|Certain misconceptions carry
a surprisingly strong resistance to contradictory evidence. On Monday,
March 10, for example, the London Mirror carried the latest piece
suggesting that John Paul II is no longer compos mentis, in this
case citing as evidence a recent statement the pope made expressing a preference
for sacred music over contemporary styles.
Obviously the charism
of papal infallibility does not extend to musical taste, and it may be
that the pope has a tin ear on such matters. It’s also easy enough to understand
why brief televised images of the pope, which usually show him at his worst,
invite speculation about his mental state. But John Paul II simply is not
out to lunch, and this is not a matter of differing interpretations or
opinions, but a question of fact. The latest confirmation came last week,
with the release of a three-part book-length poem composed over the last
six months, stimulated in part by the pope’s trip to Poland last August.
Mental defectives just
do not spend their spare time penning poems thick with philosophical and
I have no taste in poetry
myself, and hence I cannot pass judgment on the aesthetic merits of John
Paul’s Roman Triptych. Of obvious journalistic interest, however,
are the pope’s meditations on the conclave, the event in which he was elected
pope on Oct. 16, 1978, and in which his successor will eventually be chosen.
The verses are styled as a meditation on Michelangelo’s famous fresco in
the Sistine Chapel depicting the last judgment.
The poem was penned in
Polish and released also in Italian translation. Here’s an English version
of the relevant lines:
It’s right here, at the feet of this stupendous
where the cardinals meet — a community responsible
for the legacy of the keys of the Kingdom.
It comes together right here.
And Michelangelo enfolds them, still, in his
“In Him we live, move and have our being …”
Who is He?
Behold, the creative hand of the Omnipotent Old
Man, stretched out to Adam …
In the beginning God created …
He that everyone sees …
The multi-colored Sistine then will proclaim
the Word of the Lord:
You are Peter — called Simon, the son of Jonah.
“To you I will consign the keys of the Kingdom.”
The descendants, to whom is entrusted the care
of the keys of the Kingdom,
reunite here, allowing themselves to be enfolded
by the multi-colored Sistine,
by this vision that Michelangelo has left us
It was thus in August and then in October, in
that memorable year of two conclaves,
and it will be thus again, when the need presents
after my death.
When the time comes, it is essential that the
vision of Michelangelo speak to them.
“Con-clave”: a shared concern for the legacy
of the keys, of the keys of the Kingdom.
Behold, they see themselves between the Beginning
and the End,
between the Day of Creation and the Day of Judgment.
It’s given to man to die only one time and then
A final transparency and light.
The transparency of events —
The transparency of consciences —
It is essential that, on the occasion of the
conclave, Michelangelo teach the people —
Do not forget: Omnia nuda et aperta sunt ante
You who penetrate all — show us!
He will point the way …
One footnote: It did
not escape the attention of Vatican-watchers that John Paul referred to
the next conclave coming “after my death.” If there remained anyone out
there still entertaining the hypothesis of a papal resignation, this ought
to suggest the improbability of such speculation.
* * *
I am in New York as this
column is written, having stopped in the area for a lecture at St. Peter’s
College in Jersey City at the invitation of my friend and colleague, Jesuit
Fr. Raymond Schroth. Readers of “The Word from Rome” may recognize Schroth’s
name from the pages of the National Catholic Reporter, where he
writes with elan on the media and current events.
When I give this presentation,
I normally play teacher at certain moments, asking if anyone in my audience
can supply certain bits of trivia: how many voting age cardinals there
are in the world, how many are Italian, how many were appointed by John
Paul II, and so on. This is largely a rhetorical exercise, since normal
people do not carry this kind of information around in their heads.
I was dazzled in Jersey
City, however, by the bravura performance of the National Review’s
Michael Potemra, who had come to hear my talk and who had obviously done
his homework. He ticked off the number of living and under-80 cardinals,
the number of Italians, and the number of John Paul appointees without
breaking a sweat. I then posed my ultimate College of Cardinals stumper,
challenging Potemra to name the five members of the college under 80 who
were not appointed by the current pope. He managed to correctly identify
four of the five (Ratzinger, Lorscheider, Sin and Taofinu’u), stumbling
only on the American: Cardinal William Baum.
Hence, kudos to Potemra.
After the presentation,
I was treated to a lovely Italian dinner by St. Peter’s president, rector,
and two members of its board of trustees, along with Schroth. It was great
to see these five men, obviously dear friends, disagree ferociously over
certain issues (whether or not The New York Times is “liberal,”
for example), and yet do so within the context of mutual affection and
a shared commitment to the Jesuit educational mission. Without ignoring
the obvious problems these days of running a small urban liberal arts college,
I had the sense that the young people of St. Peter’s are in good hands.
While in New York, I
paid a courtesy call on Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the new Permanent
Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. I know Migliore from Rome,
where he had served as the deputy to Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, the
Vatican’s foreign minister. In Italian
migliore means “best,” and
in this case the name fits. Most observers regard Migliore as among the
most impressive members of the Vatican’s diplomatic corps.
In the present crisis,
one of the Vatican’s core interests is defending the United Nations system,
insisting that any use of force must be authorized by the U.N. before it
could be legitimate. This is an area of contrast between the Vatican and
much conservative political sentiment in the United States
While some Americans
are leery of surrendering power to the U.N., not trusting it to promote
American values or national interests, the Vatican believes in a reformed
U.N. with real decision-making authority. John Paul II, in his message
for the 2003 World Day of Peace, put it this way: “Is this not the time
for all to work together for a new constitutional organization of the human
family, truly capable of ensuring peace and harmony between peoples, as
well as their integral development?”
In recent months, Vatican
officials have offered three arguments in support of this view.
First, a strong U.N.
could promote the common good on the global level, ensuring that global
economic structures do not simply enrich elites at the expense of the rest
of the world.
Second, a reformed U.N.
would help ensure that strong nations do not simply impose their will on
the weak. Tauran recently said that political leaders should seek to uphold
“the force of law” rather than “the law of force.”
Third, Vatican officials
believe that a U.N. committed to multilateral decision-making, in which
small and medium-sized states have real possibilities to shape policy,
would be less open to manipulation by powerful non-state actors such as
corporations and NGOs (think Planned Parenthood, for example). The Vatican
learned from the battles at the Cairo and Bejing conferences in the mid-1990s
that sometimes its most serious opposition in the U.N. system comes not
from states, but from representatives of civil society. Vatican officials
argue that a U.N. in which states counted more and these special interests
counted less would actually be more democratic.
For these reasons, Migliore
finds himself in a key position to help realize the Vatican’s global vision,
and it will be very interesting to watch how he attempts to promote U.N.
reform in coming months.
* * *
I’ve observed before
that part of the Vatican’s concern about a war in Iraq is the potential
for reprisals against Christians inside the Islamic world. Recently Fr.
Bernardo Cervellera, former head of the Fides news agency and one of the
top experts in the Catholic Church on the situation facing Christians in
Muslim nations, shared with me an essay he’s written on the topic.
His point is that these
fears are not merely theoretical.
Cervellera recalls that
in Pakistan, which is 95 percent Muslim but with a substantial Christian
minority, sixteen Protestants were killed by an Islamic fundamentalist
on Oct. 28, 2001, as a form of retaliation for the U.S. strikes in Afghanistan.
The event took place in Bahawalpur, in the province of Multan, in the Church
of St. Domenic (a Catholic church that was also used by the local Protestants).
The pastor, Fr. Rocco
Patrasm, told Cervellera: “Whenever some Muslim country is struck by Western
nations, we pay the price: murder, torture, suffering. It happened that
way during the Gulf War ten years ago.” Patrasm is virtually certain, Cervellera
writes, that the same thing will happen this time around.
A similar sense of gloom
comes from Ambon, in the Moluccan Islands of Indonesia, where Christians
and Muslims have issued a joint appeal to try to stop a war in Iraq. In
recent years the Malukans have been a bloody theater of Christian/Muslim
conflict, fomented in part by outlawed extremist groups once linked to
the army of the former dictator Suharto. Over four years nearly 15,000
people have died, with tens of thousands more the victim of torture or
forced expulsion from their homes.
Leaders on both sides
practically begged world leaders to avoid a new round of conflict: “Social
violence, bloody crimes, savage attitudes towards human beings have tormented
our region for four years,” they wrote. “In general, it is the common people
and the innocents who bear the brunt of these extreme consequences, this
agony and suffering. In the name of this terrible experience, we religious
leaders of the Malukan islands … say to you that … civilized nations must
resolve their internal and external crises through dialogue and not selecting
the path of war or violence.”
There are indications
that the threat of war against Iraq is radicalizing Islamic opinion in
Indonesia. On Feb. 9, for example, the normally moderate “Justice Party”
held a rally in front of the American embassy in Jakarta, shouting “Allah
is great!” and “No to an American aggression against Muslim countries!”
In the Philippines, which
is only 4.7 percent Muslim but which has a growing Islamic fundamentalist
movement, signs of Christian/Muslim tension are also clear. A radical Muslim
group, Muslim Multisectoral Movement for Peace and Development, led
by a commander named Abdullah Dalidig, has threatened reprisals against
Western interests in the event of an American attack on Iraq.
Even more than violence
in the Philippines, however, many Filipinos fear attacks on their friends
and family in the Middle East, above all Saudi Arabia, where tens of thousands
of Filipinos have emigrated in recent years in search of work. Some Arab-language
media outlets have pointed to these Filipinos, in part because they’re
largely Catholic, as possible “agents” for the West.
It may be in part on
the basis of such fears that Cardinal Jaime Sin issued a letter to be read
in the parishes of his Manila archdiocese at the end of January entitled
“Blessed are the Peacemakers.” In it, Sin argued against a military solution
to the Iraq crisis, and called on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo not
to support the American line.
Vatican diplomacy always
unfolds on two levels. One features the pope as a spokesperson for the
entire human family. John Paul II said in his 1995 address to the diplomatic
corps accredited to the Holy See that the Vatican seeks to be “the voice
of conscience that tirelessly recalls the exigencies of the common good.”
The other level, however,
is the Vatican’s efforts to protect the institutional assets of the Catholic
Church, including its members wherever they are vulnerable. Clearly the
Vatican’s calculus of the present situation is that on both levels, a war
in Iraq spells trouble.
* * *
The background above
may explain why the pope and his lieutenants have been speaking in such
unusually dramatic language about the Iraq crisis.
On Sunday, March 9, for
example, John Paul introduced a decidedly Scriptural note into his appraisal
of the decision facing the international community. “The choice between
peace and war,” the pope said in his Angelus address, “is also a choice
between good and evil that calls all Christians, especially in this Lenten
period, to reject the temptations of Satan, as Jesus did in the desert.”
Given the very public
fashion in which President George Bush invokes his Christian faith, the
pope’s admonition could not help but sound like a personal challenge. John
Paul also announced that he has dedicated his Lenten spiritual exercises
this week to the cause of peace in Iraq.
In an interview with
the Misna news agency, Archbishop Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical
Council for Justice and Peace, warned that a strike in Iraq without explicit
U.N. authorization could be a near-fatal blow to the body’s prestige.
the lack of sufficient votes or the veto, war were to come all the same,
the U.N. would suffer such a humiliating defeat that I don’t know if it
would be able to recover,” Martino said. “In fact, it would end the scope
for which the United Nations was created: the maintenance of peace and
* * *
Since the Iraq crisis
erupted, a number of observers have wondered aloud why the Western powers
don’t simply assassinate Saddam Hussein, since achieving regime change
through the killing of one man would certainly be less destructive than
a war in which tens of thousands are certain to perish. Setting aside the
logistical question of whether such an assassination could be pulled off,
this talk of “taking out” Hussein has revived debate over whether it is
ever morally licit to kill a head of state or other political leader.
This is not the stuff
of abstract scholarly discussion. Israel, for example, practices the targeted
execution of political figures it regards as responsible for terrorist
atrocities. Four Israeli helicopters opened fire last week in Gaza City
on the car of Hamas leader Ibrahim al-Makadmah, regarded as the author
of an attack on an Israeli settlement, leaving him dead.
Redemptorist Fr. Brian
Johnstone, an Australian who teaches at Rome’s Alphonsianum and who is
by consensus one of the best minds in Catholic moral theology today, recently
turned his attention to the question of whether such killing can ever be
justified. He looked at the debate through the prism of Catholic moral
reflection on tyrannicide.
“The Catholic tradition
itself, at least as explained by the majority of its spokespersons, did
not declare tyrannicide to be
in se or (according to later usage)
but set certain conditions under which such an action could be morally
acceptable,” Johnstone writes in his essay.
“One of the most important
of these [conditions] was that the agent have proper ‘jurisdiction;’ a
legal phrase which could be construed to mean that the person was acting,
not as a mere private individual, moved by his own interests, but as an
agent of the community, which sought to protect itself and the lives of
its members from life-threatening oppression,” Johnstone writes. “The other
conditions required were analogous to those of the ‘just war doctrine’
such as, for example, last resort, reasonable hope of success, avoidance
of harm to the innocent and proportionality.”
Johnstone notes that
ancient authors such as Aristotle and Cicero defended tyrannicide (Cicero,
for example, felt the execution of Julius Caesar was justified). Some early
Christian writers also endorsed the practice, including the historian Sozomen,
who accepted as true the story that the emperor Julian the Apostate had
been executed by a Christian.
Sozomen commented that
“. . .Greeks and all men unto this day have praised tyrannicides for exposing
themselves to death in the cause of liberty. . . . Still less is he deserving
of blame, who for the sake of God and of religion, performed so bold a
The influential St. Augustine,
however, inveighed against tyrannicide, insisting that even despots have
their power from God. Not until the Middle Ages and the English writer
John of Salisbury, a supporter of murdered Archbishop Thomas à Becket,
was the argument in favor of tyrannicide resurrected. John was eager to
see King Henry punished, writing: “To kill a tyrant is not only licit but
equitable and just. He who takes up the sword is worthy of perishing by
John’s argument, however,
was not picked up in the tradition, and in the early 15th century the Council
of Constance explicitly condemned tyrannicide. The Jesuits Mariana and
Suarez defended tyrannicide in the 16th century, but their arguments were
viewed as part of a general Jesuit contempt for authority that helped lead
to the suppression of the order. St. Alphonsus Liguori came out strongly
against the practice, on the grounds that princes are “sacred” persons
and killing them is harmful to good order.
In terms of contemporary
points of reference, Johnstone notes that Paul VI in 1967’s Populorum
Progressio declared that a revolutionary uprising, except in the case
of “long-standing tyranny” produces “an even worse situation,” that is,
more harm than good. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in
its 1986 Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation, goes
further and acknowledges that armed resistance to tyranny is justified
in principle. This document, however, does not invoke the argument from
greater harm, but stresses the necessity for morally acceptable means.
In framing his own judgment
on the question, Johnstone cites Franklin Ford’s 1985 book Political
Murder. From Tyrranicide to Terrorism, in which Ford argues that the
history of political assassination shows that such killing almost never
achieves the ends for which it was intended.
Hence Johnstone’s conclusion
about the moral legitimacy of political assassination is negative:
“Assassination and tyrannicide
have not been and are unlikely to be in the future, effective means for
the fostering and protection of life,” he writes. “Therefore, those who
have committed themselves to a tradition aimed at fostering and protecting
life cannot responsibly choose them.”
Whatever conclusion is
to be drawn, one wonders if this kind of complex moral reflection is cutting
much ice these days in the Pentagon and the National Security Council.
* * *
Brazil is the largest
Catholic country in the world, with an estimated 143,900,000 Catholics
out of a total population of 167,720,000. The country has eight cardinals,
54 archbishops, and 343 bishops, but only 16,598 priests (the United States,
by way of contrast, counts 45,673 priests to serve a Catholic population
of 65,270,444). At least one of those Brazilian cardinals, Claudio Hummes
of Sao Paolo, is considered a leading contender to succeed John Paul II.
Moreover, Brazil is important
as a laboratory for the rest of the Catholic Church. It was one of the
birthplaces of the Latin American liberation theology movement, and is
today where many of the most interesting experiments with “inculturation,”
or allowing the Church to be shaped by the local culture, are happening.
For the last year, we
have been getting a window into how this pontificate sees Brazil in the
form of addresses by the pope to the Brazilian bishops as they make their
limina visits to Rome. (Every bishop is required to come once in five
years to report on the state of his diocese).
I spent parts of the
last few days reading through the various papal speeches to the Brazilian
bishops, and it seems clear that the following represent his chief preoccupations
for the Brazilian Church.
“An erroneous application
of the value of creativity and spontaneity to the liturgical celebrations,
although these are typical features of popular expressions of the life
of your people, must not alter the rites and texts, nor, above all, the
sense of the mystery which we celebrate in the liturgy,” the pope said
in a speech on Jan. 23, 2003, to a group from southern Brazil.
It is necessary to exercise
“an adequate and prudent vigilance of certain rites that approximate the
august mystery of the Holy Trinity to the African pantheon of spirits and
gods, because we run the risk of changing sacramental formulas,” the pope
Distinction between the Laity and the Ordained
“In the years following
the Council, what took place was an arbitrary ‘confusion of roles especially
regarding the priestly ministry and the role of the laity, indiscriminate
shared recitation of the Eucharistic Prayer, homilies given by lay people
…’ (Congregation for Divine Worship, Instruction Concerning Worship
of the Eucharistic Mystery,
June 1980),” the pope said in September
2002, speaking to bishops from two western regions.
“These abuses have often
originated in doctrinal errors, especially with regard to the common priesthood
of Christians [and] of the vocation and mission and of the laity and the
ordained ministry of priests.”
Hierarchical Authority in the Church
“I would like to call
your attention to the desire expressed in some sectors to transform into
a Conference the National Council of the Laity that would be a parallel
organism to the National Bishops’ Conference of Brazil,” the pope said
in October 2002. “To claim to create an autonomous organism that would
be representative of the laity without referring to the hierarchical communion
with the bishops, constitutes an ecclesiological error with serious and
obvious implications. I am sure you will not delay in guiding the laity
away from such initiatives.”
In language that echoed
old battles over liberation theology, the pope referred to Brazil’s famous
“base communities” in October.
“To apply to the church
a political model, where decisions are voted upon by a ‘base’ limited to
the poor and the marginalized of society, excluding the presence of all
sectors of the People of God, would alter the original redemptive message
Christ proclaimed,” he said.
The pope applied the
same analysis to pastoral councils.
“The bishop will listen
to the faithful, clergy and laity to form an opinion, even if the latter
cannot formulate the definitive judgment of the church, which belongs only
to the bishop to discern and pronounce, not as a mere matter of conscience,
but as the teacher of the faith. In this way one will avoid viewing the
pastoral council in a restrictive way as the representative body or spokesman
for the faithful of the diocese,” the pope said in Sept. 2002.
Balancing the Social and the Spiritual
“While keeping in mind
the complex social problems that exist in your regions, it is necessary
not to reduce pastoral action to the temporal and earthly dimension. It
is impossible to think, for example, of the challenges of the Church in
Brazil as limited to certain important but contingent issues, related to
local politics, land concentration, the environment and other factors,”
the pope said on Oct. 19, 2002.
“In this regard, the
lack of an existential and ecclesial backbone for their faith and an indifference
to the religious values and ethical principles are a powerful obstacle
to evangelization,” the pope said on Sept. 14, 2002. “All this is further
complicated by the presence of sects and of new groups of pseudo religions,
which are even cropping up in traditionally Catholic areas. The phenomenon
demands penetrating study ‘to discover the reasons why many Catholics leave
the church’ (Ecclesia in America, n. 73).”
John Paul returned to
the theme Jan. 23.
“Is not the phenomenon
of the sects that are spreading intermittently from one area to another,
with periods of relentless proselytism among the culturally and socially
disadvantaged, a concrete sign of an unsatisfied hunger for the supernatural?”
Discipline based on Church Law
“Pastoral action cannot
be reduced to a kind of ‘pastoralism,’ understood in the sense of
ignoring or attenuating the other fundamental dimensions of the Christian
mystery, among which the juridical elements,” John Paul said Feb. 7. If
pastoral work dilutes any juridical obligation whatsoever, it relativizes
ecclesiastical obedience, depriving the canonical norms of their sense.
True pastoral action can never be contrary to the true law.”
“Remember that an excess
of organisms and meetings that oblige bishops to spend long periods of
time away from their churches, beyond being contrary to the “law of residence”
in the Code of Canon Law, have negative consequences both for the
accompaniment of his presbyterate and for other pastoral situations, as
can be the case in the diffusion of sects,” the pope said Feb. 7.
“For this reason, it’s
explicitly suggested to avoid, in addition to excessive organisms and meeting,
the bureaucratization of subsidiary groups and of the commissions that
work in the period between the plenary meetings,” the pope said. “In this
way, the organs will ‘exist for helping the bishops and not for substituting
him.’” (Apostolos suos, n. 18).
“Although it says in
the Directory for Ecumenism that ‘diversity in the Church is a dimension
of her catholicity,’ this must not lead to a certain indifferentism
that equates all opinions in a false irenicism,” the pope said on Sept.
“No bishop can excuse
himself from this responsibility, for which he must give an account before
God,” the pope said Sept. 5, 2002.
“It would be most unfortunate
if, out of a misguided notion of tolerance, immature young men, or men
with obvious emotional disorders, were ordained.” Such mistakes in choosing
candidates for the priesthood, he said, “cause serious damage to the consciences
of the faithful.”
The discipline of priestly
celibacy is an essential element of clerical life, the pope said. Seminarians
should learn to understand “that celibacy is not an added-on, useless element
of priestly life — a sort of superstructure — but a valuable means of participation
in the dignity of Christ and the service of humanity.”
* * *
One of the great people
on the planet is Sr. Rita Larivee, associate publisher of the National
Catholic Reporter and the person largely responsible for the look and
feel of “The Word from Rome” on-line.
Sr. Rita has recently
added a feature for which some readers have long been asking, a search
engine for past installments of “The Word from Rome.” By clicking on “archives”
and then on “search,” readers can now execute keyword searches for past
columns in which I’ve spoken of the Dallas sex abuse norms, or of Cardinal
Lubomyr Husar (my dark-horse candidate to be the next pope), or whatever
else happens to be of interest.
Sr. Rita is currently
hard at work on a new look for NCR’s entire web operation, and from
what I’ve seen, it promises to be very impressive. Stay tuned. In the meantime,
happy searching in “The Word from Rome.”
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
The National Catholic Reporter Publishing
115 E. Armour Blvd.
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