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 The Word From Rome

October 15, 2004
Vol. 4, No. 8

global perspective


“The underlying causes are many and complex: political, social, cultural, religious; for this reason, what is still more important is long-term action, directed, with foresight and patience, at its roots, designed to stop it spreading further and to extinguish its deadly contagious effects.”

Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, Vatican foreign minister,
insisting that terrorism cannot be resisted through military means alone



John Paul opens the Eucharistic Year; Procedural justice under the code; Vatican lecture season opens; Answering e-mails  


Last Friday, I was sitting in front of the Vatican press office reading Pope John Paul II’s new apostolic letter, Mane Nobiscum Domine, when a friend of mine who works in the Holy See spotted me and stopped by.

“You know, someday that letter will be on the Index,” he said. The reference, for those too young to remember such things, was to the “index of forbidden books” once maintained by the Holy Office (today’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), until it was abolished by Paul VI.

I was taken aback, since the letter, presenting the “Eucharistic Year” John Paul has declared to run through next October’s synod on the Eucharist, didn’t strike me as particularly revolutionary.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I’m a Wojtyliano, and I will continue to say so even after this pope is gone,” he said. “But those guys,” gesturing towards the offices of the Roman Curia, “are exactly like they were before.”

The comment reveals one of the fundamental complexities in trying to assess the pontificate of John Paul II. Measured against the expectations unleashed in some quarters by the reforming thrust of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), John Paul could perhaps be considered a restorationist. He said a definitive “no” to women’s ordination, he has reasserted a wide range of traditional devotions and practices that not so long ago seemed superannuated, and he has refused to reconsider the traditional disciplines of the priestly life, to take just three examples.

Measured against previous papacies, on the other hand, John Paul can only be styled an innovator. His vision is unabashedly evangelical rather than institutional (including the admission of gross historical errors on the part of the church), he employs concepts of human rights and personalism that previous popes once excoriated, he’s unembarrassed to preach the gospel using rock-star-style trips and media events, and he is remarkably “lay” in his embrace of the legitimate autonomy of the secular sphere.

Hence while it’s “John Paul who rolled the clock back on Vatican II” who arouses the indignation of the church’s liberal wing and most secular critics, it’s “John Paul of the avante garde” who trips wires among traditionalists. Moreover, because John Paul II has never taken a direct personal interest in ecclesiastical governance, he’s not bothered in 26 years to ensure that everyone in the Vatican shares his outlook. The result is that some of his fiercest critics work just down the hall.

A senior Vatican official recently put it to me this way: “When I look at John Pual, I very much see a man of Vatican II. From my point of view, that’s not entirely a good thing.”

Mane Nobiscum Domine, as my friend intimated, contains a couple of these vintage Wojtyla touches. Under the heading of fostering a eucharistic culture, for example, the pope seems to rebuff anyone who would use spiritual authority to try to impose political or social programs:

“The ‘culture of the Eucharist’ promotes a culture of dialogue, which finds in it strength and sustenance. It would be a mistake to believe that public reference to the faith could undercut the just autonomy of the state or civil institutions, or that it could encourage attitudes of intolerance. If historically errors in this regard have not been lacking even among believers, as I had occasion to acknowledge during the Jubilee, this is to be attributed not to the ‘Christian roots,’ but to the inconsistency of Christians with respect to those roots. Whoever learns to say ‘thanks’ in the manner of the crucified Christ can be a martyr, but never a petty dictator.”

Again, while asking that Catholics make a special point of reaching out to the poor of the developing world during this eucharistic year, John Paul writes:

“We mustn’t deceive ourselves: it’s from our reciprocal love and, in particular, from the concern we have for those in need that we will be recognized as true disciples of Christ (Jn 13:35; Mt 25:31-46). This is the criterion on the basis of which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations will be confirmed.”

In terms of papal speech, this is fairly explosive stuff. John Paul is suggesting that the “authenticity” of the Eucharist, a word historically reserved to proper execution of the rubrics, actually refers to how worship translates into social concern. (By the way, it’s not that the pope is a sloppy celebrant; he calls on priests to perform the rites with fidelity in his letter. The point, however, is that following rules is not enough to make the Eucharistic celebration “authentic” in the deepest sense).

Whether such thoughts will one day end up on the index - indeed, whether there will ever again be an index - is anyone’s guess. But the persistence of reservations about the Wojtyla approach at senior levels of church government creates some very interesting questions about the future.

* * *

Much of the content of Mane Nobiscum Domine reflects the pope’s April 2003 encyclical on the Eucharist, Ecclesia da Eucaristia. In the apostolic letter, however, the pope adds some specific suggestions for observance of the eucharistic year, always cautioning that it is not his intention to disrupt pastoral programs already in place.

John Paul said the year will accomplish its purposes if two things happen: a revitalization of the Sunday liturgy, and a recovery of eucharistic adoration outside the Mass.

At an Oct. 8 press conference, Archbishop Piero Marini, the pope’s chief liturgist, summed up the various ways the pope calls the church to an examination of conscience about how the Eucharist is celebrated:

• Is the Sunday Mass a celebration of the entire parochial community (including all movements and sub-groups)?
• Is the proclamation of the Word of God, and especially the homily, truly effective in opening up the Scriptures? (The pope makes a special point of calling for care in the preparation and delivery of homilies).
• Are the reformed liturgical texts, and especially the Roman Missal, being applied in their integrity?
• Are the tone of voice, the gestures, the movements, the sense of respect, the moments of silence, the whole constellation of modes of acting consistent with the dignity of the Eucharist?
• Are people being educated in prayer, especially in the Liturgy of the Hours?
• Are communities engaging in genuine Christian witness outside the liturgy, acting upon the commission at the end of the Mass?

Not a bad check-up list, perhaps, for a parish community.

* * *

On Thursday, Oct. 14, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments released a document titled “Year of the Eucharist: Suggestions and Proposals.” It is intended to offer guidelines for reflection, along with concrete suggestions for pastoral action.

In building a spirituality of the Eucharist, the document treats the following themes:

• Hearing the Word
• Conversion
• Memory
• Sacrifice
• Thanksgiving
• Presence of Christ
• Communion and charity
• Silence
• Adoration
• Joy
• Mission

It’s striking that the document avoids reductionist tendencies of both the traditionalist and avante garde sort, insisting on uniting the communal and sacrificial elements of the Eucharist.

Under the heading of pastoral suggestions, the document calls upon bishops’ conferences to put out their own documents presenting the Eucharistic Year, addressing specific local problems (examples given: “lack of priests, weariness among priests regarding the importance of daily Mass, disaffection with Sunday Mass, abandonment of eucharistic adoration”). It also asks bishops to review the Masses broadcast on television or radio in their countries, ensuring that “questionable practices” aren’t being transmitted and that there isn’t an “excessive emphasis on show business.” It also suggests that bishops promote national Eucharistic congresses.

Parishes are encouraged to give particular attention to places where the Eucharist is reserved, meaning tabernacles and Blessed Sacrament chapels. Liturgy committees should be revived or expanded, with special attention to music. Special catechesis should be offered on what it means to be in church, including basics like genuflecting before the Blessed Sacrament (rather than generically in the direction of the altar). Communities should also educate their people about their own parish, reflecting on the art in the parish, the design of the ambo and tabernacle and sanctuary, the look of liturgical books, and other “visible signs that lead to the invisible.” Finally, parishes are asked to promote eucharistic adoration.

* * *

’Tis the season for the opening of the academic year in Rome, with the annual round of lectures at the pontifical universities. One of the most interesting this year took place at the Opus Dei-run University of the Holy Cross Oct. 11, where Msgr. Joaquín Llobell of the Faculty of Canon Law delivered the lecture “The Judicial Defense of Rights in the Church: Can the Process be Christian?”

Llobell is known as one of the premier canonists in Rome, with a particular interest in questions of procedural justice under the Code of Canon Law. The topic of due process for accused parties under the penal sections of the code, long a rather obscure topic for canonists, has burst into prominence under the weight of the sex abuse scandals, especially in the United States.

Given that the American sex abuse norms, which some canonists have criticized precisely on due process grounds, come up for re-approval by Rome in March 2005, Llobell’s presentation opens a window onto how the issues look from here.

The heart of Llobell’s argument is that while some find the idea of a judiciary, and the assertion of rights, to be contrary to the Christian spirit of “turning the other cheek,” in fact the protection of due process under the law is an intrinsic part of the church’s pastoral mission.

Llobell traces the evolution of reflection in the church on due process, noting that it was once customary to distinguish between two classes of Christians, “the perfect,” meaning those in Holy Orders and religious life, and “the weak,” meaning the laity. Legal rights and the procedures of criminal justice were considered a concession to fallen human nature, and hence appropriate only for those who were, literally, second-class citizens. Over time, a different conception arose, which emphasized the unity of the Christian vocation and hence the universality of the instruments of justice.

Llobell cites a 13th century canonist named Guglielmo Durante, who is buried in the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva: If Satan himself were accused in a judicial process, the judge should respect his right to mount a defense.

In a special way, Llobell argues that the requirements of due process serve to place limits on the exercise of power in the church. He notes that the sixth and seventh principles for the reform of the Code of Canon Law adopted by the Synod of Bishops in 1967 speak to this point:

6. “The use of power in the Church must not be arbitrary, because that is prohibited by the natural law, by divine positive law, and by ecclesiastical law. The rights of each one of Christ's faithful must be acknowledged and protected, both those which are contained in the natural and divine positive law and those derived from those laws because of the social condition which the faithful acquire and possess in the Church.

7. “The principle must be proclaimed in canon law that juridical protection applies equally to superiors and to subjects so that any suspicion of arbitrariness in ecclesiastical administration will entirely disappear.”

“The importance of not forgetting the precise content of these principles derives,” Llobell said, “among other things from the subtle, but penetrating, temptation to mortify the rights of the individual in order to protect those of the community.”

In this sense, Llobell issues a rather blunt challenge to the powers that be.

“The teaching of Christ about meekness … cannot be interpreted by authority as a sort of ‘right to commit injustice,’ nor as a right to blackmail their subjects to accept those injustices, with the pretext of contributing to communion,” he said.

Llobell cites certain key elements of due process in penal matters:

• The presumption of innocence;
• The independence of the tribunal with regard to the authority that created it;
• The public character of the evidence supporting an accusation;
• The right of the accused to produce evidence in his defense on a basis of equality with the accuser;
• The right to have all judicial measures explained;
• The right to a double level of jurisdiction as a means of appeal.

It’s worth noting that critics of the American norms have at one point or another questioned whether each one of these elements is adequately protected under the American system.

Llobell argues that neglect of due process risks grave consequences for the Church.

“Proof of the point lies in the fact that the process for the nullity of matrimony has been, in certain ecclesiastical environments, a means of denying the indissolubility of marriage and of introducing divorce into the church, as John Paul II has affirmed; and that negligence in the application of the penal process has created the sad situations in which not a few American and European dioceses find themselves,” he said.

Keen observers will note that both of Llobell’s examples of a failure in due process refer primarily to the United States.

No doubt the situation in the States, whether on annulments or sexual abuse, is singular, and it’s perhaps difficult for anyone outside that context to truly grasp it. Over the next few months, however, Vatican officials will once again be asked to pass judgment on the American norms, and it’s a good bet that concerns such as those articulated by Llobell will be on their minds.

* * *

My e-mail inbox has been more cluttered than normal with responses to last week’s column, in which I wrote that if a secret ballot were to be held in the Vatican, John Kerry would beat George Bush by roughly a 60-40 margin. Many messages were along the lines of this one from Beth Gibson:

“The question is...what Catholic faith did you come from?  You are a disgrace, and perhaps the greatest outcome to this article is that it so desperately shows how lost you are and how much prayer is needed for you...trust me, many will begin now after your sorrowful article.”

The implied assumption seems to be that because of what I wrote, I must be pro-Kerry, especially on those issues where Kerry differs from the Catholic church.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that in an election season, people assume that every public utterance is driven by a partisan political agenda. I’m also under no illusion that anything I say here will dispel such perceptions. Nevertheless, since an important journalistic principle is at stake, I feel compelled to repeat something that in my version of a perfect world would be obvious to all - to wit, that reporting a reality is not the same thing as approving it.

There was no endorsement, implied or otherwise, in what I wrote. I observed what anyone with even a passing knowledge of the Vatican already knows, which is that the strong European anti-Bush prejudice has echoes in the Holy See. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is for others to judge.

I suspect the anger and mistrust that partisan politics tends to generate, amply confirmed by my mail this week, is one reason that many Catholic pastors are opposed to anything that smacks of politicizing the Eucharist. Once again, whether that instinct is ultimately correct is not my bailiwick, but I certainly understand it.

* * *

John Paul is publishing another book. Vatican spokesperson Joaquin Navarro-Valls was in Frankfurt last week presenting the news to the book fair. He described the book as a 200-page reflection on the ideological struggles of the 20th century and their significance to believers.

Titled Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums, the book is the result of more than a decade of reflection, which John Paul recently brought to a conclusion with the help of a Polish-speaking secretary to whom he dictated revisions.

Sources said the idea for the book came together in 1993, when the late Fr. Jozef Tischner, a fellow Pole and a philosopher from Krakow, proposed a series of conversations on the tumultuous events of the closing century - including the rise and fall of Nazism, fascism and Communism.The two were joined by another philosopher friend, Krzysztof Michalski. Their conversations were tape-recorded and remained in storage for years.

One interesting reflection concerns what Poles living in the Nazi era knew about the extent of Nazi atrocities.

“What we could see in those years was terrible enough. Yet many aspects of Nazism were still hidden at that stage,” the pope writes. “The full extent of the evil that was raging through Europe was not seen by everyone, not even by those of us who were living at the epicenter.

“For a long time, the West did not want to believe in the extermination of the Jews. ... Not even in Poland did we know all that the Nazis had done,” the pope writes.

The book is expected to be published in May by the Italian publishing company Rizzoli.

Industry sources say that interest in an English translation may not be as high as for previous papal titles, given the performance of his current book, Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way. To date it’s sold only about 10,000 copies in the U.S. market, despite being one of Warner’s lead fall titles. Sales may pick up over the Christmas holidays, but so far the book is, from a commercial point of view, a bit of a disappointment.

* * *

Anyone looking for rising stars in the European episcopate would be well advised to keep an eye on Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University and “chaplain” to the Italian parliament. It’s not just that the Lateran is often a point of departure for higher ecclesiastical office (its last rector, Angelo Scola, is now the cardinal of Venice). Fisichella is also a thoughtful, articulate spokesperson for Catholic views, especially on matters of public policy.

It’s well-known around Rome that Fisichella was a primary contributor to John Paul II’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio (so much so that some wags dubbed it Fisichella et Ratzinger).

Fisichella spoke Oct. 1 at a conference on “Le radici cristiane della società libera: Economia di mercato e dottrina sociale della Chiesa” (“The Christian roots of the free society: Economics and the market in the social doctrine of the church”), sponsored by an Italian think tank called the Istituto Bruno Leoni. The objective of the conference was to argue that the modern concept of the free state, based on individual liberty and the rule of law, is actually rooted in Christian anthropology and social teaching, even if historically free societies in the West originated in a spirit of rebellion against the church. Fisichella argued that the concept of liberty in modernity is distorted, shorn of a reference to truth.

“Either truth and liberty go together,” Fisichella warned, “or they vanish separately.”

Fisichella reflected at some length on chapter five of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, in which Paul urges Christians to “not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” He called this “the most dramatic and decisive choice” in Christian history, arguing that had Christianity remained under the Mosaic law it would have become a sect of Judaism. Instead, Fisichella said, Paul understood that Christians are called to embrace the truth in freedom.

* * *

Alejandro A. Rismondo Chafuen of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation spoke on the same panel with Fisichella, and made the fascinating, if unfortunately quite schematic, argument that 16th century Catholic intellectuals such as St. Robert Bellarmine, Francisco de Suarez and Juan de Mariana, working out of the Roman College, essentially “invented” the Republican form of government and the modern understanding of the rule of law. Chafuen noted that secular Enlightenment writers such as John Locke are often styled as the primary sources of modern legal and political theory.

In fact, Chafuen argued, Locke himself owed a “tremendous debt” to the late scholastic authors. Locke wrote a book on the epistles of Saint Paul that few economic theorists bother to read, Chafuen said, but it indicates the extent to which his anthropological convictions were influenced by the Medieval scholastic tradition.

“Locke had different views on theological questions,” Chafuen said, “but his view of the human person is basically the same as the scholastics. Property is destined for all, and so the reason you have private property is because it will be used for socially more useful ends in this way.”

Also on the panel at the Bruno Leoni conference were two Americans, Robert Royal of the Faith and Reason Institute and Philip Lawler of Catholic World Report.

* * *

The Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, delivered a major speech at the United Nations on Sept. 29. Lajolo reviewed the world situation, with special attention to Iraq, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and terrorism.

Lajolo reminded the General Assembly that the Vatican thought the war in Iraq was a bad idea.

“The position of the Holy See concerning the military action of 2002-2003 is well known,” he said. “Everyone can see that it did not lead to a safer world either inside or outside Iraq.”

On terrorism, Lajolo seemed to issue an indirect criticism of what is sometimes seen as the Bush “go-it-alone” doctrine.

“Without prejudice to the right and duty of each state to implement just measures to protect its citizens and its institutions,” Lajolo said, “it seems obvious that terrorism can only be effectively challenged through a concerted multilateral approach, respecting the ius gentium, and not through the politics of unilateralism.”

Lajolo insisted that terrorism cannot be resisted through military means alone.

“The underlying causes are many and complex: political, social, cultural, religious; for this reason, what is still more important is long-term action, directed, with foresight and patience, at its roots, designed to stop it spreading further and to extinguish its deadly contagious effects,” he said.

On the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Lajolo reiterated the Holy See’s support for the “roadmap” approach. He called for gestures not only of justice, but forgiveness, something he said will require more “moral courage” than the use of arms.

Lajolo ended by vowing that the Holy See will remain a “traveling companion” of the United Nations, since they are both universal global institutions with a mission of peace. He called for a more effective ordering of the U.N., towards the aim of making it truly a family of nations.

* * *

Recently I wrote about use of the term “sect” to refer to new Protestant movements in the developing world, often with an evangelical and/or Pentecostal orientation. I noted that several correspondents had objected to the term, and tried to defend a more neutral use on the grounds that at least people have a rough idea of what it means.

I do not appear to have been terribly successful. This response from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus is typical:

“There is no use of this term that does not suggest disrespect. … This has been a continuing concern over the last more than 10 years in connection with Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Despite all the nuances, evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants see it as a slur. There are many other good words that are variously applicable ­ community, movement, group, association, league, society, organization, etc. etc. …Twenty or fifty years from now we’ll be in formal ecumenical dialogue with some of these groups, which we will then call communions or ecclesial communities. That will not be helped by our once having dismissed them as sects.”

As I said to Neuhaus, I’m willing to drop the offending vocabulary. Now all he has to do is convince the Catholic episcopacies in Latin America and Africa.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org

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