|By JOHN L.
Jonathan Kwitny titled his 1997 biography of John Paul II Man of the Century,
it wasn’t necessarily to propose the pope as the greatest man of the last 100
years. Kwitny’s point was instead that no one’s life better summed up the drama
of the 20th century than Karol Wojtyla -- from his childhood under
the Nazis to his adult confrontations with the Soviets.
similar logic, one might call Bishop Piero Marini the “liturgist of the
Marini, 61, has lived in first person the great liturgical tensions that led to,
and followed, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He served as personal
secretary to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, head of a special Vatican commission
that oversaw liturgical reform. Bugnini became a lightning rod for what some
regarded as unacceptably radical changes, and his fall from power in July 1975
was the beginning of a backlash that eventually crested with a Vatican-led
overhaul of liturgical agencies and practices in the late 1990s.
Marini worked in the Vatican on liturgical issues until 1987, when John Paul II
named him Master of Ceremonies. He thus has responsibility for putting
liturgical principles into practice on the largest stage in the Catholic church,
both in Rome and wherever John Paul goes around the globe. (Marini has made 70
trips with the pope). More people have watched Masses planned by Marini than by
any other liturgist in the world, which gives him enormous power to shape the
public idea of what Catholic worship is all about.
times, this puts Marini in tension with some Vatican colleagues who don’t share
his reform-minded approach. Purists likewise sometimes complain that Marini’s
liturgies look too much like Broadway production numbers.
clear, however, that Marini has John Paul’s confidence. He has been dubbed the
pope’s “guardian angel” by the Italian press because he is forever at his side,
handing him the pages of a talk, helping him into position. Marini shares this
intimacy with two other men: John Paul’s private secretary Bishop Stanislaw
Dziwisz, and the head of the papal household, Milwaukee native Bishop James
Harvey. As a sign of their special fraternity, the three men were ordained
bishops together by the pope in a special ceremony on March 19, 1998.
Marini sat down in his first-floor office in the Apostolic Palace, with its
sweeping view of St. Peter’s Square, for an exclusive interview on Friday, June
20. He told me he’s conscious of how much responsibility his office bears for
setting the liturgical tone.
liturgy of the pope has always been imitated,” he said. “In the early centuries
pilgrims came from the north and took notes from what was happening in Rome, and
these collections are the so-called Ordinis Romanae. So the papal liturgy
has always been a point of reference for the entire church.”
asked Marini how he understands the liturgical reform called for by Vatican II.
would say that they are the principles in Sacrosanctum Concilium: The
return to Sacred Scripture and to the tradition of the Fathers,” Marini said.
reform was a return to the authentic tradition of the church, which is the
liturgy of the Fathers. This meant taking away all the duplications that found
their way into the liturgy, the encrustations that were superimposed over the
centuries. This was a work of cleaning, like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.”
was true of Catholic worship in general was true of papal ritual: it was
simplified, stripped down, and returned to its roots.
enough to see that already in 1964, Paul VI substituted the great procession
with the flabelli [ceremonial fans made of ostrich feathers] and the
entire pontifical court, with the noble simplicity that we have today,” he said.
from ressourcement, or return to the sources, another guiding idea of the
post-conciliar reform is inculturation, allowing the liturgy to take on features
of local cultures.
pre-conciliar Mass, Marini explained, had a limited cultural horizon.
was the liturgical expression of the countries of the Mediterranean Basin,” he
said. “With the separation of the Protestants, also in France, what remained was
Spain, Italy, Austria … the church had been reduced to something relatively
small. But with the New World, Latin America and the various missions in Africa
and Asia, it was necessary to open this liturgy that had been closed to the new
peoples. That happened with the Second Vatican Council and with the trips of the
Marini said inculturation normally means integrating three elements: music,
language, and physical movement.
pointed out that this is not always uncontroversial. During John Paul’s visit to
Mexico last summer, for example, one liturgy featured a limpia, or
purification, ceremony. The Indian blessing is believed to cure spiritual and
physical ailments by driving off evil spirits. Indian women bearing smoking pots
of incense brushed herbs on the pontiff, Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera
Carrera and other prelates. Some theologians I spoke with afterwards felt this
had gone too far, that it in effect amounted to an endorsement of pagan worship.
discussed it a great deal here in this office with the responsible parties from
the local church,” Marini said. “I spoke with the bishop. At the beginning, I
have to say I was against using this rite, which not even they seemed to
understand very well. Obviously our penitential act is one thing, their
expression is another. But we continued talking, and in the end this was not
during the Eucharistic celebration, and the bishop wanted the rite at any cost.
was important as a sign of respect for the indigenous, but it’s also a matter of
liturgical history. Often rites that were not originally Christian have been
‘Christianized.’ If the indigenous have this rite, it can with time take on a
Christian meaning concerning the purification of sins. Just as we use holy
water, which for us recalls the waters of baptism, forgiveness of sins and the
resurrection, so for them this element of smoke can have a sense of liberation
and forgiveness. This is the reason for which we at the end agreed to insert
Marini doesn’t always, by the way, say yes.
During John Paul’s recent trip to Croatia, locals wanted him to hang behind the
altar a crucifix from Vukovar, ground zero of the ferocious 1991-95 Balkans War,
which had been damaged in shelling. Marini decided to place the cross instead
at the foot of the altar, along with some stones the pope was to bless for
building new churches. As such, the cross became a symbol of rebirth, rather
than a too-dominant reminder of suffering that could easily be interpreted in a
vindictive, nationalistic key.
asked Marini for his impression of the larger liturgical debates that have
divided the church in recent years, over translation and inclusive language,
over Roman centralization versus local adaptation.
would say that right now rather extreme solutions are prevailing, on both
sides,” Marini said. “We need more tolerance, more respect for the various
positions, more understanding, more fraternity, and a truly ecclesial spirit in
searching to resolve the problems.”
Though he did not say so explicitly, Marini left little doubt that he believes
the extremes are present at all levels, including within officialdom.
the end, Marini said, the aim is balance.
find the right equilibrium is very difficult, between the personal and the
communitarian, between the silence of personal prayer and those prayers said
together, between singing in unison and individual prayer, between words and
gestures, ultimately between what is human and what is divine.
when it’s done properly, the liturgy puts you into contact with reality, the
reality of the community and the reality of God. That’s something truly
* * *
lots of phone calls this week from American reporters seeking Vatican reaction
to the resignations of Phoenix Bishop Thomas O’Brien, and of former Oklahoma
Gov. Frank Keating as head of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board.
O’Brien stepped down following arrest in a hit-and-run incident, just days after
signing an agreement to avoid criminal prosecution for failure to report
complaints of sexual abuse against Phoenix priests. As part of that deal,
O’Brien delegated authority on sex abuse cases to his moderator of the curia and
to an independent advocate.
Generally speaking, there wasn’t much for Vatican officials to say about
O’Brien’s resignation, except to express sadness for him, for the victim of the
hit-and-run and his family, and for Phoenix.
the deal O’Brien struck, however, there has been concern. Some Vatican observers
believe O’Brien went too far in renouncing the bishop’s authority. Some wondered
if the agreement – phrased as a deal among Maricopa County, O’Brien and the
Diocese of Phoenix – could bind O’Brien’s successor.
Keating, it is no secret that some in the Vatican never looked upon his
appointment with favor, believing that someone with a reputation for
unpredictable public commentary was not suited for such a highly sensitive role.
The concern goes beyond Keating, however, to the National Review Board itself.
If its role is to advise and assist the bishops, no problem. If, however, its
purpose becomes to “supervise” the bishops, fears arise again about losing
the present climate, such concerns cannot help but strike many Americans as part
of the problem – an attempt to preserve clerical power rather than resolving the
crisis. There may be justice to this critique; it is not for me, thank God, to
there are two other considerations to note if one wants to understand where the
Vatican is coming from.
First, the belief that power flows from Christ to the apostles and their
successors in the apostolic college, meaning the bishops, is a core Roman
Catholic theological concept. As early as end of the first century, Ignatius of
Antioch urged the local church to be subject to the bishop. In the third
century, Cyprian of Carthage wrote, “The bishop is in the church, and the church
is in the bishop.” For 2,000 years, the bishop’s office has been a guarantor of
Catholic identity, often in hostile situations; it has, in effect, stood the
test of time. Those who believe the episcopacy is a matter of divine intention
become nervous when they believe it is threatened.
Second, many in the Vatican believe that the heart of the American crisis lies
in bishops failing to do their jobs. It is conventional wisdom in Rome that the
American bishops did not need a new charter and norms to combat sexual abuse,
that the Code of Canon Law gave them every tool they needed if they had
been serious about confronting this behavior. The problem was not law, but will.
Some bishops preferred to take the advice of therapists and formation teams and
personnel boards rather than taking the situation into their own hands. Yet
supervision of priests is a core episcopal responsibility; a bishop, according
to the traditional theology, is supposed to be both a brother and a father to
seen through Vatican eyes, the solution is not for America’s bishops to “pass
the buck,” whether to independent advocates or national boards, but to step up
and do the job that bishops have been ordained to do for 2,000 years. Ceding
authority looks from this perspective not like a healthy dose of democracy, but
the end, this reasoning may or may not be persuasive, may or may not correspond
to the exigencies of the American situation. But for those who wish to press for
different solutions, it is important to speak the same language.
* * *
Pope John Paul’s recent encyclical Ecclesia De Eucharistia reaffirmed the
ban on inter-communion with Protestants, many commentators voiced frustration
that after 40 years of ecumenical effort, Western Christians are still divided
on such a fundamental matter.
Whatever merit such complaints have, they forget how much progress has been made
since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) to reverse prejudices forged over
symbol of that progress comes this Sunday, June 22, when Cardinal Walter Kasper,
president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, will preach
at Rome’s Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church. The occasion is the 300th
anniversary of the birth of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist tradition,
and observers say it will mark the first time a Vatican official has spoken in
such a setting about Wesley’s life and legacy.
will make clear to the people in the pews that things have changed,” said the
Rev. Pieter Bouman, pastor of Rome’s English-speaking Methodist community.
cardinal coming here would not have been possible 40 years ago,” Bouman told
NCR in a June 13 interview in his pastor’s apartment above the church, just
across the Tiber River from the Vatican.
“Officially, a number of things are still impossible. But through symbolic
language and gestures like this visit, things become possible.”
Bouman said the June 22 liturgy will be a normal Methodist service, though with
a special effort to sing hymns penned by Wesley himself. Kasper will preach the
sermon, Bouman said, and he also intends to ask Kasper to deliver the final
benediction. Though Bouman said there is no entrance procession in his service,
he and Kasper will begin the service by walking in together wearing liturgical
in the English-speaking world Catholics and Methodists use the same lectionary,
the scripture readings for the June 22 service will be the same proclaimed that
day in the Catholic Mass, Bouman said.
the service, Kasper is scheduled to join the 180-member community for a
reception. The affair has been in the works for roughly eight months, Bouman
in attendance June 22 will be a representative of the World Methodist Council in
Geneva, as well as representatives from the Italian-speaking Methodist community
and Rev. Gianni Genre from the Waldensian Church.
Bouman pointed out that Catholics and Methodists have been in official dialogue
since the mid-1960s.
of the things that makes the dialogue easier is that Methodism did not separate
historically from the Roman Catholic church, but it arrived via Anglicanism,” he
Bouman said he believes joint worship can produce momentum for official
“Theology is written after we celebrate together,” Bouman said. “It’s been this
way from the beginning. The gospels were written after the early church had
already been celebrating the Eucharist for 40-50 years, and they reflect the
vocabulary of those sacramental acts. In the same way, the more we worship
together, the more it stimulates theology to catch up.”
though the June 22 liturgy can’t include sharing the Eucharist, it is
nevertheless a valid way of celebrating the “imperfect communion” Catholicism
and Methodism already share, Bouman said.
June 22 liturgy begins at 10:30 am at the Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church,
Via del Banco di Santo Spirito, 3.
* * *
Ponte Sant’Angelo Methodist Church has a fascinating history.
was established in 1878 by Alessandro Gavazzi, an Italian ex-priest who deserted
the Catholic church in protest over the policies of Pope Pius IX and moved to
England. A fervent Italian nationalist, Gavazzi signed on as a Protestant
chaplain to the forces of Giuseppe Garibaldi. When Garibaldi’s Republicans
wrested Rome away from the papacy in 1870, thus achieving the unification of
Italy, Gavazzi bought a building on a street corner across from Castel
Sant’Angelo as a beachhead for bringing Protestantism to the Romans.
building had been a residence for the priests attached to the Church of St.
Celsus next door (a neighborhood Catholic parish where Eugenio Pacelli, the
future Pius XII, was baptized). It had a small chapel, which Gavazzi expanded
into a church.
Sunday Methodist service was held there in Italian for some 70 years. In 1955,
however, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization moved to Rome from
Washington, bringing American and British Protestants to Rome. The language
switched to English, and thus it has remained.
terrace of the pastor’s apartment commands a spectacular view of St. Peter’s
Basilica and the Apostolic Palace, including the window from which the pope
delivers his weekly Sunday Angelus address. Bouman joked that he’s the only
Protestant pastor in the world who can lead Sunday morning worship, then head up
to his rooftop for a pipe, a glass of whiskey and a papal blessing.
* * *
Franciscan Fr. David Jaeger, spokesperson for the Franciscan Custodians of the
Holy Sites in the Middle East and a member of the Holy See’s negotiating team
with Israel, returned to Rome June 13 from the latest round of talks in
Jerusalem. The current push is to try to resolve outstanding issues from the
1993 Fundamental Agreement between Israel and the Holy See, coming up on its
tenth anniversary in December.
Jaeger says some very basic issues remain unresolved, including the tax status
of the Catholic church, its property rights, and funding for its schools.
exclusive June 18 interview, Jaeger told me that these questions, although
highly technical, amount to the “fulcrum of the relationship with the Catholic
church throughout the world,” because they concern “the ability of the church to
survive in Israel.”
taxation, the Catholic church is seeking exemption from Israeli property and
income taxes similar to that enjoyed by religious bodies in the United States.
The church argues these exemptions were guaranteed by U.N. Resolution 181, the
document recognizing a Jewish state that was cited by Israel’s declaration of
independence, and which in turn reflected earlier treaties under the Ottoman
Empire. In defiance of these commitments, Jaeger says, Israeli municipalities
have launched “sporadic raiding parties” over the years, sending property tax
bills and then issuing penalties with compound interest for non-payment that in
the aggregate amount to “many millions of dollars.”
Jaeger said this dispute surprises Americans.
numerous Catholic donors in America would expect the tax treatment of the
Catholic church in Israel to be no less favorable than that given to Jewish and
Catholic organizations in the United States,” Jaeger said.
property rights, the church is seeking the “full enjoyment” of properties that
has been lost for various reasons. Most emblematic would be the Cenacle, or
“upper room,” in which tradition holds that Jesus and his disciples celebrated
the Last Supper. Restitution of the Cenacle “would make the climate a lot more
favorable for the rest of the negotiations,” Jaeger said.
church also wants the legal capacity to seek relief in Israeli courts for
its schools, the church wants state funding analogous to support given to
schools for Israelis, which teach Judaism, and those for Arabs, which teach
Jaeger, part of the Holy See’s eight-member delegation, said Israeli negotiators
are acting in good faith and there is excellent personal rapport. Yet little
progress is being made, he said, largely because the Israeli team does not have
the authority to make deals, and there is a lack of engagement on the
Jaeger said he hopes the looming anniversary of the Fundamental Agreement will
the Holy See and Israel came to terms on the fundamental agreement in 1993, it
amounted to a swap: the Vatican recognized the legitimacy of Israel, and Israel
vowed to regularize the Catholic church’s legal status. In effect, this put the
Holy See in the position of “going first,” signing the agreement and trusting
that the fine print would sort itself out.
is the time, Jaeger said, to ensure that this “courageous decision” was not in
Israeli embassy to the Holy See declined to comment on this story.
* * *
Europe’s struggle over its
Christian identity continues.
A first draft of the
preamble to the new European constitution, released in late May, was greeted by
the Vatican as a slap in the face. It said that Europe was nourished by
“Hellenic and Roman civilizations,” then “by the spiritual impulse that runs
through it,” then “by the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment.”
A revised draft released
June 13 refers merely to “the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of
Europe.” Hence Christianity was not inserted, but the other cultural currents
were taken out.
The Vatican is working to
have a reference to Christianity inserted. An October inter-governmental
conference will have the final say.
A Rome roundtable discussed
the issue June 17, featuring Archbishop Attilio Nicora, president of the
Apostolic Patrimony of the Holy See (the Vatican’s finance office), and Ernesto
Galli della Loggia, a lay political scientist and editorialist for Italy’s
leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera.
I always find Galli della
Loggia interesting, and he did not disappoint.
While he agreed that the
omission of Christianity from the preamble “has all the characteristics of a
historical falsification … similar to other great historical falsehoods in the
20th century,” he did not exempt the church from blame. He
provocatively asked if the church can demand that Europe call itself Christian,
if Christianity is not willing to call itself European. Given the guilt complex
that has plagued Western institutions in the wake of de-colonization and
globalization, Gallia della Loggia suggested, the church has downplayed its
identification with Europe, afraid to admit that it is fundamentally a creature
of Western civilization and a carrier of its values.
“To emphasize the church’s
ties with Europe today is not politically correct,” Galli della Loggia asserted.
“But this is a ruinous path, because it leads to a situation in which 100 lords
of Europe can simply decide to let Christianity go.”
Nicora noted that the
Catholic church, along with Protestants and Orthodox, had made three other
proposals beyond the preamble. The first was for recognition of the right of
churches to govern their own affairs, which was not included in the draft,
although Nicora said it is present implicitly. The others were for a formal
dialogue between European institutions and religious bodies, and a guarantee
that national church/state legislation would not be overturned by European law.
In both cases, the churches prevailed.
On the preamble, Nicora
said he sees two factors behind the failure to recognize Europe’s Christian
roots. The first is the hope that Turkey will join the EU, leading to worry
about alienating the Turks by calling Europe “Christian.” But this line of
reasoning would make the European Unioin nothing but a “giant free trade zone,”
Nicora said, with no common values.
The second factor, he said,
is an “ideological agenda” hostile to Christianity.
* * *
A sign of the times came
June 14 in Holland, where the 8th of May Movement officially closed
At its peak, the 8th
of May Movement was perhaps the most formidable Catholic reform group in the
world. It numbered 14,000 members and articulated the progressive post-Vatican
II mood in the Dutch church. The 1967 Dutch New Catechism had been a
run-away bestseller, condemned in Rome for its liberal approach to matters such
as the Virgin Birth and demons. Dutch Dominican Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx
rethought doctrines such as the resurrection and the ordained priesthood.
In 1980, John Paul II
called a special synod to try to bring Holland under control. Yet in 1985, when
the pope visited the country, he sparked protests by declining to meet with
reform leaders. The 8th of May Movement was named for the date of the
Now 18 years later, most of
that energy seems to have dissipated. A June 17 statement explained the closure.
“Over the years we have
diminished,” the statement reads. “People get older. We have less income. And in
the last years we have found it very difficult to find new members for our board
or for commissions. It is very hard. But the decision is taken. The end of this
year is the end of our movement.”
On Dutch TV, the movement’s
president, Henk Baars, explained that one factor in the choice to go out of
business is the fact that religious orders in Holland, once among the movement’s
greatest supporters, are getting older and have fewer financial resources to
Catholic progressives, accustomed to thinking of Holland as
a pacesetter, will no doubt find this news depressing. If there is a silver
lining for the left, it might be that, according to local observers, the
progressive approach remains strong in Dutch theology faculties and among lay
parish workers trained by those faculties – a cohort that will become steadily
more important as the priest shortage worsens.
* * *
Sunday, June 22, John Paul II will make a one-day trip to Banja Luka in
Bosnia-Herzegovina. I’ll be on the papal plane covering the event. Watch the
“breaking news” section of the NCR web site for my report on Monday.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
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