“The ‘preventive war’ does not serve peace,
but places humanity in a state of permanent war, in addition to the very
grave fact that the theory of ‘preventive war’ lies beyond the most ethically
secure rules and those most universally accepted by international law.”
La Civiltà Cattolica
|In the aftermath
of Cardinal Bernard Law’s Dec. 13 resignation, making him the 19th Catholic
bishop to step down since 1990 in the wake of sex abuse scandals (including
nine Americans, nine archbishops, and two cardinals), many observers are
trying to understand, “Why now?” Given the Vatican’s traditional reluctance
to cede to public pressure, and John Paul’s oft-stated aversion to a bishop
renouncing spiritual paternity, why did the pope decide to let Law walk
away after 11 months of riding out the storm?
A Law spokesperson has
said that the cardinal made up his mind to resign on Dec. 5, then flew
to Washington to inform the papal nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo,
who in turn urged him to go to Rome to communicate his decision directly
to the pope. Yet it’s not so much Law’s will to resign that begs explanation,
as the pope’s decision to accept it.
Most Vatican officials,
off the record, seem to agree that three factors were paramount:
This final element was,
according to Vatican sources, probably the most critical. On Monday and
Tuesday, Dec. 9 and 10, the consensus was that Law would be told to stay
on, as he had been last spring when he first offered to step aside. That
shifted decisively on Wednesday, however, and most officials pointed to
the impact of the priests’ letter. Seen from Rome, protests from American
lay groups such as Voice of the Faithful can seem like just another expression
of the noisy, confrontational political culture in the United States. When
the rebellion comes from within the clerical fraternity, however, it’s
much more difficult to ignore.
A grand jury subpoena served to Law on Friday, Dec.
The threat of bankruptcy;
A letter from 58 of Law’s priests calling for his
Is the Law story now
over? Not quite.
Law’s resignation concerns
only his role as head of the Boston archdiocese. He remains a cardinal,
bishop, and priest. Among other implications, this means Law will continue
to be a member of a number of congregations in the Roman curia. (The congregations
are the most powerful decision-making organs of the papal bureaucracy).
They include five with direct responsibility on issues relating to sexual
abuse. They are: the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for Clergy,
the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, the Congregation for
Divine Worship, and the Congregation for Education.
The Congregation for
Bishops supervises the performance of diocesan bishops, Clergy handles
clerical discipline as well as diocesan finances, Consecrated Life oversees
religious orders, Worship handles laicization cases, and Education is responsible
for seminaries. Hence Law still has, at least theoretically, the right
to be at the table when core aspects of Vatican policy on matters related
to sexual abuse are hammered out.
Law’s membership in the
Congregation for Bishops is especially striking, because it means that
he could also have an official voice in the selection of his own successor
in Boston. (He is one of three Americans to serve on Bishops, the others
being William Baum and James Francis Stafford).
A senior Vatican official
said Dec. 16 that while Law would not be asked to resign any of these posts,
it is expected that he will use discretion and not participate when matters
related to sexual abuse or Boston arise. It will be interesting to see
if such informal assurances will satisfy critics.
In a Dec. 17 interview
with NCR, David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused
by Priests said the group intends to demand an “across the board” resignation
by Law that would include stepping down as a cardinal. The Vatican official,
meanwhile, said that such demands amount to a “genuine persecution” of
The only man in the 20th
century to resign from the College of Cardinals was Jesuit Louis Billot
of France in 1927. Billot was a supporter of the right-wing Action Française
movement, which was also accused of being anti-Semitic, and when Pius XI
condemned it in 1926 Billot decided to protest by renouncing his red hat.
He retired to the Jesuit novitiate in Galloro and died in 1931, four years
later. Hence if Law were to step down as a cardinal, it would not quite
be unprecedented, but the next thing to it.
In Boston, meanwhile,
the Law story will not truly be over until a permanent successor is named.
Vatican sources say the appointment will not be made in haste, and that
Bishop Richard Lennon, the interim apostolic administrator, will be given
time to turn things around before a new man is named. The transition, those
sources say, will probably be measured in months rather than days or weeks.
In the United States,
two names drawing attention as possible candidates are Bishop Wilton Gregory,
president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, and Archbishop Harry Flynn of
St. Paul/Minneapolis, head of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. Both
are serious possibilities, though both are viewed with some reserve here
Gregory is admired for
his handling of the media, but his appointment of former Oklahoma Governor
Frank Keating to head the National Review Board raised Vatican eyebrows,
especially given Keating’s very public suggestion that Catholics unhappy
with their bishop might withhold money or go to Mass outside the diocese.
Flynn, meanwhile, was the architect of the sex abuse norms adopted by the
bishops in Dallas in June, about which the Vatican had serious objections,
leading to the formation of a special “mixed commission” in October. Flynn,
however, has at least one powerful advocate in Rome: Italian Cardinal Pio
Laghi, the pope’s ambassador to the United States from 1980 to 1990.
Other candidates whose
names have surfaced in recent days include Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, head
of the military archdiocese and a former rector of the North American College;
Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh; Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport; Bishop
Sean O’Malley of Palm Beach; and Archbishops Charles Chaput of Denver,
Justin Rigali of St. Louis, and Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe.
Both O’Malley and Chaput
are Capuchin Franciscans, making this perhaps the first time in recent
memory that two Capuchins made anyone’s short list for a bishop’s appointment.
The Capuchins, much to their credit, are not known for ecclesiastical ambition.
(I say this as a product of six years of Capuchin education — and whether
that is to their credit is best left to the reader’s judgment).
Finally, in a week full
of non-stop TV and radio interviews, I was asked countless times to describe
the “atmosphere” in the Vatican surrounding Law’s visit and his resignation.
I got the impression that at least in the Anglo-Saxon world, many people
assumed the Vatican must feel like the Nixon White House in 1975, with
the same air of bitter defeat. In fact, however, the mood in the Apostolic
Palace last week was actually fairly sprightly, due mostly to the approaching
Christmas season, perhaps coupled with satisfaction over the pope’s physical
My evidence? On Thursday,
Dec. 12, as Law’s resignation announcement was being drafted, I found myself
in the papal apartment as part of a press pool covering the visit of the
President of Singapore, S.R. Nathan. As several of us waited outside during
the private encounter between the pope and Nathan, Bishop Stanislaw Dziwisz,
then pope’s private secretary and closest advisor, emerged carrying a tray
of Austrian chocolates. He walked around the room handing them out, beaming
broadly, then stayed to banter with the photographers, joking that one
of them looked like a Palestinian (the president of Israel was also on
the pope’s schedule that day). Hence it would hardly be accurate to say
that the pope’s inner circle was “hunkered down in crisis mode” as the
Law saga played itself out.
On the other hand, sources
also say that Dziwisz and others in the circle around the pope are increasingly
concerned that the sex abuse scandals, which seemed months ago like isolated
local incidents, now threaten to taint the closing phase of John Paul’s
papacy. Taken together, they could paint a picture of subpar episcopal
appointments and administrative neglect on John Paul’s watch. Certainly
no one doubts the pope’s personal integrity, or his horror at revelations
of sexual abuse of children by priests. It is a fair question, however,
if more aggressive leadership from Rome might have spared an enormous amount
of suffering, both by victims and by the church. Perhaps in some small
measure, this concern, too, helps explain the papal change of heart on
* * *
On Dec. 16, the Vatican
released a letter from Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation
for Bishops, granting the recognitio to the sex abuse norms adopted
by the U.S. bishops in Washington in mid-November. The decision means that
those norms have the force of law in every diocese in the United States.
The decision was widely
anticipated, since the norms had been revised by a “mixed commission” of
U.S. bishops and Vatican officials in late October. This column reported
Dec. 6 that the recognitio had been granted.
No one should think,
however, that Vatican approval of the norms for two years means the end
of the story. In fact, there are serious unanswered questions about how
these rules will work in practice. They include:
What actually is meant
by “sexual abuse?” The standard in the norms, “an external, objectively
grave violation of the sixth commandment,” leaves much room for interpretation,
with the risk that the same act might have a priest restored to ministry
in one diocese but barred for life in another.
How will the requirement
of “pontifical secrecy” affect cooperation with civil and criminal authorities?
Will both victims and accused priests be left in the dark for long periods
of time as the legal machinery grinds on? Will a lack of transparency undermine
public confidence in the process?
How will the American
norms work with the new Vatican norms on sex abuse, proclaimed in secret
18 months ago and recently published for the first time on the NCR
web site? How will church officials ensure that a uniform standard of justice
is being applied at both levels?
Will the Vatican grant
waivers from the statute of limitations, set at 10 years from the victim’s
18th birthday, as a matter of course, as the U.S. bishops told
the American press in Washington? Or will there be cases in which the evidence
seems insufficiently compelling to Vatican officials, or the crime insufficiently
grave, to justify reaching 30 or 40 years into the past? If so, how will
victims and lay activist groups react when the accused priest is restored
If a bishop removes a
priest on the basis of norm nine, using administrative authority, when
he can’t secure a conviction in a canonical court but is convinced the
priest is guilty, will the Vatican back him up on appeal? (Such an appeal
from an administrative measure is technically called “recourse”). What
happens if the bishop is overturned, since bishops have vowed that such
men will never be returned to ministry?
Where do religious order
priests and deacons fit in this process? They were written into the norms
at the last minute in footnote #1, but almost everyone recognizes this
is not a satisfactory solution. Will the orders be able to maintain their
traditional autonomy while at the same time cooperating in the spirit of
the new norms?
This is hardly an exhaustive
list, but it gives some indication of the challenges to be worked out over
the next two years.
* * *
An update on the forthcoming
Vatican document on the admission of homosexuals to seminaries.
This week I had the opportunity
to speak with an official involved in the drafting. He explained the complexity
of the process, since while the document is formally being prepared under
the aegis of the Congregation for Education, many other offices are involved.
These include the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Secretariat
of State, the Congregations for Clergy and for Consecrated Life, the Congregation
for Divine Worship, and any congregation with responsibility for seminaries,
which include the Congregations for Evangelization of Peoples and for Oriental
The official indicated
that the document would probably bar the admission of a seminary candidate
with a “permanent, enduring” homosexual orientation. The problem, he said,
is how to know whether or not a particular man fits that profile. “If a
man has had certain experiences, but has come out of them, can you really
say that’s permanent and enduring?” he asked. The official stressed that
it’s always up to bishops and seminary formators to make these decisions
in individual cases — pointedly, he added, “not psychologists.”
I asked why this document
was being prepared now, given that there are other ways to give indications
to bishops without inviting the storm of media attention that will certainly
follow the issuance of a formal document. The official replied, “because
the American bishops asked for it.” In their ad limina visits to
Rome, he said, various American prelates made the request for the Vatican
to say something authoritative.
One internal tension
in the drafting process is between those who want something unambiguous
and with teeth, and those who would prefer to phrase the document positively,
as an exposition of the qualities the church seeks in a priest. Such an
approach would stress that a priest is someone capable of giving his whole
heart unreservedly to God, in response to a vocation that comes from God.
Taking the latter route, the official said, would avoid using harsh language
on the unsuitability of gays, but risks watering down the desired message.
“We don’t want to exclude
vocations,” this official said. “There are priests who have had these experiences
in their lives who are nevertheless wonderful, holy priests, who can be
compassionate. It would be wrong to exclude these men.”
Nevertheless, the official
said, the crisis in the United States illustrates the costs of being “imprudent”
in the admission of candidates to the priesthood.
The official stressed
two or three times how much the drafters are “suffering” in the preparation
of this document. Some people believe Vatican potentates enjoy cracking
heads, this official said, but people involved in the process on this document
* * *
Vatican opposition to
the prospect of a U.S.-led war in Iraq grows steadily more overt.
On Dec. 17, the Vatican
released the pope’s message for the World Day of Peace, on Jan. 1. This
annual gesture was introduced by Paul VI, who selected New Year’s Day because
it is a secular, not specifically Christian, observance, and hence can
appeal to all “people of good will.”
In this year’s message,
John Paul II emphasizes the need for respect of human rights, and the construction
of an international political order capable of backing up these rights.
While stressing that he is not talking about a “super-state,” it was nevertheless
clear that the pope wanted to give strong backing to the United Nations.
On hand to present the
message in a Vatican press conference was Archbishop Renato Martino, for
16 years the Holy See’s observer the U.N., and now prefect of the Council
for Justice and Peace. Martino was blunt in his application of these principles
to the idea of what some in the Bush administration have labeled a “preventive
war” against Iraq.
“A preventive war is
a war of aggression,” Martino said. “There is no doubt. This is not part
of the definition of a just war. There has to be an offense, an invasion,
and then there can be a legitimate defense.”
Asked about the need
to disarm aggressors, Martino stressed anew the need to work through the
“This disarming of belligerents
must be done through the organs at our disposition, which is the United
Nations,” Martino said, recalling that Paul VI had referred to the U.N.
as “the obligatory path for humanity in modern times.”
A recent editorial in
La Civiltà Cattolica, the Jesuit journal that serves as a semi-official
house organ for the Vatican, recently put an exclamation point on this
“The ‘preventive war’
does not serve peace, but places humanity in a state of permanent war,
in addition to the very grave fact that the theory of ‘preventive war’
lies beyond the most ethically secure rules and those most universally
accepted by international law,” it read.
As in the Gulf War in
1991, if the United States does go to war in Iraq, it seems increasingly
clear it will do so without the support of the Holy See.
A footnote. In his message
for World Peace Day, John Paul pointed approvingly to “the almost universal
demand for participatory ways of exercising political authority, even international
political authority, and for transparency and accountability at every level
of public life.” In the wake of the sex abuse crisis, these words will
have a special resonance for American Catholics, who will perhaps see applications
for them inside the church as well.
* * *
Two important curial
appointments were announced Dec. 19. Salesian Fr. Angelo Amato, an Italian,
was named the new secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith, while Legionaries of Christ Fr. Brian Farrell, from Ireland, has
been named the new secretary of the Council for the Promotion of Christian
Amato has long been a
key consultor to the CDF, so his appointment was not a surprise. He was
one of the primary authors of the September 2000 document Dominus Iesus,
which generated worldwide controversy by asserting that followers of other
religions are in a “gravely deficient situation” in comparison to Christians,
who alone “have the fullness of the means of salvation.”
A professor of theology
at Rome’s Salesianum University, Amato was the driving force behind the
lengthy CDF investigation of Belgian Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis. His 1997
book Towards a Theology of Religious Pluralism, which argued that
other religious have a positive role in God’s plan for humanity, generated
alarm in the Vatican about diminished missionary efforts and a “one’s as
good as another” religious relativism. When Dupuis was brought in for a
confrontation with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in September 2000 (the day
before Dominus Iesus was issued), Amato was the lone theological
advisor present. He did not, however, speak during the meeting.
Amato, a Christologist,
studied in India as well as Greece, and speaks Greek fluently. He has expertise
in both Orthodox theology as well as Oriental religions, perhaps explaining
his interest in some of the same issues that occupy Dupuis, despite their
Last year Amato gave
a talk at the Legionaries of Christ university in Rome, Regina Apostolorum,
in which he said that John Paul II’s lasting contribution to Catholic theology
is “Trinitarian Christocentrism,” that is, placing Christ at the center
of theological discourse within a Trinitarian perspective. In this connection,
Amato said that Dominus Iesus simply re-expressed what the pope
had written in his 1990 encyclical on evangelization, Redemptoris Missio.
It may intrigue some
readers to know that Amato devoted 10 of the 31 pages of his talk to whether
there should be a new, fifth Marian dogma, assigning her the titles of
“Mediatrix” and “Coredemptrix.” This is a hot question at
places such as the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, where the
champion of the “final dogma,” Professor Mark Miraville, promotes the cause.
Amato’s conclusion was negative. Such titles, he wrote, are confusing theologically
and unnecessarily provocative ecumenically.
Speaking of the Legionaries
of Christ, the other curial appointment of note is Farrell, a Legionary,
who has worked in the Secretariat of State since 1981. At the Council for
Promoting Christian Unity he replaces Marc Ouellet, a Sulpician, who has
recently been named the archbishop of Quebec.
Farrell took over the
role of the head of the English-language section in the Secretariat of
State when American James Harvey moved up to the assessor’s office, before
eventually becoming head of the Pontifical Household. In that post, Farrell
has been responsible for many of the pope’s English-language speeches,
which include memorable discourses at World Youth Day and the trip to the
Holy Land. He also had a hand in preparing the pope’s addresses for the
limina visits of the U.S. bishops. One Vatican source described Farrell
as a “solid, orthodox guy.”
While the appointment
took many by surprise, Farrell actually has a long-standing interest in
ecumenical issues. Farrell’s doctoral work was performed under Jesuit Fr.
Karl Becker at the Gregorian University, himself a longtime consultor for
the CDF, on the subject of inter-communion among Orthodox, Protestants
A family note: Farrell’s
brother, Kevin, is an auxiliary bishop in the Washington archdiocese. He
was appointed by Cardinal Theodore McCarrick as vicar general and moderator
of the curia. Kevin Farrell started out as a Legionaries of Christ priest
as well, but left in 1984 to become a member of the diocesan clergy.
For Anglo-Saxons, Amato’s
appointment is probably more important than Farrell’s, for two reasons.
First, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has been assigned
exclusive jurisdiction over cases of priestly sex abuse of minors, hence
the secretary of that office automatically becomes the Vatican’s point
person on the sex abuse crisis. Second, given that Ratzinger has pulled
back somewhat from the day-to-day management of the congregation, the secretary’s
role becomes critical in terms of providing leadership and setting the
tone. Farrell, meanwhile, will be serving a strong leader at the top of
his game in Cardinal Walter Kasper, meaning the personal imprint he will
leave on the office will likely be correspondingly less.
One curiosity lingers
about the Amato appointment. Typically there is a canon lawyer among the
three top officials at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
on the theory that the office’s work is in part theological and in part
canonical. The outgoing secretary, Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone (also a
Salesian) was a canonist, Ratzinger a theologian. Amato, however, is a
theologian, as is the under-secretary, Dominican Fr. Augustine Di Noia,
an American. Hence the canonist is sort of a missing link.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
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