National Catholic Reporter ®

December 13, 2002 
Vol. 2, No.16

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Law in Rome; gays in seminaries; cardinals
in waiting; a Canadian bishop in love

An American in the Vatican recently said that after the bishops’ statement on Iraq was issued in Washington in mid-November, a senior staffer for a U.S. senator called to say, “You’ve got to be kidding. Nobody’s listening right now.” That loss of credibility is also part of the bleeding.

Editor's Note:  Cardinal Bernard law resigned as archbishop of Boston December 13, 2002.  For story see: 

Besieged Cardinal Bernard Law was in Rome this week, as it turns out to hand in his resignation to Pope John Paul II. It was thus the final act in a story that had all the aspects of a Greek tragedy – an ecclesiastical titan brought low, at least arguably through his own pride.

     I was the first journalist in Rome to know Law had arrived, not through any crackerjack reporting but rather an amazing coincidence. Careful readers of “The Word from Rome” will recall that back in July I noted that Law and Bishop James Harvey, the American who heads the Pontifical Household, had dined together at a restaurant called “Cecilia Metella” on Rome’s Via Appia Antica. At the time I had never heard of the place, but I’ve dined there several times since. On Sunday evening, Dec. 8, my wife and I had friends in from out of town who are frequent visitors to Rome, and we wanted to go someplace they hadn’t been before. Thus we headed out to Cecilia Metella. We were dumbfounded upon arrival to see Harvey and Law (along with a third cleric I took to be Law’s secretary). Our pre-reserved table was, unbelievably, right next to theirs.

     I had seen Harvey the day before at the North American College, which had celebrated the patronal feast of the Immaculate Conception, so I instinctively walked up to say hello before I realized that Law was also in the party. Circumstances did not allow me to begin asking questions, so I simply shook Harvey’s hand and withdrew. I have no special insight into what Law and Harvey talked about, though I find it hard to believe it was just the weather.

     Ironies continued to abound. Just moments after Harvey and Law had left, I got a call on my cell phone from NBC, asking if I could confirm that Law was in town. “You’re not going to believe this,” I began. A few seconds later it was the Boston Globe, same question, same answer. The episode ended up on the Globe’s front page. From there the AP picked it up, and so my bit of dumb luck briefly became a footnote to the day’s news.

     Ostensibly, Law had come to Rome to explain bankruptcy to people in the Vatican with serious reservations. One concern is its possible impact on future giving, since going belly-up is hardly the sort of thing that inspires investor confidence. If contributions are already slumping in Boston and elsewhere, imagine the impact of a bankruptcy filing.

     Perhaps even more worrying to Vatican officials is the prospect that a civil judge would, under American law, be assigned broad powers to review and oversee archdiocesan finances. For an institution that has fought pitched battles over the centuries to protect its assets in order to safeguard its independence, this is no small matter. A couple of Vatican officials privately invoked memories of the Nazi gleichsaltung, a campaign to neutralize social institutions that might serve as centers of opposition by assimilating them to the state. Their point was not to compare an American judge to a Nazi thug, but merely to note that precedents are important. Law, and now his successor, thus face the challenge of persuading Vatican decision-makers that this step might actually be the best of all the bad options available.

     Beyond the dollars and cents issues, the big question was whether Law would resign. 

     Only the pope can request a cardinal’s resignation, and John Paul II’s personal bias undoubtedly leaned against doing so. The pope himself, it should be remembered, has faced calls for resignation, albeit for very different reasons – on the grounds that he is too old and weak to govern. He has consistently spurned those suggestions. “Jesus did not come down off the cross,” he recently said. Hence his inclination would doubtless be that Law should stay put and clean up the mess he’s made.

     That view was at one point widely held in the Vatican. Seen from Rome, the life of a retired cardinal seems fairly sweet. One enjoys the privileges of high ecclesiastical office with few of the burdens. Staying on the job in the midst of crisis, on the other hand, is a daily ordeal. (Recall that the Vatican never removed Cardinal Michele Giordano of Naples, even when he was facing a criminal trial for loan-sharking in 2000 that could have landed him in jail. Privately, several curial officials opined that resignation was too good for him). Hence keeping Law where he is, which can look from the United States like letting him off the hook, seems instinctively to a certain Roman way of thinking like the most fitting sentence possible.

     Having said that, sometimes moments arrive in which even a pope can no longer afford to indulge his personal inclinations. This was obviously deemed to be one of those situations.

     One tragedy of the present situation is that as long as Law, sex abuse and bankruptcy dominate the headlines, the moral voice of the U.S. bishops is in some ways gagged.  Example: An American in the Vatican recently said that after the bishops’ statement on Iraq was issued in Washington in mid-November, a senior staffer for a U.S. senator called to say, “You’ve got to be kidding. Nobody’s listening right now.” That loss of credibility is also part of the bleeding, and one hopes that Law’s long-awaited exit from the stage will help turn the tide.

* * *

     Recent weeks have seen a great deal of speculation about a new Vatican document concerning the admission of homosexuals to Catholic seminaries. Under the aegis of the Congregation for Catholic Education, the document is expected to come out in perhaps six months time.

     In fact, the Congregation for Education is working on two documents that will treat the issue of homosexuality. The first is an advisory document on the use of psychological testing in seminary admission and formation, which will contain a few, largely uncontroversial references to homosexuality. The second deals specifically with the question of admission of homosexuals, and is expected to take a firmly negative stance.

     A preview of sorts was offered in early December by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican office that for obscure historical reasons handles most requests for laicization from priests. That congregation had been asked to respond to an unnamed bishop’s question about ordaining homosexuals, and it published its response in its bulletin under the signature of former prefect Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez of Chile. 

     “The ordination to the diaconate or to the priesthood of homosexual persons or those with a homosexual tendency is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent and, from a pastoral point of view, very risky,” Medina wrote. “A person who is homosexual or has homosexual tendencies is not, therefore, suitable to receive the sacrament of sacred orders.” 

     Medina said he had consulted with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s top doctrinal authority, in offering this assessment.

     Vatican spokespersons insist this is not a new teaching, despite whatever practices to the contrary may have developed in some parts of the Catholic world. They point to the document “Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of Perfection and Sacred Orders,” promulgated by the Congregation for Religious (which now bears the unwieldy title “Congregation for Societies of Consecrated Life and Institutes of Apostolic Life”) on February 2, 1961. 

     The key language in that document is: “Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty, since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute serious dangers.”

     Since the question of homosexuality in the priesthood has resurfaced under the weight of the American sex abuse scandals, Vatican officials have repeatedly insisted that the 1961 document is still in force and still represents the official discipline of the Catholic Church.

     (In an odd footnote, when a Catholic journalist recently asked the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, for a copy of the 1961 document, Montalvo replied: “Kindly be advised that the document, which you request, was reserved for use of the bishops.” Like the Vatican sex abuse norms which were secret until NCR published them two weeks ago, Rome apparently felt the broader Catholic world had no “need to know”).

     The new document is expected to reiterate the stance of 1961, perhaps adding some new arguments along the lines developed by Fr. Andrew Baker in America magazine in September. Baker wrote that there are grounds for “prudent doubt” about homosexuals due to several factors: an increased risk of substance abuse, sexual addiction and depression; a tendency towards “duplicitous or pretentious behaviors”; doubts about adherence to church teaching; overwhelming temptation in an all-male environment; the tendency to form cliques; and doubts about the capacity to live a celibate life. Moreover, Baker writes, a homosexual’s vow of celibacy cannot have the same meaning as a heterosexual’s, because homosexuals are already bound to abstain from sexual relations by natural law. (See my interview with Baker in “The Word from Rome” of Sept. 27

     A key question is how explicitly the new document will define what it means by “homosexuality” or “homosexual tendencies.” It is one thing to say that a man with strong tendencies towards homosexual behavior, i.e., sexual activity, should not be ordained. It is quite another to say that the mere possession of a homosexual orientation should disqualify a candidate, even if the man is capable of making a mature commitment to celibacy. If the document remains deliberately ambiguous on this point, it would not officially commit the Church to the second, more exclusive position.

     Some leaders in the diocesan priesthood and in religious life have made contacts with the Congregation for Education seeking to be heard about the document, many in opposition. In at least some cases they have been asked to submit expert information and analysis, suggesting that the drafting process is still open. 

     In the end, most canonists say that whatever language the document eventually adopts, it will be at the level of general principles. It will still be up to bishops to make judgment calls in particular cases. There are some factors clearly recognized as negative indicators for ordination, such as alcoholism or a criminal record, but it’s up to the bishop to decide whether they absolutely disqualify a particular candidate, or whether this specific man shows the maturity and resolve needed to live a faithful priestly life. In the end, it may well be the same with homosexuality. Bishops with a blanket policy against the ordination of gays, such as Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, will be confirmed by the new document, but others favoring a case-by-case approach may be able to read the document in a way that permits that stance. After all, it is central to the bishop’s job to engage in individual discernment about candidates.

     In that sense, the new document will certainly cause an explosion in the press, but it may not change a great deal in terms of existing practice. 

     It must be noted that many observers question any linkage between homosexuality and the sex abuse crisis, as if homosexual priests are more likely to be abusers. Many experts question such a connection. Fairly or not, however, the scandals of the last year have put the Catholic priesthood in the United States under a microscope, and the question of homosexuality is not going away. During their summit in April, the American cardinals and Vatican officials agreed to an apostolic visitation of American seminaries, which seems likely to get under way after the new document appears. Homosexuality will be a major concern of that process.

* * *

     With the Dec. 10 appointment of Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone as the successor to Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi in Genova, and the Dec. 9 naming of Péter Erdö as the new archbishop of Budapest in Hungary, the list of cardinals-in-waiting has, by my count, grown to 18. They are:

1.George Pell, Sydney, Australia
2. Angelo Scola, Venice, Italy
3. Jean-Pierre Ricard, Bordeaux, France
4. Mario Conti, Glasgow, Scotland
5. Eusebio Oscar Scheid, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
6. Josip Bozanic, Zagreb, Croatia
7. Ennio Antonelli, Florence, Italy
8. Philippe Barbarin, Lyon, France
9. Tarcisio Bertone, Genova, Italy
10. Antoni Cañizares Lovra, 57, Toledo, Spain
11. Péter Erdö, Budapest, Hungary
12. Eustaquio Pastor Cuquejo Verga, Asunción, Paraguay 
13. Henryk Muszynski, Gniezno, Poland 
14. Julián Herranz, Spanish, Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts 
15. Luigi De Magistris, Italian, Apostolic Penitentiary 
16. Francesco Marchisano, Italian, Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica
17. Renato Martino, Italian, Council for Justice and Peace
18. Michael Fitzgerald, English, Council for Inter-religious Dialogue

     The lengthening list of those in line for a red hat increases the possibility of a consistory in 2003. Traditional dates would be Feb. 22, feast of the Chair of Peter, or June 29, feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Note, by the way, that 15 of the above 18 candidates are European. If John Paul holds to form, he will certainly add a few names from the Third World.

     Bertone, currently the secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will add a strong new member of the “Border Patrol” party outlined in my book Conclave: The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election. These are doctrinal conservatives concerned with maintaining the distinctiveness of the Catholic message. Erdö is a bit more difficult to classify. He was the rector of the Catholic university in Hungary before becoming a bishop in 2000, and is said to have a love for Latin. One Hungarian journalist reports that Erdö was favored by the country’s center-right political forces. The current center-left government is seeking to unilaterally modify Hungary’s accords with the Vatican, while the center-right supports state funding for church institutions. The other candidate for the post was said to be Archbishop Ternyàk Csaba, secretary of the Congregation for Clergy.

     Bertone, by the way, has played a central role in the Vatican response to the American sexual abuse crisis. He was in the special summit with the American cardinals in April, he sat on the “mixed commission” that revised the norms in October, and he oversees the new tribunals created in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to judge sex abuse cases. The appointment of his successor will therefore be especially consequential for the United States.

     Two leading Italian candidates would seem to be Bishop Rino Fisichella, an auxiliary of Rome and rector at the Lateran University, and Carlo Caffarra, bishop of Ferrara and a leading conservative moral theologian. There are, however, question marks about both. Caffarra has long been seen as the leading contender to replace Cardinal Giacomo Biffi in Bologna, who turns 75 next June. Fisichella has only been at the Lateran a few months, and some think he is being groomed for even bigger things.

     Another possibility would thus be an American Dominican, Fr. Augustine Di Noia, currently the under-secretary at CDF. Di Noia was the chief theological advisor for the U.S. bishops from 1983 to 2001. There is actually a tradition of Dominicans in the secretary’s role; Belgian Dominican Jerome Hamer, for example, held the job from 1973 to 1984. Di Noia’s lone drawback is that he arrived in Rome just in May, and hence he is still mastering the place and the language. By most accounts, however, he is a fast learner.

* * *

     Speaking of papal politics, a colleague and excellent journalist, Paul Jeffrey, recently sat down for a lengthy interview with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras. Rodriguez reiterated what he has said elsewhere: “I believe that there will be a Latin American Pope, and that Latin American pope will be able to help to solve the North-South conflict as John Paul II helped to solve the East-West conflict.” It was clear from the context of the interview that he wasn’t talking about himself, though that won’t stop many people from thinking in those terms.

* * *

     Some time ago I wrote a column reporting that in Rome, one theory to account for the vociferous response in the American media to the Catholic sex abuse scandals is the disproportionate influence of Jews in the American press. I cited a cardinal who hinted at this publicly, and a number of other people around Rome who have made the point in private.

     Now someone has said it out loud. 

     The comment came in an address by respected Vatican affairs writer Orazio Petrosillo at the Dec. 4-8 conference of the International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP). During a roundtable discussion, Petrosillo, who writes for the Rome daily Il Messagero and who teaches journalism at the Center for Interdisciplinary Communication Studies at the Gregorian University, responded to the question, “Why has the mass media mounted this campaign against the church?” (Though Petrosillo is Italian, he spoke in French).

     Petrosillo indicated three groups that could have inspired such a campaign: “Masonic lodges,” “Jewish lobbies,” and “groups of free thought and free morals” such as gays. As for the Jews, Petrosillo specified that their motive would be “to punish the Catholic Church for its defense of the right of the Palestinians to have a country.” 

     (“The Masons,” by the way, is sort of a catch-all category in Italian thought for secretive, elite anti-Catholic opinion. Petrosillo wasn’t necessarily referring to the social organization in the United States that goes under that name).

     Petrosillo is a widely read and well-informed veteran journalist, with good Vatican connections. In that sense, one can be sure that he was reflecting a view that resonates in certain corridors of the Holy See. In fact, Petrosillo said he was only giving voice to what “everyone thinks,” while acknowledging that one can’t make conclusive judgments on the basis of circumstantial evidence.

* * *

     While the United States is once again focused on Boston and its woes, the Catholic Church in Canada has a different kind of story involving clergy and sex. 

     Raymond Dumais, the bishop emeritus of the diocese of Gaspe in Quebec made a stunning announcement this week on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s French-language service. “I’m in love ... with a woman,” Dumais said. “I don’t feel I’m living in sin. I feel I’m living something special.”

     The 52-year-old bishop, according to media reports, lives with his partner in Bic, Quebec, about 540 kilometers northeast of Montreal. 

     Named a bishop at 43, Dumais retired from active duty in July 2001. He had been in trouble off and on with church authorities. He was called to the Vatican in 1994 after he joined 60 Quebec theologians in signing a letter critical of the church’s “absolute” approach to theological dissent. The letter also questioned the hardening of the church’s stand opposing artificial birth control. Dumais was asked to sign a letter expressing his fidelity to the teaching authority of Rome.

     “I think that in life, there are some transformations of a human being that are obvious,” said Dumais, who has not publicly identified the woman with whom he has the relationship. 

     A colleague with a Quebec newspaper says that public opinion is solidly in favor of Dumais, in the sense that people feel he did the honorable thing in coming clean. In other circumstances, the resignation of a Roman Catholic bishop to be with the woman he loves would be major world news. (Remember the Milingo story?) But given the present climate, Dumais’ story is likely to have little echo, even if it is a small, nagging reminder that the celibacy debate in the Catholic Church is not going away.

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

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