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Posted April 22, 2005 at 2:19 p.m. CDT

The mill continues to grind, but rumors prove false
Four named as possible doctrinal prefect

By John L. Allen, Jr.

Reports that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office until recently headed by Pope Benedict XVI, is preparing to issue four new documents, including one approving Communion for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, are "absolutely false," according to senior Vatican sources.

Reports in the Italian media claimed that whoever is appointed as Ratzinger's successor will inherit four documents ready to be issued. One, the reports suggested, concerns Communion for the "innocent party" in the case of divorced and remarried Catholics; a second would raise the retirement age for bishops from 75 to 80; a third and fourth on ecumenism would commit the pope to the search for Christian unity and would express the divinity of Christ in a mode acceptable to other Christian confessions.

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These reports, senior Vatican sources told NCR April 22, are not true. There are no such documents, nor any projects to produce documents along the lines suggested, within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sources said.

While it is possible that other Vatican offices might be thinking about such documents, a Vatican source said April 22 that even if that were the case, nothing is close to publication.

On the question of Communion, Vatican sources said that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is working on a study of the principles underlying reception of the Eucharist, responding in part to the debate raised in the United States over pro-choice Catholic politicians. It will not, however, produce a change of policy for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

That issue was already addressed in a 1994 document of the congregation, "Reception of Communion: Divorced-and-Remarried Catholics." The heart of that document was the following affirmation: "If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists."

On the question of the retirement age, Vatican sources indicated that this question is not part of the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in any event, no document on the subject exists in that office.

On the ecumenical question, the new pope has already expressed his commitment to the search for Christian unity, and his anticipated visit Monday to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls is a further symbolic indication of his desire to move in that direction.

Yet senior Vatican sources told NCR that the two ecumenical documents referred to in the Italian press accounts do not exist. The congregation conducted a symposium on the papacy following John Paul II's 1995 encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, the proceedings of which were published in 1998. At the moment, sources said, no further documents are planned.

On the subject of Ratzinger's successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, at least four names have been suggested in recent days: Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, who was one of the proponents of Ratzinger's election to the papacy; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa, Ratzinger's former deputy at the congregation; Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto, a well-known Italian theologian and frequent Vatican advisor; and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, a widely respected intellectual.

George is considered something of a longshot, since Benedict XVI may prefer to leave him in the United States, where he is currently the vice-president of the American bishops' conference and will presumably become the president at the end of the current term. In that capacity, he would be positioned to perhaps the most important point of reference for the pope in the American church.

One other rumor making the rounds is that Benedict XVI may simply decide to direct the congregation himself, as Pius XII, a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps, did with the secretariat of state. Others regard this is a remote possibility, since the pope may not want to take on this responsibility himself.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

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