|Vatican diplomacy aimed at
blocking a war in Iraq continued this week, with a visit from English Prime
Minister Tony Blair and comments from Vatican officials suggesting that
armed force without U.N. authorization would be a crime, and that the U.S.
may be acting on the basis of oil interests.
Also arriving for talks
with the pope were Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Mohammad
Reza Khatami, the speaker of the Iranian parliament and brother of the
The peace blitz unfolded
on lower levels too. On Feb. 14, the Vatican called in the ambassadors
from countries represented on the United Nations Security Council for a
briefing by Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the Vatican’s foreign minister.
On the afternoon of Feb. 27, all the countries represented at the Vatican
had a similar session with Tauran.
Nor was the spiritual
dimension of the campaign absent. On Sunday, Feb. 23, John Paul II invited
Catholics to a day of fast on Ash Wednesday, March 5, as a way of expressing
their desire for peace. L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican
newspaper, featured the pope’s words about the war on the front page of
its edition the next day, with the word “never” in enormous type.
their religion, should proclaim that we will never be able to be happy
opposing each other, and that the future of humanity can never be assured
by terrorism and the logic of war,” the pope said.
Blair’s visit was officially
private, so details were scarce. He was asked before the meeting, during
a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, about
his differences with the pope on Iraq. Blair repeated that he “does not
want war,” but also insisted that there is a moral case to be made for
the conflict. The Iraqi people are suffering under a regime that does not
respect their human rights, Blair insisted, and the cost of inaction could
be paid in human blood.
In the past few weeks,
in fact, leaders of the Western coalition such as Blair and Berlusconi
have been using a much more moralistic rhetoric to justify the war. Initially
the argument was made on security grounds, that Hussein has weapons that
terrorists could use against the West. Now the argument is a moral one,
that Hussein brutalizes his own people and the West has a moral obligation
to liberate them.
That shift is, in a sense,
a back-handed tribute to the effectiveness of the moral criticism being
offered by the pope, Vatican officials, and other religious leaders. Obviously
Blair feels the need to argue this is a just war.
The meeting between the
pope and Blair was cordial, and despite some odd speculation in the British
press, eagerly anticipated by both sides. As is well known, Blair is a
sort of “virtual Catholic.” His wife is Catholic, the children are Catholic,
Blair himself goes to Catholic Mass and it is widely expected that he will
convert upon leaving office. He and the family attended a private Mass
with the pope Sunday morning.
That said, there remains
a serious gulf in opinion between 10 Downing Street and the Apostolic Palace
on the war in Iraq. Blair believes a moral case can be made, but John Paul
simply isn’t buying it.
Tauran, the Vatican’s
foreign minister, dialed up the diplomatic rhetoric another notch Feb.
24, warning that “a war of aggression would be a crime against peace.”
The comments came at a conference on peace at a Roman hospital. Tauran
said the conflict would be illegal without U.N. warrant, especially if
it were launched “by one or more states” outside the framework of the United
“For us, everything must
be undertaken and decided in the context of the United Nations,” Tauran
“No rule of international
law authorizes one or more states to have unilateral recourse to the use
of force for changing the regime or form of government of another state,
because for example they may possess weapons of mass destruction,” Tauran
said. “Only the Security Council could, on the basis of particular circumstances,
decide that those facts constitute a threat to peace.”
The Vatican’s top diplomat
also warned of the likely response to a war from countries in the region,
which “in solidarity with Iraq could assume extreme attitudes.”
Tauran appeared to downplay
one of the key motives advanced by the Americans for this conflict, Saddam’s
“Weapons of mass destruction
are present not only in the Middle East, but also elsewhere,” Tauran said.
“Their destruction is certainly a pressing necessity, but it can be achieved
with the inspections now underway.”
A war would lead to “disproportionate
damages in relation to the objectives to be reached and would violate the
fundamental rules of international humanitarian law,” Tauran said, in language
widely taken as a reference to the Geneva Convention.
Tauran indicated that
Iraq must act in ways consistent with its membership in international organizations,
and that Bush should opt for “the force of law instead of the law of force.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 24,
Jesuit Fr. Pasquale Borgomeo, director of Vatican Radio, repeated during
his weekly broadcast a suggestion that the Americans and the British have
vociferously denied: that the offensive in Iraq is in part about Western
Borgomeo took his cue
from signs reading “no blood for oil” that many American anti-war protestors
have been carrying, and suggested that perhaps they have a point. He noted
that in late November representatives of American oil companies met with
Iraqi opposition groups in London to open talks about the disposition of
oil rights in a post-war Iraq.
Despite the fact that
Blair has called the suggestion a “conspiracy theory,” Borgomeo said it
is “difficult” not to believe that Iraq’s vast resources, estimated at
some 112 billion barrels, has something to do with the military build-up.
It’s this sort of talk
that has some conservative voices within European Catholicism increasingly
frustrated with what they see as an unbalanced Vatican line.
Bishop Alessandro Maggiolini
of Como voiced this sentiment to Corriere della Sera, Italy’s most
authoritative daily newspaper. “I have the impression that by now the Catholics
who count are increasing lined up under the banner of anti-Americanism,”
Despite the diplomatic
frenzy, senior Vatican officials seem privately pessimistic that war in
Iraq can be avoided.
“I hope for it strongly,
but I don’t have much faith,” a senior official told NCR Feb. 25.
“I’m sorry to say this
to your countrymen, but my impression is that America wants to get rid
of Saddam Hussein at all costs, and even if he does disarm that won’t be
enough to save himself,” the official said.
* * *
On Tuesday, Feb. 25,
I had the chance to sit down with Fr. Philip Najim, the procurator of the
Chaldean Patriarchate of Baghdad, responsible for the 70,000 Chaldean Catholics
in Europe. Najim told me his people are “praying that a war may yet be
The small Chaldean Catholic
community in Rome, made up of some 100 Iraqis, is centered at the basilica
of St. Mary of the Angels, in the Piazza della Repubblica. Once a month
Najim celebrates a Mass for them in the Chaldean rite.
Najim noted that in the
past few days some 5,000 Chaldean Catholics have fled Baghdad and are presently
somewhere in the mountains between Iraq and Turkey, seeking to escape both
Western bombs and the potential wrath of their Islamic neighbors, who may
blame them for the war.
I pressed Najim on whether
his Iraqi Christians might actually appreciate a “regime change” with the
fall of Saddam Hussein.
“Up to now we’ve had
relative freedom,” Najim said. “We’ve got our own churches, parishes, seminaries,
colleges, and they are by and large left alone. How do we know that what
comes after Saddam won’t be worse?”
Najim said he has greater
problems with religious freedom in Greece than in Iraq. In Greece, he said,
his priests can enter the country as Iraqi citizens, but because the Chaldean
Catholic Church is not recognized in the overwhelmingly Orthodox nation,
those priests cannot receive permanent residence permits as pastors.
I noted the shift in
rhetoric from the Western powers in recent days, towards the argument that
the suffering of the Iraqi people demands a military intervention. Najim
turned the argument around, blaming the West for the suffering imposed
by 12 years of sanctions.
“You are torturing me,
and asking me at the same time what I think of Hussein,” Najim said. “It
doesn’t make sense. Let me eat, then let me think. Let me have my medicine,
and then I can tell you whether I want Saddam Hussein to continue in power.”
Najim stressed that he
sees himself as a priest, not a politician, but he believes a war will
“destroy everything.” He recently celebrated a Mass for peace in Rome with
the participation of Italian Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, and another
in Sicily with Bishop Sarhad Jammo, a Chaldean bishop now based in San
“I’m worried for the
religious identity of my people,” Najim said. “If Christianity in Iraq
is wiped out, they will lose their identity. We can’t be Chaldean Christians
if there is no Christianity in Baghdad.”
I asked if the church
is shifting some of its 200 clergy inside Iraq to neighboring nations to
care for a likely flood of refugees if war comes, or if the Baghdad headquarters
is duplicating baptismal and marriage records, financial documents, and
so on, in case of damage from the fighting. Najim looked at me and sighed.
“No,” he said at last.
“The future is too bleak,”
he said. “Mostly they pray.”
* * *
In recent weeks much
of my time has been passed talking with Vatican officials about the war.
I recently had the good fortune of spending some time over coffee with
a veteran curial cardinal, a non-American, who brought home for me a key
element of how the Vatican sees the United States: its lack of self-criticism.
The cardinal’s comments
offer a valuable window into Vatican psychology, and how it may influence
the Vatican line on the war.
Americans, the cardinal
said, are simply not in the habit of thinking about how the rest of the
world sees them. They have a self-image fueled by their own media and history
that rarely is “corrected” by contact with other points of view.
“Look at American newspapers,” he said. “Aside
from five or six large national dailies, the coverage of foreign news is
non-existent. Americans don’t speak many languages and don’t think much
about other countries.”
The cardinal pointed
out that isolationism is a perennial temptation in American political psychology,
paradoxically joined to willingness to project American power in defense
of perceived national interests anywhere in the world.
The Vatican, by way of
contrast, is a genuinely cosmopolitan institution. The world’s one billion
Catholics are scattered in every corner of the planet, which means that
Vatican officials have to worry about how their policies and statements
play not just in the American press, but also in the councils of theocratic
Islamic states and in totalitarian regimes such as China. Multilateralism
courses in the Vatican’s diplomatic bloodstream, because as a tiny state
with no military or economic muscle it relies on the good will of others
to protect its interests. While the United States sees the U.N. as a threat
to its sovereignty, the Vatican sees it as the lone possibility for a global
political order capable of advancing the common good.
There is, the cardinal
said, a basic symphony of shared values between the Vatican and the United
States on issues such as democracy, human rights, and the defense of human
freedom. The Vatican’s fear, he said, is that the United States will end
up undercutting these values through the illusion that it can force its
will on the rest of the world.
I challenged this assertion,
pointing to the conviction of many in the Bush administration that when
Islamic nations see the Iraqis celebrating the fall of Saddam Hussein,
they will be grateful to the United States.
“What do they know about
the Islamic world?” the cardinal asked. He pointed to the American experience
in Vietnam, when the rationale for military action was the fight against
global communism — even though Vietnamese communism was fundamentally a
form of nationalism that had little to do with communism in the Soviet
Union or China.
“Why didn’t someone explain
this to Johnson?” he asked. “I fear that the United States has its heart
in the right place but often doesn’t understand the history and psychology
of the places where it decides to intervene.”
In the interests of fairness,
when I pressed, the cardinal acknowledged that some recent rhetoric from
the Holy See has flirted with anti-Americanism. Most of those calling the
shots in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps are sons of what Donald Rumsfeld
has called “old Europe,” he said, and they may indeed have some prejudices
in this regard. He added that he thought it was a mistake for Etchegaray
to return from Baghdad testifying to Hussein’s desire for peace, and for
the Franciscans in Assisi to make a public event out of Tarik Aziz’s visit.
* * *
Here’s one of the thousand
and one ways in which war, and even the talk of war, creates fear.
On Jan. 6, Feast of the
Epiphany, the pope always personally ordains a set of new bishops. This
year I assumed someone had been attentive to apostolic symbolism, and put
together a group of twelve. I recently learned, however, that the number
at one stage was supposed to be 13. The pope was supposed to lay hands
on a new Eastern rite bishop destined for a local church in the Islamic
world, a country with a rising Islamic fundamentalist movement.
The head of that church,
however, decided at the last minute that the new bishop should come home
and be ordained locally. If he were made a bishop in Rome, that head of
the church feared, he might be seen by the Islamic fundamentalists as an
imposition from the West. (The head of the church is said to have a general
preference for doing things on the home front, but his concern in this
case was amplified by the war clouds).
Hence the new bishop
missed his chance to be ordained by the pope. One of the smaller prices
that may yet be paid in this conflict, but then the story of war is composed
of thousands of prices, large and small, almost always paid by innocent
* * *
For the past two weeks,
Fr. Charles Scicluna of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
has conducted two behind-closed-doors briefing sessions for canon lawyers
in the United States on cases involving charges of sexual abuse of children
by priests. Scicluna crossed the ocean to explain how the tribunals created
in the congregation to deal with these cases will work.
Scicluna, who is Maltese,
was joined in leading the sessions by two distinguished North American
canonists: Fr. Thomas Green of the Catholic University of America, an expert
in procedural and penal law, and Oblate Fr. Francis Morrisey of St. Paul
University, Ottawa, Canada.
The centerpiece of Scicluna’s
agenda was to explain a set of changes made in secret by the pope Feb.
7 to the church’s norms on sex abuse cases, issued on April 30, 2001, in
the motu proprio called Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela,
“Defense of the Most Holy Sacraments.” Those norms were secret until NCR
published them in November 2002. (The norms may be found at www.natcath.org/NCR_Online/documents/CDFnorms.htm).
The changes allow deacons
and lay people to serve on criminal tribunals in the Catholic Church, even
as judges. Under rules decreed by the pope in April 2001, those roles had
been restricted to priests. The changes also drop the requirement that
tribunal members must have a doctorate in canon law, insisting only that
they hold the lesser degree of a licentiate. Both moves should expand the
pool of judges and lawyers and hence make it easier to form tribunals.
In what experts say is
a notable departure from canonical tradition, the changes also give the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office now charged
with adjudicating sex abuse cases, the power in “clear and grave” situations
to dismiss someone from the priesthood without a trial. That administrative
power had heretofore belonged only to the pope himself.
The congregation has
also acquired the power to “sanate,” meaning clean up, procedural irregularities
in the acts of a local tribunal. That means that if a case comes to Rome
on appeal on procedural grounds, the problem can be resolved without remanding
the case for a new trial.
The changes permit a
recourse, or appeal, against decisions of the congregation only to the
regular Wednesday assembly of cardinal members of the congregation. All
other appeals are excluded, meaning that the congregation’s decisions are
All told, canon lawyers
told NCR, the changes should speed up church trials of accused priests.
“These changes read like
they were done by someone who deeply understands the practical realities
of how the system works,” one canonical expert in Rome said.
The promise of swift
action was implicit in the Vatican’s reaction to the proposed sex abuse
norms adopted by the U.S. bishops in Dallas in June 2002. Those norms envisioned
removing priests through a bishop’s administrative authority. The Vatican
insisted instead that accused priests have the right to a trial, but vowed
to make sure that the process moves as swiftly as possible.
On another matter, a
Vatican official told NCR this week that the expected flood of requests
for recourse, the technical canonical term for appeal, from disciplinary
measures under the new sex abuse norms has yet to materialize. Some 300
priests so far have been removed from ministry under the program the U.S.
bishops finalized in Washington in November, and some canonists worried
that many, if not most, would request recourse, placing an enormous strain
on the Vatican’s judicial resources. So far, however, it hasn’t happened;
the actual number of appeals is closer to 10 than 100, the official said.
That number may yet rise,
however, as judicial tribunals in the United States begin to hear these
cases and to render their decisions.
* * *
Two notes touching upon
the work of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which
under Cardinal Walter Kasper seems increasingly dynamic.
First, Kasper’s office,
which for historical reasons has responsibility for Catholic relations
with Jews, marked an important breakthrough this week. For the first time,
the Catholic Church held an official dialogue with the Chief Rabbinate
of Israel, the most authoritative exponent of Judaism in Israel. Up to
this point, most of the Catholic/Jewish dialogue has been with American
Jewry, so this was an important step towards broadening the conversation.
Some Israeli Jews have quietly suggested that the Americans do not always
see things as they do. The Catholic side was represented by, among others,
Dominican Fr. Georges Cottier, theologian of the papal household.
Second, Kasper has announced
several times in recent weeks his intention to sponsor a symposium in May
on the Petrine primacy involving theologians from all the Orthodox churches.
Most recently, he made reference to the event during a lecture at the Pontifical
University of St. Thomas (popularly known as the Angelicum) to launch a
new chair in ecumenical studies. Kasper said that his office has collected
a wide variety of responses to the pope’s 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint,
inviting the other Christian churches and ecclesial communities into a
dialogue about the primacy, and has circulated that collection among Orthodox
churches. “There is not yet a consensus, but there is a new atmosphere,
a new interest, and a new openness,” Kasper said.
* * *
This week the Vatican’s
Academy for Life has been holding its annual plenary assembly, with the
theme of “The ethics of biomedical research: For a Christian vision.” In
conjunction with the event, I requested an interview with Cardinal Alfonso
López Trujillo, the Colombian who heads the Pontifical Council for
Here’s the text of our
The news that a sect,
and separately, an Italian doctor (Dr. Sergio Antinori), have claimed to
have cloned human beings, has recently aroused outrage worldwide. As a
consequence, 75 countries, among them France and Germany, have proposed
the immediate prohibition of reproductive cloning, although other countries,
especially the United States, have insisted that cloning for purposes of
investigation should simultaneously be prohibited. According to Your Eminence,
what type of cloning for purposes of investigation could be legitimate?
Antinori does not enjoy great prestige in Italy, and the Raelians’ desire
to be protagonists is well known. However, although this news lacks foundation,
the gravity of the question — that is, the possibility that cloning could
take place in the future — greatly justifies the concern of the authorities
and public opinion. If it were achieved, human cloning would be a threat
to the future of humanity and a grave violation of human dignity. There
are many with great authority and competence all over the world who underscore
the risk that opening the door to cloning would involve. It is a true danger
that humanity should be aware of. Therefore, the intention to prohibit
cloning of human beings in all its forms and all over the world is normal,
including cloning for purposes of investigation. Those who understand the
risks of cloning (even if it is done for investigation) do not come only
from the United States. The gravity and the danger are such that it would
be right for everyone to consider it as a crime against humanity.
It is said that stem
cell research could bring about the cure for Parkinson’s disease.
Stem cell research has created high hopes in public opinion that experts
usually nuance. A recent article by a professor of biochemistry at the
University of Navarre in Spain, Natalía López Moratalla,
appeared in the magazine Palabra in December of last year. It reminds
us that the clinical use and therapeutic possibilities of the use of embryonic
stem cells is still under debate. Such future use has significant risks,
which should not be underestimated. Experts are well aware of the risks
of an indiscriminate proliferation of these embryonic stems cells in the
organism, and statistics from experiments done so far show the tendency
of these cells to degenerate into serious tumors. All these have caused
the initial expectations regarding the therapeutic applications of these
researches to be corrected by the scientists, who are not overly optimistic
about an immediate application of these techniques. Many of them seem skeptical
about the real therapeutic value of the use of embryonic stem cells.
the United States government with the Holy See were difficult during the
time of President Bill Clinton. How are these relations today with the
government of President George Bush?
In many questions dealing with the family and life, President Bush has
repeatedly shown himself to be in harmony with the publicly well known
positions of the Holy See, such as, for example, regarding the question
of abortion and the inclusion of abortion in birth control campaigns. In
an initial statement, the president, referring to federal funds for stem
cell research, was favorable to funding projects related to the promising
adult stem cells, but he was clearly against subsidizing research that
would include the destruction of embryos to obtain embryonic stem cells.
Even though in that statement funding was not excluded for research with
stem cells from embryos that were already destroyed (leaving a certain
confusion, which would allow manipulation of the embryo itself), it is
still a step forward. Things seem to be changing with respect to the preceding
period. For example, there are initiatives in favor of banning the so-called
“partial-birth abortion,” which, as we know, were vetoed in the past by
President Clinton. According to certain sources, a solid group composed
of Republicans and Democrats is trying to oppose the present state of affairs
and to penalize the procedure. There are well-grounded hopes that President
Bush would not oppose these efforts, and that this barbaric, inhumane practice
against the most innocent human life could be eradicated in the United
Especially in Europe,
there is a flood of pressure in favor of legalizing de facto unions, especially
of homosexuals (in some countries “marriage” of these persons has been
approved), and there are even voices raised in favor of allowing them to
adopt children. What is happening?
Pressure on politicians and legislators has been stronger in this sense,
for some time, and not only in Europe. Legalization of these de facto
unions is detrimental to the family, reduced to a type of “union” equal
to other different realities. This is an offense by comparison and harms
society, because it attacks the distributive justice that the authorities
have the duty to guard. The family is the vital fabric in which the whole
society is sustained. Everything which harms the family also harms, sooner
or later, society.
In spite of the profound
reasons for concern (think of the recent legalization of homosexual “marriage”
in Holland and Belgium), I am happy because of the sensibility manifested
by many in this situation. I refer to the healthy, sound common sense reaction
in the face of the recent outrages. I think, for example, of the defense
of human dignity seen in the recent book, Our Posthuman Future,
of the well-known author Francis Fukuyama (author of the famous work, The
End of History and the Last Man, in which he announces the triumph
of liberal capitalism), recently named member of the Council of Bioethics;
or the initiatives of President Bush, which I referred to earlier, in relation
to the family and life.
These are simply a few
examples of a generalized recovery of sensibility with respect to human
dignity, close to what the church teaches regarding natural law. It is
a recovery that is especially needed in our time. As Fukuyma writes, persons
of the new world (referring to Aldous Huxley’s famous book) could
be healthy and happy, but are no longer human beings, they do not
fight, have aspirations, or love, … they do not have a family… Their world
became “unnatural” in the most profound sense that could be imagined, because
it is precisely human nature that is altered.
* * *
When a draft of the first
16 articles of the proposed European Constitutional Treaty was released
in early February, John Paul II expressed deep disappointment that it did
not mention the contributions and role of Christian churches. Despite the
current focus on Iraq, the pope brought the point up with Britain’s Prime
Minister Tony Blair last week.
“The Holy See expressed
the wish for an explicit recognition of the churches and community of believers,
as well as for a commitment by the European Union to maintain a structured
dialogue with the churches,” a statement after the meeting said.
I arranged a Feb. 25
interview with Monsignor Pietro Parolin, Tauran’s deputy in the Secretariat
of State, to discuss the debate over the constitution. Parolin is the man
who replaced Celestino Migliore, who recently became the Holy See’s permanent
observer at the United Nations in New York, as Tauran’s number two.
“There are those who,
despite referring themselves to values born from the Christian roots of
Europe, think that an explicit reference should not appear,” Parolin told
me. “This position obviously appears a bit strange to us, to think that
the most effective method of knowing someone or something is simply to
“Another reason [for
the controversy] can be found in the concept of the lay state. Probably
from a certain interpretation of the concept comes a tendency to diminish
or eliminate completely any public relevance of religion, relegating it
solely to the sphere of the private,” Parolin said.
For some, I asked, this
debate may seem a bit abstract. Given all the burning issues in the world,
who cares if European politicians do or do not make an explicit reference
to religion in their new constitution?
“There would be serious consequences,” Parolin
insisted. “Around 80 percent of European citizens present and future, by
which I mean the actual 15 member countries of the European Union and the
ten that have been invited to join departing from the first months of 2004,
recognize themselves with the Christian confessions. This is an undeniable
fact. Not to take note of the requests of the churches and the religious
confessions that represent such a large part of the citizens of Europe,
present and future, seems to me in contrast with the principle of pluralism,
an authentic pluralism, and thus also with a healthy democracy.”
Beyond a specific reference
to religion in the new constitution, the Vatican has also proposed: (1)
a structured dialogue between religious bodies and the European authorities;
(2) the explicit recognition of existing national laws on religion; (3)
the full autonomy of religious bodies.
On dialogue, the Vatican
wants an institutional forum that “does not depend solely upon good will,
improvisation, or benevolent attention.” Such a forum “does not mean a
privilege, a power to decide in certain instances of the European Union
that deal clearly with religion,” Parolin said.
On national statutes,
Parolin said it’s a matter of subsidiarity.
“This is a principle
already recognized in the Treaty of Amsterdam [signed in October 1997],
declaration number 11 in the annex to the treaty, and hence in a certain
sense is by now an accomplished fact within the European Union,” he said.
On autonomy, Parolin
said religious freedom has both an individual and a corporate dimension.
“This is not merely a
question of a personal right to religious freedom, but also institutional
… that is, not merely the possibility of every single person to express
his own faith, but also of the churches as such to organize themselves
and to pursue their aims in respect of their fundamental rights.
Parolin was not certain,
however, that the experience of the United States on church/state issues
offers much help to the Europeans.
“I believe that the situation
is very different,” he said. “I read recently that in the United States
this regime of separation between church and state was born in collaboration
between the state and the religious confessions, with a contribution from
the religious confessions in the various sectors, in the various ambits
of social life for building the society. In Europe, [the concept of church/state
separation] was born above all in conflict.”
While acknowledging that
“there is still work to do,” Parolin said he hopes progress can be made
“through the amendments that have been presented and in the subsequent
* * *
In the past few days
I had the pleasure of being invited to speak in three terrific venues in
Rome: the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Promoters for the Union
of Superiors General and International Union of Superiors General; the
Pontifical Beda College; and the sixth, seventh and eighth grade classes
of the Marymount International School.
While the religious men
and women of the JPIC group and the students and faculty at the Beda were
both wonderful audiences, I feel compelled to note that many of the most
penetrating, and demanding, questions I fielded came from the middle school
students at Marymount. One young woman wanted a straight answer as to why
a female couldn’t be pope; another young woman asked bluntly, “What happens
if the church gets a bad pope?” I tried to stump my audience by asking
trivia questions such as “Who was the second pope?” but I underestimated
them: a young man’s hand shot up immediately with the correct response,
Two impressions from
Marymount. One, the faculty are obviously doing a terrific job. The students
were perfectly behaved without being inert, they were sharp and articulate,
and obviously well informed. Two, these kids are not going to be satisfied
with a church that doesn’t know how to explain itself, to offer its teaching
with a logic that cuts some ice. Those who hold public office in the Catholic
* * *
Though I will be out
of town, on March 6 at noon there will be quite a show in the Vatican press
office. A professional actor will be reading a few new poems written by
John Paul II, part of a new book of poetry from the pope entitled Roman
Triptych. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the pope’s top doctrinal advisor,
will present a lecture.
While the event is restricted
to those of us accredited to the press office, it will be broadcast live
on the Italian Catholic network Telepace.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
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