola is the first adherent of the Comunione e Liberazione movement to become a cardinal. He and Ouellet of Quebec represent the latest members of the Communio school, associated in the United States with intellectuals such as David Schindler of the John Paul II Institute in Washington, to enter the College of Cardinals. Scola, formerly rector of the Lateran University, is considered conservative, but with an open and curious mind. On a personal level, he is gracious and approachable. Venice produced three 20th century popes – Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul I – so many eyes will be on Scola in the next conclave.

9.      Anthony Olubunmi Okogie, 67, Nigerian: Okogie is a spokesperson for the Christian community as president of the inter-denominational Christian Association of Nigeria. He was critical of the regime of the former Nigerian leader Obasanjo, and strongly opposed the order to stone a Muslim woman named Safiya Hussaini Tundu issued by a sharia court. He is regarded as a pastoral figure without a strong personal investment in intra-ecclesiastical doctrinal debates.

10.  Bernard Panafieu, 72, French: Panafieu comes from the same diocese as Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, and reflects something of his open, progressive spirit. As president of the French bishops’ commission for relations with Islam, he has earned a reputation for a moderate, open approach, while nevertheless rejecting a “soft tolerance” that would deny differences. Panafieu brings the same approach to extensive ecumenical commitments. Known as a humble and reserved man, he also appreciates the life of the mind, having served as president of the bishops’ commission on scholarship and university life.

11.  Gabriel Zubeir Wako, 62, Sudanese: Zubeir is also on the front lines of the relationship with Islam. As the archbishop of Khartoum, he defends the 10 percent of the country’s population that is Christian, concentrated largely in the south, against what he has defined as an aggressive “Islamization.” In May 1998, he was arrested for allegedly failing to pay a bill for supplies for southern refugees, and was sentenced to prison before being eventually let go. Zubeir is regarded as a caring leader whose day-to-day concerns leave little time for engagement with lofty theological or philosophical problems.

12.  Carlos Amigo Vallejo, 69, Spanish: Amigo Vallejo is said to embody the charism of the Franciscan order, to which he belongs: humble, open, concerned with all humanity, and despite unimpeachable orthodoxy, more interested in pastoral situations than doctrinal problems. He’s spoken against ETA, the Basque terrorist movement, and in 2003 issued a pastoral letter in favor of peace. As archbishop of Tangiers from 1973 to 1982, Amigo Vallejo oversaw the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Morocco, and took part in a Christian-Islamic dialogue sponsored by the Vatican and the Libyan government.

13.  Justin Rigali, 68, United States: Rigali is an old Rome hand, who served in the first section of the Secretariat of State as head of the English desk, as secretary of the Congregation for Bishops, and as head of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, the Vatican’s school for diplomats. In these capacities he worked personally with John Paul II. During his years as archbishop of St. Louis, he earned a reputation as a capable administrator and a strong doctrinal conservative.

14.  Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien, 65, Scottish: Perhaps the most surprising pick, O’Brien is a moderate-to-progressive on doctrinal questions. During a session with journalists at the 1999 Synod on Europe, O’Brien described how cardinals from the Roman curia were choking off discussion. Recently he expressed openness to eliminating mandatory clerical celibacy. “The loss of celibacy would give great liberty to priests to exercise their God-given gift of love and sex rather than feeling they must be celibate all their lives,” O’Brien said in a newspaper interview. “It would not cause me any great worry if it was to go.” O’Brien is known as a dedicated pastor with a keen mind.

15.   Eusebio Oscar Scheid, 70, Brazilian: Although Scheid, the archbishop of Rio di Janiero, is known as a conservative for his stands on issues such as divorce and homosexuality, he is capable of surprise. In 2001, for example, he advocated the legalization of drug use. In an interview immediately after his appointment, Scheid said he favored the election of an African pope as a gesture of solidarity with the Third World. In good Brazilian fashion, he is a soccer fan.

16.  Ennio Antonelli, 66, Italian: Currently the archbishop of Florence, Antonelli served previously as bishop of Gubbio and archbishop of Perugia, as well as secretary of the Italian bishops’ conference. He is regarded as a terrific pastor who has good relations with his people, though he has struggled in the Italian bishops’ conference and in relations with the Roman curia. He is especially committed on issues of peace and justice. While he is orthodox on doctrinal issues, he is also moderate in application. He defended divorced Italian politicians, for example, saying the Church’s interest with respect to public figures was more their policy stands than their personal behavior.

17.  Tarcisco Bertone, 68, Italian: Bertone, a Salesian and the archbishop of Genoa, previously served as the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He handled high-profile assignments, including the soap opera surrounding Zambian Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo. He was also the point person within the CDF on the American sexual abuse crisis. A canon lawyer rather than a theologian, Bertone is seen doctrinally conservative. On a personal level, he is known as gracious, kind, and approachable, with a special Salesian knack for young people.

18.  Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, 55, Ghana: Turkson is president of the bishops’ conference in Ghana, and the Church’s primary spokesperson in national affairs. He has a long-standing interest in ecumenism, and has served on the official Catholic-Methodist dialogue. At the 1994 Synod for Africa, he argued in favor of “inculturation,” meaning allowing Christianity in Africa, especially its rites, to be shaped by African customs and cultures. In the same address, he suggested that the Church should be open to the “gifts of the spirit” such as signs and wonders, something the Pentecostal movements in Africa have successfully exploited.

19.  Telesphore Placidus Toppo, 64, Indian: As chair of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences’ commission on evangelization, Toppo has a somewhat more conservative theological stance than the FABC mainstream. He is an aboriginal (adivasi) Christian, of whom there are some three or four million in India, and is the first to be made a cardinal.  He has emphasized his leadership in evangelization and political-social matters within the adivasi community, which converted to Catholicism en masse from 1890 on, but which is still partly animistic and is being courted very intensely by fundamentalist Hindus (the BJP). Toppo studied in Rome and was mentored by Bishop Haenggi of Basel, back in the 1960s. Toppo is not seen as an advocate of women’s issues.

20.  George Pell, 62, Australian: Probably the strongest doctrinal conservative in the new batch of cardinals, Pell marks a change from the center-left tradition within the Australian bishops. He has drawn criticism for his handling of sex abuse allegations against priests in the Melbourne archdiocese, which he headed before the move to Sydney. On a personal basis, Pell is regarded as affable, unpretentious, and candid. He heads the Vox Clara Commission for the Congregation for Divine Worship, helping the Vatican steer a more conservative, Roman course in liturgical affairs in the English-speaking world.

21.  Josip Bozanic, 54, Croatian: The archbishop of Zagreb, Bozanic comes out of the moderate, pro-Western and pro-European wing of the Croatian episcopacy, and hence occasionally clashes with the more fiercely conservative and nationalist elements. Bozanic, for example, is cautiously supportive of cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague regarding the 1990-1995 civil war in the Balkans. Some Croatian priests and bishops have opposed the tribunal on the grounds that Croatian suspects are not criminals, but heroes.

22.  Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, 69, Vietnamese: Man is a moderate with a strong pastoral streak. He was acceptable to the communists, which means he is not an anti-Communist and is a skilled diplomat. Within the Vietnamese context, he would be a strong progressive on social issues, moderate to progressive on the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference agenda. He is seen as more sophisticated, progressive and worldly than Cardinal François Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who died of cancer last year. While he can be rather formal, he is also seen as someone who treats interlocutors as equals and is open to learning.

23.  Rodolfo Quezada Toruno, 71, Guatemala: As archbishop of Guatemala, Quezada has been described by the Journal of Church and State as exemplifying the “enlightened and relatively progressive” wing of the Latin American Church. He is a respected point of reference for public affairs, having headed a Commission for National Reconciliation until 1993, than the Civil Assembly until 1996. Right-wing elements accused him of sympathies for leftist guerillas. He was a friend and collaborator of Bishop Juan Gerardi, murdered in 1998 after a truth commission he led reported that 90 percent of human rights abuses committed during the 36-year civil war were attributable to the military or paramilitary groups.

24.  Philippe Barbarin, 53, French: Barbarin is a marathon runner. He was born in Morocco and educated at the Sorbonne and the Institut Catholique, meaning he is a genuine intellectual. He is generally regarded as a doctrinal conservative with a special affinity for Hans Urs von Balthasar. He is seen as an optimist, someone with a strong public presence and skills in media relations. He spent five years teaching in Madagascar, an experience which is said to have given him an appreciation for cultural diversity and for the challenges of administering a church with limited resources.

25.  Peter Erdo, 51, Hungarian: A gifted canon lawyer and former professor at the Gregorian University, Erdo’s academic interest was the canons of the medieval Italian Church. He also served as rector of the Catholic University in Hungary. He is the first Hungarian primate in recent memory to speak fluent Italian, a considerable advantage in his dealings with Rome. Doctrinally he is regarded as non-aligned, neither conservative nor progressive. He is close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement, and is seen as an intelligent, open leader.

26.  Marc Ouellet, 59, Canadian: As archbishop of Quebec City, Ouellet represents Francophone Canada. The former secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Ouellet is well-regarded in Rome. He is associated with the Communio school, and like Barbarin, is a devotee of von Balthasar. In some ways he is a traditionalist, and has advocated a return to Eucharistic adoration and Gregorian chant, suggesting that Quebec’s 1960s “Quiet Revolution” marked too radical a change. Yet people who have worked with Ouellet describe him as friendly, humble, and flexible. He is fluent in English, French, Italian and German.


* * *

In the “Word from Rome” of December 13, 2002, I listed 18 men I felt were likely to become cardinals in the next consistory. I was correct about 11: Pell, Scola, Scheid, Bozanic, Antonelli, Barbarin, Bertone, Erdo, Herranz, Marchisano and Martino. That’s a 61 percent accuracy rate, which in Las Vegas would be a hot hand.  (In two other cases I correctly anticipated that the pope would name new French and Spanish residential cardinals, but guessed wrong on the diocese).

Yet like all perfectionists, it’s the ones that get away that bother me. So let me confess that I was wrong about which Scottish archbishop would get the red hat. I felt confident that it would be Mario Conti of Glasgow, not Keith O’Brien of St. Andrew’s.

Journalist Stephen Mcginty, who covers church affairs for The Scotsman and is the author of This Turbulent Priest — The Life of Cardinal Thomas Winning, wouldn’t let me forget. Referring to O’Brien’s famous interview at the 1999 European synod, he wrote in his paper Sept. 29: “Senior Vatican correspondents like John L. Allen of the National Catholic Reporter thought Archbishop O'Brien had destroyed any chance of rising further. When he speculated earlier this year in his influential Letter from Rome on who would succeed Cardinal Winning, he was adamant Mario Conti – conservative, careful and diligent – would wear the hat.”

Alas, those of us who cover the pope do not share his charism of infallibility.

* * *

Finally, an update on the document on liturgical abuses being prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The current 40-page draft, contrary to earlier media reports, contains no mention of altar girls, nothing about clapping, and virtually nothing about inter-communion between Catholics and Protestants. At present it also contains nothing about dance, although this is a point that goes “back and forth” in discussions.

While inter-communion was actually the reason the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith got involved in the project, it’s been decided that this question will be dealt with in the future in another form.

The disciplinary document is a follow-up to the pope’s recent encyclical Ecclesia da Eucharistia, so its chief concern is reverence for the celebration of the Eucharist. It focuses on proper handling of the species, the distinction in roles between priests and laity in Eucharistic rites, and details such as the cleansing of the Eucharistic vessels.

“You have to understand that the Congregation for Worship gets 10 letters a day, minimum, from all over the world describing crazy stuff going on in the liturgy,” one Vatican source said. “This is in part an attempt to respond to all that, calling for reverence and seriousness in the way things are done.”

One place where Americans will notice the document’s content is on the question of lay Eucharistic ministers. The document will insist that existing law be observed, which holds that lay ministers should be employed only when sufficient priests aren’t present, and should not be “institutionalized” into an entitlement to distribute the Eucharist.

Sources insist the document will contain nothing new, in the literal sense that it simply repeats existing liturgical law. In fact, at one stage the list of footnotes to previous documents was so extensive that it had to be cut down.

Sources say the current hope is to have the document signed by John Paul II before Advent, and published before Christmas.

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

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