|For all those Americans who
are convinced that the Vatican will simply have to remove Cardinal Bernard
Law from Boston, especially if he faces a criminal indictment, I offer
this week a cautionary tale: Cardinal Michele Giordano of Naples.
The “Giordano model”
suggests that the Vatican is capable of riding out storms of greater intensity
than one might imagine.
Giordano, 71, has been
cardinal of Naples since 1987. Italian prosecutors first began investigating
him in January 1997, when his brother Mario Lucio Giordano was indicted
for running a loan-sharking ring that offered loans at rates of up to 300
percent. Investigators found that most of the cash to finance the scheme
had come from the cardinal, an amount equivalent to roughly $800,000.
The charges had special
resonance since Giordano is the archbishop of Naples, the capital of southern
Italy, the poorest region of the country, where unemployment rates reach
as high as 40 percent. The thought that pennies from the archdiocese’s
poor were being exploited to finance usury was thus particularly galling.
The case generated church-state
tensions when police insisted on examining confidential documents of the
Naples archdiocese, in addition to the financial records that Giordano
provided. The Vatican also protested that Italian investigators had not
informed them that Giordano was a target of investigation, a notice they
should have given under the terms of the concordat between the Holy See
At one stage, prosecutors
revealed that they had tapped Giordano’s phone, which led the astonished
cardinal to complain to the press: “I could have been talking to the pope!”
The case went to trial,
making Giordano the highest-ranking church official ever to stand in the
dock facing criminal charges. Judge Vincenzo Starita, who heard the case
without a jury, eventually found Giordano innocent of all charges on Dec.
22, 2000. The cardinal never set foot in court, exercising his right as
a cleric under Italian law to be absent.
Giordano’s alibi, and
the basis on which he was exonerated, was that the money that went to his
brother came out of personal funds he had saved over 50 years as a priest.
Giordano acknowledged that he was guilty of poor record keeping in failing
to distinguish his own funds from those of the archdiocese. In essence,
the argument for the defense boiled down to Giordano being guilty of naiveté,
Either way, the situation
did not cast the cardinal in a favorable light.
I recall clearly that
at every stage of the story — when the investigation was first announced,
when the charges were filed, when the trial began, and right up to the
day the verdict was announced — rumors abounded that Giordano was going
to be sacked by the Vatican. One version had him heading off to a monastery,
another that he would be brought to Vatican City and given a job where
the Italian civil authorities could not reach him.
As is currently the case
with Law, local newspapers were full of stories about how Giordano had
lost the confidence of his people, of how he could not govern the archdiocese,
of how embarrassed and angry the Vatican must be, and how it was only a
matter of time until the axe fell.
Things got so bonkers
that when the blood of St. Januarius failed to congeal on Dec. 16, 2000,
that too unleashed new speculation that Giordano’s end was near.
The legend is among the
more colorful, or bizarre, bits of church lore in this part of the world.
The story goes that on Dec. 16, 1631, the people of Naples prayed to Januarius,
their patron saint, to spare them from an eruption of Vesuvius. The saint’s
blood, preserved in a jar, supposedly liquified, taken as a sign of a positive
response, and in fact Vesuvius did not erupt. Since then the people gather
each year on Dec. 16 to see if the blood liquifies. In 2000 the blood stayed
dry, and many interpreted it as an augur of misfortune for Giordano.
Yet, Giordano remains.
The moral of this story?
The Vatican watched, waited, and allowed the crisis to pass. Commentators
who insisted that the pope “had to do something” are still waiting for
an action that seems likely never to come.
It could break that way
with Law as well.
Of course, there are
important differences between Law’s situation and Giordano’s. For all the
hostile press coverage Giordano drew, Italian culture is still more deferential
to clerical authority than the United States, and hence the broad popular
pressure on Giordano to step down was less intense. (In fact, many Italians
simply assume their public officials are corrupt, so the charges against
Giordano in some quarters drew shrugs rather than outrage). Moreover, loansharking,
however reprehensible, does not seem as grotesquely irresponsible as shuffling
around serial sexual abusers.
But every time my cell
phone goes off with an American colleague trying to track down the latest
rumor about Law’s impending dismissal or transfer to Rome, I tell them
the Giordano tale.
Don’t be surprised, I
say, if a year from now we’re still talking about how the pope “has to
A footnote: Magistrates
in Naples last July requested that Giordano be brought to trial again,
this time in connection with the acquisition of real estate. The cardinal
is among several people suspected of tax fraud and false accounting during
the purchase of three warehouses on the outskirts of Naples. Magistrates
Pio Avecone and Rossella Catena suspect the archdiocese paid an extra $440,000
dollars and believe this sum was withheld from tax authorities. The case
is still pending.
* * *
The obvious counter-example
to the “Giordano model” is the case of Cardinal Hans Hermann Groër,
appointed as the successor to the beloved Cardinal Franz König of
Vienna, Austria, in 1986.
Gröer had been a
Benedictine abbot, and in 1995 the Austrian press reported that a few men
who had been novice monks under Gröer at a seminary near Vienna some
twenty years earlier were accusing him of sexual abuse. Gröer maintained
silence, saying only that the charges were “defamations.”
The pope sent the head
of the Benedictine federation, at that time American Fr. Marcel Rooney,
to investigate the situation. His report was never made public.
Because Gröer refused
to answer the substance of the charges, the Austrian public drew the impression
that he was guilty, and pressure mounted until Gröer resigned on Sept.
14, 1995. The outrage did not really abate, however, until two and a half
years later, when four leading Austrian bishops announced publicly that,
“We have come to the moral certainty that the accusations raised against
Gröer, are in essence true.”
Those bishops were Cardinal
Christoph Schönborn, Gröer’s successor; Johann Weber of Graz;
Archbishop Georg Eder of Salzburg; and Bishop Egon Kapellari, then of Carinthia.
Many Austrians demanded
that the pope take the unprecedented step of defrocking Gröer. He
never did so, though Gröer did reportedly agree to stop functioning
as a cardinal and to avoid public appearances.
Gröer and his defenders,
however, most notably conservative Bishop Kurt Krenn of Sankt Pölten,
have never stopped insisting that the cardinal was the victim of a media
campaign, and recently there have been hints of a rehabilitation.
In June 2001, for example,
Austrian President Thomas Klestil gave Krenn an award on the occasion of
his 10th anniversary as bishop of Sankt Pölten. Gröer
came to the event dressed in full cardinal’s finery, and Krenn paid tribute
to Gröer, who he said “prepared me well for the office of the bishop.”
Also in attendance was the apostolic nuncio to Austria, Archbishop Donato
More recently, Krenn
has stated to the Austrian media that the four bishops who pronounced on
Gröer’s guilt were “mistaken” and has asked for an apology. So far
none has been forthcoming, but there is every indication Krenn intends
to keep up the pressure.
Hence alongside the “Giordano
model” we have the “Gröer model,” which teaches: Even if Law does
resign, don’t assume that this will be the end of his story.
* * *
Much to the astonishment
of some of my colleagues in the American press, the normal business of
the Vatican continues despite the turmoil in the U.S. church. On April
30, for example, Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian who runs the Council
for Inter-religious Dialogue and who is frequently mentioned as a frontrunner
to be the next pope, lectured at the Lateran University on “Catholic Theology
and the Reality of Religious Pluralism.”
The occasion was the
30th anniversary of the Lateran’s specialization in “the science
The Lateran is known as “the
pope’s university,” because it is attached to the Basilica of St. John
Lateran, the pope’s church as bishop of the diocese of Rome. Traditionally,
the Lateran, administered by the Vicariate of Rome, is regarded as the
most theologically conservative of the major pontifical universities.
Certainly Arinze, himself
a staunch theological conservative, broke no new ground in his address.
He noted that religious pluralism is a growing fact of life, given the
ease of modern travel and the growing mobility of persons. On that basis,
Arinze said, “the objective and authentic study of other religions is not
optional. It is obligatory.”
He went on to strike
all the notes of caution that are typical of the Vatican these days, mostly
along the lines of how theologians must never forget that Jesus Christ
is the lone savior of humanity, and that Catholicism is not simply one
among many vehicles of salvation.
“If all roads lead to
the same mountain,” Arinze cracked at one point, “then the missionaries
might as well stay at home.”
Arinze seemed to suggest
that the point of studying other religions was to enable more sophisticated
missionary efforts. “If you want to evangelize Thailand, you must know
something about Buddhism,” he said. “If you want to evangelize the Arab
countries, you must understand Islam.”
Inevitably, Arinze quoted
Iesus, the September 2000 Vatican document on religious pluralism.
He noted that the document actually encourages theologians to continue
exploring the theological implications of pluralism. He said that when
theologians complain to him about the seemingly negative stance of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued the document,
his response is, “I’m on that congregation. Be calm, be calm.”
Whatever one makes of
his speech, Arinze is still a striking figure. His large grin and gentle
good humor have a way of winning people over. He also has a politician’s
instincts. When his host presented him with a couple of books as a gift,
Arinze immediately hoisted them aloft so a photographer could get the shot.
After his talk, I watched him work the room. A couple of members of the
Focolare movement came up to him, for example, and he smiled, shook hands,
and quipped: “You Focolarini always know where the action is!”
I still believe Arinze
is a longshot as a papal candidate. But watching him April 30, I find myself
thinking that at least from the point of view of filling the public stage,
the church could do worse.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
The National Catholic Reporter Publishing
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