National Catholic Reporter ®

October 18, 2002 
Vol. 2, No.8

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Popes and Vatican II after 40 years: Warm and varied memories, perspectives; readers react to Opus Dei comments, of course; Allen hits the road to discuss, promote Conclave: Coming to a local theater near you?

On the subject of the world’s response to Sept. 11, Ruiz asked, “How did the United States manage to push Europe into this generalized anti-terrorist war?” 

Retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz of the Chiapas diocese in southern Mexico

Note:  Today the Vatican released its long-awaited reaction to the sex abuse norms adopted by the American bishops in Dallas.  Check the "breaking news" section of the NCR Web site for the latest news.

Memory, like knowledge, is power. How we remember the past, the lessons we draw from it, have an enormous influence on how we confront the present.

     Friday, Oct. 11, was the fortieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and several events in Rome illustrate that the struggle over how to remember the council is still very much alive.

     The Lateran University is known as the “pope’s university,” because it is connected to the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the pope’s cathedral as bishop of the diocese of Rome. The Lateran is run by the Rome archdiocese, and has long been known as the “safest” of the major pontifical universities. Hence it was no surprise that the unspoken agenda of its Oct. 9-11 conference “John XXIII and Paul VI: The Two Popes of the Council” was, at least to some extent, to offer a reinterpretation from what English Jesuit Fr. Norman Tanner, one of the speakers, called “the responsible right.”

     A steady voice throughout the congress, though he was not formally on the program, was Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, and also the Holy See’s observer to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Over the last several years, Marchetto has emerged as one of the leading opponents of the progressive “Bologna school” of Giuseppe Alberigo and Alberto Melloni, whose multi-volume history of Vatican II (published in English with Joseph Komonchak of Catholic University). When the third volume of the series appeared in 2000, for example, L’Osservatore Romano published a very negative full-page review by Marchetto.

     At the Lateran conference, Marchetto launched an appeal that the phrase “black week” be dropped from the vocabulary of Vatican II historiography. This locution never really took hold in English, but in Italian settimana nera is still widely used to refer to the week at the end of the third session of the council in which Paul VI delayed the votes on the decrees on religious liberty and ecumenism. At the time this was widely seen as an illegitimate limitation on the council’s freedom, but Tanner argued history has proved Paul correct, citing John Courtney Murray’s admission that the delay produced a better decree.

     “This intervention was necessary for the conciliar economy,” Marchetto said. “Please, let’s never say settimana nera again.”

     Marchetto then addressed himself to the Anglo-Saxon world, saying he would like to see the content of Vatican II emphasized more in discussions of the council, rather than “just the idea of a democratic spirit etc.”

     A touching moment came when Bishop Pasquale Macchi, who was Paul VI’s private secretary, rose to defend the image of the pope he obviously loved.

     “Once and for all, may we please get rid of this phrase, falsely attributed to John XXIII, that Montini was a ‘Hamlet’”? Macchi asked. He said that John XXIII’s secretary, Bishop Loris Capovilla, has written an article denying that John XXIII ever called Montini, whom he knew and loved and actually made a cardinal, a “Hamlet.” In fact, Macchi said, John XXIII knew that people attributed this remark to him, and was bitter about it.

     “This idea does not correspond in any way to the figure of Paul VI,” Macchi insisted. “He studied problems in depth, yes, but there was absolutely nothing Hamlet-like in his character.”

     Someone then asked Macchi about the other common label for Paul: Paolo VI mesto, “the sad Paul.” 

     “Also this is absolutely false,” Macchi responded. “He was never sad. He had a profound serenity, and even if he was sometimes anguished, he never was an ‘anguished pope.’ He had an awareness of problems, he searched to understand them in depth, but he always felt a strong interior peace.

     “I knew an anguished pope,” Macchi added. “I served John Paul I for 33 days, and he was an anguished pope, every day more so, about the problems that confronted him. But Paul VI, never.”

     The morning of Oct. 11, Rome’s Foreign Press Club hosted a round table with several figures associated with the broad progressive majority from the council. They included Cardinal Roberto Tucci, former head of Vatican radio and for many years the chief organizer of John Paul II’s travels; Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community; Giancarlo Zizola, a renowned Italian journalist who covered Vatican II from start to finish; and Ettore Bernabei, of the Italian state TV network RAI.

     At times, the event felt like a wistful trip down memory lane, especially as Tucci tossed in anecdotes from his behind-the-scenes encounters with John XXIII and Paul VI.

     A Tucci anecdote worth preserving: At one stage, Pope John commissioned Tucci to publish an article refuting newspaper accounts that the pope planned to “control” the council. John wanted people to know that he had no intention to impeding its freedom, but didn’t feel he could make the point directly. Tucci could. Hence Tucci prepared the article, and submitted it for Vatican censorship, as was the custom. He then received a letter from Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo, a curial heavyweight of the day, threatening canonical sanctions if he were to proceed! Tucci consulted with Pope John, who said: “That’s Pizzardo’s signature but not his style.” John speculated that Monsignor Andrea Spada, editor of the Catholic newspaper L’Eco di Bergamo and a member of the pope’s “kitchen cabinet” in the Vatican, was behind the maneuver. In any case, the pope concluded, the article was not worth creating new problems in the Roman curia, and instructed Tucci to publish the article under another name in a journal outside the country.

     Bernabei told the story of Pope John’s famous moonlight remarks to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square on the opening night of the council. The pope was not actually expected to say anything, and the RAI crew was getting ready to pack up and leave at the end of a candlelight march staged by Catholic Action. Bernabei, however, got a Vatican tip to keep his broadcast line open. He did, and thus captured Pope John’s unforgettable impromptu discourse, in which he told the crowd that “even the moon is opening itself for us tonight,” then asked everyone to “go home and find your children, give them a caress, and tell them this is from the pope.”

     Zizola’s presentation was fascinating, and readers can find much of it recounted in his contribution to NCR’s special Vatican II fortieth anniversary issue:

    Also on Oct. 11, Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, South Africa, one of the lions of the council, was interviewed at length on Vatican radio. Now officially retired, Hurley has lost none of his passion for the church, and none of his candor in calling the shots as he sees them.

     Hurley represents a progressive understanding of Vatican II, and he was using the platform of Vatican radio to keep that memory alive. 

     He called the council the “greatest adult education program ever promoted” for the way it forced bishops to catch up with the new currents in Catholic theology that were suddenly given voice during conciliar debates.

     One major disappointment, Hurley said, has been a failure to follow the council’s lead on collegiality, or the decentralization of power in the church. “The council’s idea was the bishops sharing in government with the Holy Father, and in turn the bishops, the clergy, the people and the religious working together,” Hurley said.

     Hurley cited the recent Vatican crackdowns on the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, and the proclamation of a new set of rules for liturgical translation, as an example of a rollback on collegiality. He said the church still lacks the proper formulas and organization to make collegiality a reality. 

     Hurley was asked if this adds up to greater conservatism in the church.

     “Yes, there is a tendency in this direction, and it disappoints me,” he said. “These are experiences that occur in all great institutions, its moves backwards and forwards, and over time acquires a sort of balance. But please, God, don’t let this conservative trend last too long, so that certain points can be addressed.”

     Finally, a fourth episode from Oct. 11: Retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz of the Chiapas diocese in southern Mexico was in Rome, gave an evening talk sponsored by the Interconfessional Center for Peace and Justice. It took place at the Community of St. Paul, near the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls where John XXIII first announced his decision to call the council in 1959.

     For those not familiar with his story, Ruiz came to be known as the “red bishop” in Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s because of his support for the uprising of indigenous persons, especially in the form of the Zapatistas. He fought bitter battles with the papal nuncio in Mexico, then Archbishop Girolamo Prigione, and a group of conservative Latin American prelates known informally as the “group of Rome.”

     Though his topic, “What Solidarity with Latin American Means Today,” had nothing formally to do with Vatican II, the liberation theology trajectory in Latin American Catholicism Ruiz embodies is the region’s best-known response to the conciliar emphasis on social concerns.

     On the subject of the world’s response to Sept. 11, Ruiz asked, “How did the United States manage to push Europe into this generalized anti-terrorist war?” 

     Ruiz then complained that the statement on Sept. 11 adopted at the Synod of Bishops that met just afterwards, in October 2001, was a “general declaration that left much to be desired” in its failure to demand that war be avoided. He blamed this on the American bishops, who he said claimed the “last word” and acted “more like citizens of the United States than Christians.”

     Later, Ruiz spoke about letting the gospel take root in different global cultures, a process he called “incarnation.” He told the story of a new translation of the Our Father into an African language. Instead of the phrase “Your kingdom come,” which apparently was lost on this tribe, the translator rendered the idea as “Sound your drums throughout the Selva.” It’s a beautiful example of transporting ideas across cultural borders.

     Marchetto and Tucci, Hurley and Macchi, Ruiz and Riccardi and Tanner – each offer a different lens through which to view the council. I like to believe that taking each seriously is a useful exercise in keeping our memories of the council crisp, fresh, and honest. 

* * *

     Last week I wrote about the canonization of Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escrivá on Oct. 6. Among other things, I suggested that reaction to Opus Dei has been exaggerated over the years by two factors: a secular difficulty in understanding extremes of religious commitment, and a Catholic tendency to treat Opus as a lightning rod for broader ideological debates in the Church. 

     Anytime I write about Opus Dei it’s guaranteed to generate mail, and last week’s column was no exception. Most came from critics who felt I had questioned the legitimacy of their criticism. For the record, that was not my intent: I meant only that much reaction, both positive and negative, Opus generates seems to be driven by factors exterior to the group itself. That does not mean there isn’t a truly informed basis for either criticism or praise (I’m sure, in fact, there are grounds for both).

     I thought I would let a few of the critics speak for themselves.

* * *

     From Pennsylvania: 

     “As I never put the title of ‘president’ together with Bush, so I will never put the word ‘saint’ next to Escriva. Any friend of Hitler is not a friend of mine. Any friend of Franco is also not a friend of mine. The Church here in America is Republican and I am not. The Church is conservative and I am not.”

* * *

     From Ontario, Canada:

     “I must strongly disagree with your assessment of opposition to Opus Dei as ‘ideologically driven’ on the part of those (amongst whom I identify myself) on the progressive wing of the church. My opposition to Opus Dei is by no means merely ideologically driven. It is driven by a deep commitment to the equality of women and men that I believe is as yet an unrealized facet of the reign of God as proclaimed by Jesus. 

     I find that the hurried process of canonization of Escriva Opus Dei did not sufficiently reflect a critique of the sexism found in so many of the founder’s writings. And I have serious doubts as to whether the contemporary enlightenment about the issues of gender sufficiently informs the structure and teachings of Escriva’s heirs. …

     I do not consider a critique of such entrenched sexism and its relationship to violence against women to be merely an ideological bias. I believe it is part of the continuing work of the Spirit in the church and in the world.”

* * *

     From Indiana:

     I was a cooperator in the Work for about 2 years. I grew increasingly disenchanted with it, for there seemed to me a gulf in what it said about the laity (holiness in everyday life) and the way the Work treated the laity, especially women. That treatment was, in my eyes, patronizing and insulting. For example, at our Evenings of Recollection, why couldn’t my wife come. Why? Because women had their own Day of Recollection. But my wife was busy during the day and couldn’t come, so why couldn’t she come with me when I went? ‘Don’t like to mix men and women at this,’ I was told. 

     Furthermore, for an organization that touts the laity so much, the Work is obsequious to the hierarchy. The Work may laud the laity, but the laity damn well better know its place in the pecking order, and the laity’s place in that pecking order is totally subservient to the hierarchy. In other words, do as you’re told and keep your mouth shut. …

     I do believe Opus Dei is on the right track with its stress upon the laity being holy in the everyday routine of life. Nor did I ever encounter any secrecy in the organization.

     Everybody was up front with me, and no questions about the organization were ever left unanswered. I have friends and acquaintances who are supernumeraries, and who were very excited about going to Rome for the canonization. I’m happy they’re happy, but I’m happy to be done with the Work as well. Simply not my cup of tea.”

* * *

     From New York:

     Almost every major Opus Dei figure has said flat out that homosexuals cannot be ordained to the priesthood. I can name them, but I am sure you know who they are as well. Is the readership of the National Catholic Reporter, many of whom are gay or lesbian or support their standing in the Church, to believe that Opus Dei is to be considered, as you have suggested, just another movement in the Church? I just thought your column was outrageous!

* * *

     The visit of Patriarch Teoctist of the Romanian Orthodox Church wrapped up in Rome this week. Teoctist and John Paul II signed a joint declaration that was unremarkable in terms of theological content, though it did include a call for re-launching the international Catholic/Orthodox dialogue that has been in the deep freeze since a disastrous session in Emmitsburgh, Maryland, in July 2000. At that time, the two sides were hopelessly locked in debates over alleged Catholic proselytism in Eastern Europe, and the status of Eastern rite Catholic churches, such as the Greek Catholics in Ukraine. 

     Far more important than the language of the joint declaration, however, was the atmosphere. The Vatican pulled out all the stops to treat Teoctist like visiting royalty, drawing upon the help of the Sant’Egidio Community, which has a real genius for this sort of thing. I wrote last week about how John Paul shared his stage on Oct. 7 with Teoctist, in front of 200,000 people at a Mass of thanksgiving in St. Peter’s Square for Escriva. I spoke later with some people who were present when Teoctist visited the Pontifical Oriental Institute, the scholarly center in Rome for the Eastern churches, who said that the Romanian patriarch was overwhelmed by the experience.

     Sant’Egidio put together a beautiful prayer service on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 12, at their Church of San Bartolomeo on Rome’s Tiburtina island. The theme was “new martyrs,” commemorating 20th century Christians who lost their lives defending the faith, often under the Nazis and the Communists – experiences that reach across the Catholic/Orthodox divide. Martyrs from different parts of the world were recalled with crosses made specially for the occasion. The celebrants were Teoctist, and three Catholic cardinals: Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican office for ecumenism; Camillo Ruini, the pope’s vicar for the archdiocese of Rome; and Francis George of Chicago, since San Bartolomeo is his titular church. Two other cardinals were in attendance: Mario Pompedda, head of the Apostolic Signatura, and Roger Etchegaray, a longtime Vatican official, informal papal diplomatic troubleshooter, and a friend of Sant’Egidio.

     I ran into a Sant’Egidio official after the Mass, who asked what I thought. I told him the liturgy was beautiful, but perhaps there were a few too many words. He sighed, and said: “You know the problem? We had four cardinals. We had to write a play with four leading roles.” 

     Teoctist’s visit will not make many waves in the news. If the divided Eastern and Western halves of the Christian family do finally make peace, however, I suspect this will be among the moments remembered as a milestone along the path.

     As a footnote, at one stage I found myself standing inside San Bartolomeo with Cardinal George and Robert Moynihan, who runs Inside the Vatican magazine, and who was in town on business. Moynihan was kind enough to say something about admiring my work (adding that I “could be more profound,” which struck me as a pretty good description of most people most of the time). Hearing Moynihan’s praise, George tossed in, “Except for your book on Ratzinger.” (Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican’s Enforcer of the Faith, Continuum, 2000). 

     George did say “except” the Ratzinger book, and an optimist might take that as a sort of tacit approval of the rest of my corpus. I could take it that way, that is, if George hadn’t told me when I saw him at World Youth Day in Canada that 17 of the top twenty papal candidates in my book Conclave are “dead in the water.”

* * *

     By the time this column is posted, I will be in the United States for a three-week tour to promote Conclave, some of these dates in tandem with my Newsweek colleague Robert Blair Kaiser, who has his own book to tout, Clerical Error. Readers who are interested in catching the act may check this list.

  • 19 Oct. (Sat.) — San Diego CTA, Christ Lutheran Hall in Pacific Beach (4761 Cass St. at Missouri just north of Balboa, parking in Church lot), Saturday, October 19, 9:30 to 3:30. 
  • 20 Oct. (Sunday) – Washington, D.C., Holy Trinity Parish. Address to parish community, 10:15 am. Coffee reception with Legacy Society, 11:30 am.
  • 22 Oct. (Tuesday) – Chicago, Ill., Jewish-Christian Dialogue Group. Drinks 6:00 pm, talk and then discussion to follow at 7:00 pm.
  • 23 Oct. (Wednesday) – Christ Sun of Justice Parish, Troy, NY, 7:30 pm.
  • 24 Oct. (Thurs.) — Eden Prairie, MN, Kaiser & Allen, The Leaven Center, 12100 Pioneer Trail Eden Prairie, MN.
  • 25 Oct. (Fri.) — Richmond, VA, Kaiser & Allen, Church of the Epiphany, 7-9pm, questions until 9:30pm.
  • 26 Oct. (Sat.), Richmond, VA, Kaiser & Allen, Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, 7-9pm, questions until 9:30 pm.
  • 28 Oct. (Mon.) — Holy Cross College, Boston, MA, Kaiser & Allen, 7:30 p.m. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture, “The Future of the Church: Problems and Prospects that Face the New Pope—and the Church He Must Serve.” 
  • 29 Oct. (Tues.) — The Commonwealth Club, S.F., Kaiser & Allen, 6:00 - 7:00 pm. The Commonwealth Club of California, 595 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94105.
  • 30 Oct. Wed.) — GTU, Berkeley, CA, Kaiser & Allen, 7:00 pm. 
  • Nov. 1, 2: Call to Action National Convention, Milwaukee. Two sessions on “A Church Under Siege: The Word From Rome”, Friday 11/1 at 3:30 pm, and again Saturday 11/2 at 8:00 pm. 
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

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