|John L. Allen Jr.
"Because the under-secretary is a major official and the appointment of a lay person, a woman in this case, has no recent precedent and may have an impact that we cannot foresee."
American canonist Fr. Ladislas Orsy,
on the appoint of Sr. Enrica Rosanna as under-secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
Sr. Enrica Rosanna, a woman takes charge in the Holy See; Cardinal Theodore McCarrick on pro-choice politicians; Catholic thought and world politics
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Enrica Rosanna is nobody’s idea of a revolutionary.
65-year-old Italian nun in full habit, she talks about piety and devotion
without a trace of self-consciousness. She’s a classic Salesian, cutting no
corners on either the practice of religious life or the doctrine of the church.
Despite a lively sense of humor, she has little patience for laziness or
self-pity. She’s met few problems that couldn’t be resolved with elbow grease.
Rosanna’s April 24 appointment as under-secretary of the Congregation for
Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life nevertheless
marks two potential revolutions in the rarified world of the Holy See.
first is sociological. An under-secretary ranks among the top three officials,
or “superiors,” in most Vatican offices. A woman has not held a post of such
prestige since 1976, when Australian lay woman Rosemary Goldie was eased out as
under-secretary after the experimental Consilium on Laity was upgraded to the
status of a Pontifical Council.
Rosanna’s appointment is even more important because it’s in one of the all
the Vatican pecking order, the so-called “new curia,” meaning the councils and
academies that sprung up after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), are
sometimes seen as lacking ecclesiastical clout. This view holds that it’s in the Secretariat of State and in the congregations that real governance happens – binding decisions are made that draw upon the pope’s own authority.
a woman is a superior in one of these citadels of ecclesiastical power is,
therefore, remarkable. Add the fact that a staff of 30, including 15 priests,
now finds itself with a female boss, and the implications become truly
move also should be seen in tandem with other recent “firsts” for women,
including the March 6 appointment of American Sr. Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., and
German lay woman Barbara Hallensleben to the International Theological
Commission, and the March 9 nomination of Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon
as president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
is symbolism, yes, but it opens doors through which other women may be able to
walk. The “women’s problem” in the Catholic church has always been as much
sociological as doctrinal, and these appointments put a dent in the Vatican’s
Beyond sociology, there’s a potential revolution in canon law.
to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), the general understanding among
canonists was that bishops receive their power to consecrate priests and other
bishops through the sacrament of holy orders, but their power to govern from the
pope. Vatican II, on the other hand, taught that bishops receive all their
powers, including the power of governance (also called “jurisdiction”), from
holy orders. This triggered debate over the extent to which those powers can be
delegated to non-ordained persons. Two schools of thought emerged: one holding
that laity could “participate” in the exercise of delegated powers, another that
lay people may only “cooperate” and hence cannot exercise jurisdiction
themselves. That view prevailed in the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law,
and is expressed in canon 129.
logic, according to canonists who uphold this view, is that lay people are
called to sanctify the world, while jurisdiction in the church is the province
of the clergy. Hence laity are generally barred from such positions as judicial
vicar or a voting member of a Roman congregation.
Rosanna were to exercise jurisdiction, it would thus amount to a belated victory
for the “participation” school. Vatican sources told NCR April 26 that
Rosanna’s predecessor as under-secretary, Claretian Fr. Jesús Torres, was the
primary signatory on official documents such as indults, releasing religious
from solemn vows, a seemingly clear exercise of the power of governance.
theory, if a lay woman can exercise jurisdiction at the under-secretary’s level,
there’s no reason she couldn’t do so as secretary or even as prefect. Cardinal
Godfried Danneels of Belgium has recently proposed exactly this. “Two of my
vicars are women,” Danneels said in September 2003. “I do not see, therefore,
why a woman could not direct a congregation of the Roman Curia.”
Rosanna told NCR April 25, however, that her tasks have not yet been
the newspapers have written that the job is part of the power of governance, but
who knows exactly what I’ll have to decide? No one has yet explained to me
exactly what I have to do. We’ll have to see,” she said.
American canonist Fr. Ladislas Orsy told NCR April 26 that an
under-secretary is often not involved in jurisdiction, so Rosanna’s appointment
does not necessarily mean a reversal of policy.
“Psychologically and socially, however, the move is significant and for the
better,” Orsy said, “because the under-secretary is a major official and the
appointment of a lay person, a woman in this case, has no recent precedent and
may have an impact that we cannot foresee.”
* * *
of historical context.
handful of lay Catholics have occupied under-secretary positions in pontifical
councils. The current under-secretary of the Council for Laity, for example, is
a Uruguayan layman named Guzmán Carriquiry. The director of the Vatican’s press
office, a post considered the equivalent of an under-secretary, is Spanish
layman Joaquín Navarro-Valls.
last, and only, woman at this level was Australian Rosemary Goldie, who served
as an under-secretary in the Council for the Laity after it was created in
experimental form under Pope Paul VI in 1967. When that office was erected as a
pontifical council in 1976, however, Goldie was removed and given a teaching job
at the Lateran University. At the time, many observers connected Goldie’s exile
with the 1976 Vatican document Inter Insignores, which rejected admitting
women to the Catholic priesthood.
Goldie wrote in her 1998 memoirs From a Roman Window that on Feb. 16,
1977, she had an audience with Paul VI in which she expressed concern about the
absence of women in senior curial positions. Paul VI, Goldie wrote, “listened
and demonstrated that he understood my concern.”
the intervening 27 years, however, no woman has been appointed to a
recently as last June, a senior Vatican official told NCR that he did not
believe women could hold “management” positions in the Roman Curia.
“Right now the dicasteries
have jurisdiction, and so they participate in episcopal authority. We’re a
hierarchical organization and power comes from ordination. So for now, there
cannot be a woman,” said Belgian Cardinal Jan Schotte, at the time head of the
Synod of Bishops. “If the job is redefined, you could have a woman, but then it
would not be the same dicastery as we think of now when people say there should
be a woman.”
this light, the April 24 appointment takes on special significance.
Footnote: I wanted Goldie to have the chance to comment on Rosanna’s
appointment. She’s now in a retirement home in Sydney, however, and communicated
through channels that she didn’t feel up to giving an interview.
* * *
buzz among religious around Rome on the Rosanna appointment is largely positive.
In progressive circles, there is trepidation that Rosanna is a Salesian (a
community sometimes seen as on the conservative side; think Cardinal Tarcisio
Bertone of Genoa). A few conservatives, on the other hand, wonder about her
background in sociology rather than theology, worrying about whether she lacks a
solid doctrinal foundation.
people who have worked with Rosanna say she’s smart, open, good-hearted, and a
hard worker. Most seem optimistic.
only serious question mark I’ve picked up is whether Rosanna will be able to
pull the same weight as her predecessor, Claretian Fr. Jesús Torres. The
Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
has a reputation for being somewhat rigid, but Torres was an exception. Time and
again leaders of religious communities have told me stories of going into his
office with problems, and coming out with creative, pastorally sensible
Rosanna be able to play the same role as a woman in a man’s world? Time will
the meantime, the Union of Superiors General, the main umbrella group for men’s
religious communities, plans to invite Torres to its May general assembly to
thank him for his service.
* * *
down April 26 for an interview with Rosanna at the Claretianum, where she had
been teaching a course on the sociology of religious life. The full text of our
interview can be found here:
Rosanna Interview. The following are excerpts.
Rosanna said she has been surprised at the wide public interest in her
may be slightly less amazed than everyone else, because I’m accustomed to work
[in this environment],” she said. “At the same time, I do agree there’s a
distinctively feminine way of seeing things. … It’s to some extent about a gift
for sympathy. There’s a relational capacity, a sensitivity to details, an
Rosanna worried about becoming the first female superior in the Vatican with
authority over priests?
“Whether or not this creates problems for anyone depends a great deal on
personalities,” she said. “I have to say that in my experience working with the
Salesians, sometimes as a superior myself and sometimes not, I’ve had very good
experiences, and some difficulties. It depends upon character, upon many things.
I suppose it’s possible someone might think, ‘This woman has swindled me out of
my post,’ even though I didn’t do anything to have this job.”
Rosanna said she doesn’t want to become a fix-it person for female communities.
hope that the superiors don’t torment me too much!” she said. “I hope that all
the women’s congregations who know me don’t suddenly imagine that I’ve become
the magic solution for all their problems.”
Rosanna said she believes firmly that religious life has a future.
Catherine of Sienna said if you were what you should be, you would set Italy on
fire,” she said. “Maybe we allow ourselves to be a little too conditioned, we
don’t make that leap of quality to which John Paul II aspires, to which our
superiors aspire. We too are perhaps a little secularized. I believe the church,
religious life, has to walk a path of authentic daily holiness. Maybe sometimes
we’re a little too focused on our work, on what we do, rather than who we are.”
* * *
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who is leading a U.S. bishops’
committee to study the possibility of sanctions against pro-choice politicians,
has denied that this is part of a strategy on the part of the bishops to support
the reelection of President George W. Bush.
“Absolutely not,” McCarrick said in an exclusive April 28 interview with NCR
McCarrick said that while he appreciates Bush’s stands on human life, Catholic
education, and HIV/AIDS relief, he has reservations about the president’s
policies in Iraq and the Middle East.
hope that [Catholics] really study the issues,” McCarrick said. “Look at the
questions of life that are primary, but look at everything.”
full text of the NCR interview with McCarrick may be found here:
McCarrick, in Rome for his ad limina visit to the pope, said he spoke
with Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, head of the Congregation for Divine
Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, who said at a Vatican news
conference last week (See
Breaking News, April 23) that a pro-abortion politician should be denied
communion. The comment was widely taken as support for a stance against
pro-choice Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.
he reported to me what had happened, this was not something that he reported as
an official statement … whatever he might personally believe,” McCarrick said.
“The cardinal’s position was that this is the teaching of the church, and the
bishops of the United States should figure out what they ought to do.”
McCarrick said that without commenting on Kerry, he agrees with the principle
that a politician who holds a position opposed to church teaching should not
come forward for communion.
McCarrick said he is aware this frustrates some Catholics, who complain that
sanctions are not being contemplated for Catholic politicians who differ with
the church on issues such as war and peace, or concern for the poor.
these other human rights mean nothing unless you’re alive,” he said. “If a
person is put to death before they have a chance to live, then none of those
other rights come into play.”
McCarrick said these other issues, while important, “are not black-and-white in
the way that abortion is.”
does not mean, McCarrick insisted, that the bishops are backing Bush.
you look at the foreign policy of the United States, I have some concerns,” he
have concerns about Iraq, about the beginning of the war, about how we don’t
seem to have a real exit strategy. In the Middle East, the Palestinian
situation, we’ve moved away from the roadmap, which is of grave concern to all
us with regard to peace in the Holy Land.”
McCarrick also agreed with the Vatican’s insistence that the United Nations
should play the lead role in authorizing future conflicts.
seems to me that the United Nations is the only instrumentality that can bring
the nations together at this time,” he said.
* * *
Paul II seems as indomitable as ever. This Sunday, he will ordain 26 priests in
St. Peter’s Basilica. On May 16, he will preside at the canonization of six
saints. June 5-6 he will be in Bern, Switzerland, for a national Catholic youth
gathering. On June 10 he will lead the observance of Corpus Christi, with the
traditional Eucharistic procession from the basilica of St. John Lateran to that
of St. Mary Major. On June 29, he will celebrate the feast of Sts. Peter and
Paul, together with the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople.
such a moment, it can seem almost silly to be talking about the papal
succession. Yet as one cardinal said to me recently: “We can’t help thinking
about it. This is one choice we dare not get wrong.”
Inevitably, therefore, any time a cardinal steps onto the public stage, people
evaluate him with one eye towards the papal succession. That’s setting the bar
pretty high, but in the consensus of most observers, Nigerian Cardinal Francis
Arinze, 71, cleared it with room to spare at last week’s press conference on the
new Vatican document on liturgical abuses.
was not an easy assignment, since the document, Redemptionis Sacramentum,
demands that people follow the rules — never a popular message. Indeed, the Holy
See was sufficiently preoccupied that it sent Cardinal Julian Herranz, president
of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, to back up Arinze.
Arinze, however, never needed the help.
came across as knowledgeable, tough, and unapologetic for the document’s “by the
book” message. At the same time, he was relaxed and funny. At one stage, he read
a rather stern line in his prepared statement about how liturgical abuses are
not to be taken lightly. He then looked up, smiled, and said: “If somebody uses
Coca-Cola rather than wine, for example, that’s no longer the Mass.” It was as
if to say: “Trust me, I know the difference between trivia and real abuses.”
Arinze was especially good at employing familiar analogies to explain
Redemptionis Sacramentum. He appealed to soccer, for example, arguing that
if the referee does not enforce the rules, the game can’t be played. It was a
metaphor sure to get the attention of soccer-mad Italians.
making these observations, Arinze shifted easily from Italian to English and
back again. One can disagree with any or all of his points, but he made them
with inarguable elan.
Afterwards, one Vatican monsignor known for his caution pulled me aside and
whispered: “I don’t get a vote, but I think he would be an excellent pope.”
wonders how many men who do get a vote had the same impression.
* * *
April 28, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson lectured at John Cabot
University in Rome on the subject of “The United States and the Holy See: A
Partnership for Human Dignity.” Nicholson gave what amounts to his stump speech
on the U.S./Vatican relationship, arguing for a “great convergence” between the
foreign policy goals of the United States and those of the Holy See.
identified a series of issues of concern to his embassy, some of which are
already marked by strong U.S./Vatican cooperation, such as the struggle against
human trafficking, and others where he hopes for greater engagement from the
Holy See, such as the promotion of genetically modified foods.
news item came in discussing HIV/AIDS in Africa. Nicholson said he believes
American pharmaceutical companies, sometimes criticized for not doing enough to
make their drugs available on a low-cost basis, “don’t get enough credit.”
the Vatican sometimes gets it wrong,” Nicholson said. Though he did not spell it
out, the reference seemed in part to a late January news conference with
Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, head of the Vatican charity Cor Unum.
“There needs to be public pressure put on the pharmaceutical companies to lower
the prices so the victims of AIDS can receive treatment,” Cordes said at the
time. He appeared alongside American Jesuit Fr. Angelo
D’Agostino, who works in Kenya and blasted the “genocidal action of the drug
Nicholson revealed that he had arranged a meeting two weeks ago between two
senior executives of American pharmaceutical companies and three Vatican
officials who head agencies that deal with HIV-AIDS. The executives, who
Nicholson said “flew all night to be here,” told the prelates that their
companies would give their patents on anti-retroviral medications to anyone in
Africa as long as quality control could be assured. They “eschewed profit,”
according to Nicholson.
“This is a
great example of corporate compassion and care about human dignity,” he said.
* * *
Thursday, April 29, the philosophy department at the Jesuit-run Gregorian
University in Rome sponsored a conference on “Catholic Thought and World
Politics in the 21st Century.” The event featured a number of
prominent organizers, participants and sponsors: George Weigel, Mary Ann Glendon,
Dominican Fr. Augustine Di Noia, Opus Dei Fr. Robert Gahl, Archbishop Celestine
Migliore, and others. Not all were physically present in Rome.
Antonio Maria Baggio, an Italian layman and professor of social ethics at the
Gregorian, opened with a challenge to Bush’s policy in Iraq.
its unilateral attitude, the United States has inflicted a deep wound on the
efforts of the community of peoples, above all through the United Nations, an
organization certainly imperfect and reformable, but which remains the lone
instrument for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and for participation in
Baggio said there were two reasons the Bush administration chose this
First, he said, few other nations came to the aid of the United States, and not just
militarily but politically and culturally. European weakness, he said,
corresponds to the “unilateral attitude” of the United States.
Second, Baggio argued, the United States acted as it did “because a perspective
very distant from fraternity prevailed” in the Bush administration. Baggio cited
Richard Perle, speaking before a congressional committee on Feb. 27, 2001,
responding to a question about whether poverty causes terrorism: “That’s a
liberal prejudice that, if accepted, could lead the war against terrorism down
the cul de sac of a huge development project for the Third World.”
Baggio urged a “strategy of fraternity,” which in practice would mean a more
comprehensive effort to combat under-development and more thorough cooperation
with international organizations, especially the United Nations.
Weigel argued for a recovery of Catholic international relations theory, which
he called a form of “moral realism.”
known for his biography of John Paul II Witness to Hope, Weigel said that
the emergence of the papacy as “a global moral witness with real effect” is
among the latest developments in this tradition.
“While John Paul II was taking moral arguments directly to the people of
individual states and to the people of the world, going around or beyond their
governments or the relevant international organizations, the diplomacy of the
Holy See has continued to function through the normal grooves of bilateral
relations and multilateral institutions.
there a tension here?” Weigel asked himself. “I think so.”
Weigel said this tension was on display during the debate over the Iraq war,
when the political calculations of Vatican diplomats were reported as if they
were moral judgments of the pope or of the church.
Weigel took a dim view of
the capacity of the United Nations to be the guarantor of legitimate use of
“Three of its permanent members — China, France and Russia — formulate their
foreign policies on explicitly Realpolitik grounds that have little or
nothing to do with moral reasoning about world politics as the Catholic church
understands it,” he said. “Can an amoralist calculus yield a morally
determinative result? If so, it remains to be shown how.”
Weigel suggested that a kind of “functional pacifism” has crept into the Holy
See’s thinking on war and peace, which retains the vocabulary of the just war
tradition but in practice always comes down in opposition.
light of all this, Weigel called for a “new and wiser” conversation about the
intersection between moral truths and politics-of-nations, drawing upon the
Catholic church’s own “classic themes and analytic methods.”
* * *
has been traumatized by the abduction of four Italians in Iraq on April 12, one
of whom has already been killed, and the remaining three are facing the threat
of execution unless Italy withdraws its troops from the country.
April 28, the families of the hostages organized a small peace march from Castel
Sant’Angelo towards St. Peter’s Square. John Paul II sent Archbishop Giovanni
Lajolo, his foreign minister, to speak to the crowd.
Lajolo said that the pope celebrated Mass that morning for the liberation of the
hostages, and for all who suffer in Iraq.
Paul II thanks those who are working to re-stabilize in Iraq a climate of
reconciliation and dialogue in view of recovering the full sovereignty of the
country, in conditions of security for all,” Lajolo said.
* * *
Bishop Renato Boccardo, the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Social
Communications and the chief organizer of papal travel, spoke at Santa Croce
University April 28 on “The Communicative Dimension of Papal Trips.”
Widely regarded as one of the most affable and competent figures in the Holy
See, Boccardo spoke about why John Paul has made travel such a central element
of his pontificate. One element of the pope’s pastoral strategy, he said, has
been to stress that the Catholic church is a global family of faith.
Boccardo said that John Paul wants all nations to know they have a place in the
pope’s heart. This is more than good diplomacy, he said, or a pastoral strategy. It comes from deep within his
spirituality. Boccardo said that when the pope flies, he sits in the front row of the plane,
by the window, and usually passes his time in prayer. Every now and then he will
look up, however, and gaze out the window. Sometimes, Boccardo said, he will
gently raise his right hand and trace the sign of the cross, bestowing a silent
blessing on the people and the lands that lie below.
* * *
Two weeks ago I made reference to Jesuit Fr. Norman Tanner’s book Was
the Church Too Democratic? Councils, Collegiality and the Church’s
Future, published by Dharmaram Publications in 2003. Some readers have
experienced difficulty in finding the book. Dharmaram Publications is in Bangalore, India, and the book can be obtained in two ways: 1) At
www.theway.org, then "Way Books," where it is priced at 8 British pounds; or 2) directly from the director of Dharmaram Publications, whose e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org, and where it is priced U.S.$7 plus postage.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
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