By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Although John Paul II was widely tipped as a frontrunner for the Nobel Peace
Prize announced Oct. 10, in the end he lost out to Iranian judge and
pro-democracy activist Shirin Ebadi.
standing by on the CNN rooftop in Rome for the announcement at 11 a.m. local
time, ready to comment had the Pope been selected. There was quite a build-up
around John Paul’s candidacy in Rome, and in many ways the stars did seem to be
in alignment. It’s his 25th anniversary, Lutheran Bishop Gunnar
Staalseth (who had attacked the Pope’s stance on condoms) is no longer on the
Peace Prize Committee, and above all, this was a chance for the Norwegians to
indirectly criticize the Bush administration, given the Pope’s strong stance on
Obviously, the fundamental basis for awarding the Peace Prize to John Paul would
have been his role in the bloodless collapse of communism. But there are other
examples of his peace-making effectiveness, from his success in avoiding a war
between Chile and Argentina in 1979 over the Beagle Islands, up to his moral
opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The pope did not stop that war, but he
played a role in preventing the broader Muslim-Christian conflagration many
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Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson told me in an Oct. 8 interview that
John Paul’s interventions carry real political weight. “Because of his
credibility as a person and the respect he commands as a central moral figure,
governments take heed of his views in the development of their positions,”
added that although President George Bush ultimately chose to proceed with the
Iraq war, that doesn’t mean he ignored the pope’s objections. “The president
struggled with this decision and prayed about it,” Nicholson said, saying Bush
had listened with “great interest” to what the pope and his emissaries had to
the other hand, if one function of the Nobel Prize can be to spotlight someone
whose work is not well known internationally, John Paul II is perhaps the last
person on earth in need of such assistance. By that logic, one could argue that
Ebadi stood to benefit far more.
footnote, which will not be widely reported since the pope did not win. Vatican
sources told NCR earlier in the week that they had been contacted by the
Nobel Prize organization, to ask if the pope would accept the prize should it be
offered to him, and if he would come to Oslo on Dec. 10 to receive it. The
answer came back “yes” on both counts. This is another sign that despite the
recent flurry of concern over the pope’s health, his aides do not believe he is
* * *
Relationships are tested in moments of crisis. Thus the new Archbishop of
Canterbury, Rowan Williams, came to Rome in early October in an ideal moment to
probe the strength of the bonds between Catholics and Anglicans, since the
Anglican Communion is in the middle of an ecclesiastical “perfect storm.”
first visit of an Archbishop of Canterbury to a pope in modern times came on
Dec. 2, 1960, when Geoffrey Fisher paid his respects to Pope John XXIII. (Prior
to that, the last Archbishop of Canterbury to come to Rome had been Arundel in
1397). In all, there have been 12 such visits, a sign of a budding ecumenical
friendship. Observers consider it significant that Williams is the first
Archbishop of Canterbury to come to Rome at the beginning of his mandate, almost
as if to acknowledge that his ministry and that of the successor of Peter are
These are troubled times in the Anglican world.
On Aug. 5, the American branch of the 77
million-member Anglican Communion approved the election of Bishop Gene Robinson,
who acknowledges a same-sex partnership, triggering threats of schism from more
conservative factions, especially in Africa and Asia.
Meanwhile, the Canadian diocese of New Westminster has approved a rite for
same-sex blessings. The leaders of Anglicanism’s 38 provinces will hold an
emergency summit in Canterbury Oct. 15-16 to try to defuse the crisis.
If there is no clear rejection of the decisions of
the American province and the Canadian diocese, this could put the
Anglican/Catholic dialogue in serious jeopardy, since it would mark a major
difference between the two traditions on a matter of moral doctrine.
One hint of Catholic/Anglican fallout
came in early October in Florida, where Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine
withdrew an invitation to allow an Episcopalian bishop to be consecrated in
a Catholic church in Jacksonville, Fla. Galeone acted after the Episcopalian bishop who was to preside at
the ceremony defended Robinson’s appointment and denied that the Bible condemns
Yet both the symbolism and the content of William’s
visit seemed calculated to say: This too will pass. The dialogue will survive,
just as it did a previous crisis generated when the Anglican Communion decided
to ordain women.
Oct. 4, for example, Williams and English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor
jointly delivered the final blessing at an Anglican service, tracing the sign of
the cross together. The same day, John Paul II presented Williams and his fellow
Anglican prelates with a pectoral cross commemorating the pope’s 25th
anniversary, the same gift Catholic bishops will receive for the occasion.
During his Rome visit, Williams wore the episcopal ring that Paul VI gave to his
predecessor Michael Ramsey in March 1966 (see accompanying story).
All these gestures seemed to underline a
determination to keep talking, even when what the two sides have to talk about
is not always pleasant.
* * *
One of the stumbling blocks in the
Anglican/Catholic relationship has long been the 1896 bull of Pope Leo XIII,
Apostolicae Curae, which declared the ordinations of Anglican clergy
invalid. In 1998, a commentary from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith on the 1998 Vatican document Ad Tuendam Fidem listed the invalidity
of Anglican ordinations as a de facto infallible teaching.
Yet the various gifts given by modern popes to the
Archbishops of Canterbury, from Paul VI’s episcopal ring to the pectoral crosses
given by John Paul, seem to suggest a different understanding. These are the
insignia of the bishop’s office, and popes do not simply give them away to
laymen dressed up in clerical dress. In some sense, they seem to imply
recognition of fellow members of the episcopal fraternity.
I approached Murphy-O’Connor about this after the
Oct. 4 press conference at the Venerable English College in Rome, asking him
what he thought the theological significance of these gifts might be.
“It’s more than nothing,” he said, smiling.
I completed his thought for him: “Even if it’s hard
to say exactly what that ‘more than nothing’ is?”
“Exactly,” he replied.
Murphy-O’Connor said that however one interprets
the meaning of these gestures, they clearly imply that in some sense the
Catholic church is already beyond the position expressed in Apostolicae Curae.
During the news conference, Cardinal Walter Kasper
fielded a question about Apostolicae Curae. He made the argument that to
the extent Catholics and Anglicans grow together in faith, the question of
ordinations can be examined in a fresh light.
* * *
Speaking of Murphy-O’Connor, he was gracious enough
to mention after the news conference that he had recently read my book
Conclave: The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election.
As I always do when a cardinal says that, I immediately tried to recall what I
had written about him in chapter five, where I provide brief profiles of each
member of the College of Cardinals.
I drew a blank, until I remembered that I had
actually made a rather embarrassing mistake with Murphy-O’Connor. I had written
that his cousin Jerome, a famed Dominican Biblical scholar, was his brother.
At the reception I pulled the cardinal aside and
assured him the mistake had been corrected in subsequent printings.
“I shall have to read the revised edition,” he said
with a smile. Not for nothing has Murphy-O’Connor been described by the British
press as “everybody’s favorite uncle.”
Murphy-O’Connor’s commitment to ecumenism is
genuine and deep. Before becoming archbishop of Westminster he was co-chair of
the official Anglican/Roman Catholic International Commission. His outreach is
so well known and appreciated that in January 2002 he was invited by Queen
Elizabeth to preach at the royal retreat in Sandringham. It was the first time
since the English Reformation that a Catholic prelate preached to the royal
Murphy-O’Connor was so determined to bolster the
Anglican/Catholic relationship despite the present crisis that he cleared his
calendar to accompany Williams to Rome, and he appeared at every public event.
At a commissioning ceremony for William’s new emissary to the Holy See, Bishop
John Flack, Murphy-O’Connor wasn’t even scheduled to speak, but he grabbed the
mike and spoke in warm terms about the relationship. At the Oct. 4 news
conference, he characterized the Anglican/Catholic dialogue as a “road with no
Murphy-O’Connor also insisted that Flack’s
installation take place in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, his titular
church. It was yet another way of saying, “We’re in this together.”
* * *
Paul VI famously gave his ring to the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael
Ramsey, on March 24, 1966, there were no TV cameras to record the event, no
photographers standing by. That’s a pity, because the exchange marked one of the
most moving chapters in the modern ecumenical drama.
Anglican Fr. John Andrew, however, was one of two witnesses to the exchange, and
on Oct. 4 he told NCR the full story.
night before, on March 23, Paul VI had dispatched a member of the papal
household to the English College on Via Monserrato to find Andrew, who was then
Ramsey’s private secretary. The pope wanted to give the ring he had worn as
cardinal-archbishop of Milan to Ramsey, the messenger said. He wanted to know if
the archbishop should be forewarned, or should it be a surprise?
Andrew consulted another aide, and both agreed: let it be a surprise.
next morning, Pope Paul and Archbishop Ramsey led an ecumenical liturgy in
Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul’s-outside-the Walls. In telling symbolism, they
entered side-by-side and sat on the same level, close to each other. They also
signed a “Common Declaration,” affirming their desire that
“all those Christians who belong to these two
communions may be animated by these same sentiments of respect, esteem and
ceremony was over, Paul VI pulled Ramsey aside to show him some frescoes on an
interior wall of the basilica. As Ramsey gazed up, Paul asked him, in his rather
accented English, to remove his ring. Ramsey didn’t understand, so he turned to
Andrew, who said: “Take off your ring.”
handing it to Andrew.
Paul VI then
took Ramsey’s right hand and placed the green-and-gold ring, with a cross in the
center and four diamonds around it, on his finger. Ramsey paused a moment,
allowing the significance of the gesture to sink in: the Bishop of Rome was, in
effect, recognizing him as a fellow member of the episcopate, and in some sense
the church he led as a “sister” to the church of Rome.
into tears. Paul reached out and embraced him, and for a moment, the two men
stood in one another’s arms, almost alone within the immense basilica.
said his tearful farewell to Paul. Andrew suddenly realized that he had a
protocol problem, because he too had to take his leave of the pope, who now had
no ring to kiss. Andrew knelt, gathered both papal hands, and kissed them. Paul
then put his hands on Andrew’s cheeks, gently lifting him to a standing
position, and bade him goodbye.
Paul’s ring for the rest of his life. It subsequently became the property of
Lambeth Palace in Canterbury, and it is the custom of archbishops of Canterbury
to wear the ring when they visit the pope.
to the story.
First, on the
night of the 24th, Paul VI’s messenger once again appeared at
Andrew’s door at the English College. “The pope found the box for his ring,” the
messenger said, “and asked that I bring it to you.”
response was unhesitating.
“I know my
archbishop will wear that ring until the day he dies,” Andrew said. “He’ll never
need this box, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to keep it.”
the pope thought,” he said. “That’s why he had me bring it to you.”
Andrew, who is now retired after serving as rector of St. Thomas Anglican Church
in New York, had never met Rowan Williams, the current archbishop of Canterbury,
prior to his Oct. 3-5 visit to Rome. They two men greeted each other at a
reception at Doria Pamphili Palace, where Andrew recounted this story for
Williams. He then asked to see the ring, which Williams had put on for the first
time for his visit to John Paul II.
“That’s for my dear Michael,” he told
* * *
On Oct. 9, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick
of Washington, D.C., sat down for an exclusive interview at the North American
College, where he had attended the diaconate ordinations. He’ll be back next
week for the 25th anniversary of John Paul’s pontificate Oct. 16, and
for the consistory in which 31 new cardinals will be created Oct. 21.
We spoke about John Paul II’s life and
McCarrick said that he distinguishes
between the pope’s impact ad intra and ad extra. Inside the
church, he said, John Paul “captured the real spirit of Vatican II,” on issues
such as collegiality, dialogue with the modern world and the proper role of the
laity as agents of transformation in the world. Outside the church, McCarrick
said, John Paul has been a relentless champion of the dignity of the human
person, which has made him an advocate of human rights, of religious freedom, of
ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue.
McCarrick, who is fluent in Spanish,
has long been interested in the developing world. He praised the pope’s track
record on social justice issues.
“On labor, on third world debt, on
migration, on war and peace, the pope has been right there,” he said. “He has
insisted that every human being has basic rights, some of which are not yet
recognized by our society.” As a member of the Pontifical Council for Justice
and Peace, McCarrick said he has watched the pope “demand that organs of the
church face these problems.”
In this context, I asked about Latin
America, where many remember John Paul’s crackdown on liberation theology, which
was itself an effort to align the Catholic church with popular struggles for
“The main thrust of liberation theology
was to empower the poor, and the Holy Father not only supports that, but he has
galvanized the church to support it,” McCarrick said. “He drew the line at
Marxism, but he has been so strong in favor of the poor.”
McCarrick agreed that had breaking
liberation theology been John Paul’s only aim, he never would have promoted
Latin American prelates such as Cardinal Claudio Hummes of Sao Paolo, Brazil, or
Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras — moderates who sympathized with the aims
of liberation theology, if not always its means.
Give John Paul’s passion for justice, I
asked McCarrick how he explains the alienation of some Catholic women,
especially in the developed world, from this pope — despite his efforts to reach
out, from his 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem to naming women
to head his delegations to international events.
“It may be the frustration of
over-expectations,” McCarrick said, referring to the question of women priests.
“These expectations were really based only on dreams and hopes, not on basic
premises of what the Holy Father believes, what we believe, is the theology of
McCarrick, who named a woman chancellor
in Washington and has appointed women to significant positions of responsibility
in every diocese he’s led, said he wouldn’t be surprised if John Paul II, in his
heart, would like to have women priests.
“He’s never said, ‘I don’t want women
priests,’” McCarrick said. “He’s said, ‘I can’t do it.’ He’s prayed, studied,
and concluded that he can’t call women to the priesthood.”
I asked about another group that
sometimes seems alienated from this pontificate: theologians who complain about
a “chilling effect.”
“I don’t have statistics, but I suspect
there may be as many theologians who feel the Holy Father has done the right
thing as those who feel he has acted brusquely,” McCarrick said. “The latter may
simply have more access to the media.”
I noted that while John Paul has
achieved much of what he set out to accomplish, from the bloodless fall of
Communism to reawakening the evangelical dimension of the papacy, one area where
his record is much more mixed in the struggle against what he calls a “Culture
of Death.” Despite the pope’s vocal opposition, polls show substantial
majorities of Western Catholics support birth control and divorce, and 12
European nations now have some form of civil registration for same-sex
partnerships. How does McCarrick explain John Paul’s failure to be persuasive on
“We are living in a world that since
the 1960s has moved away from moral absolutes,” he said. “When that happens, it
effects the most intimate, personal things we do.”
Unavoidably, I asked McCarrick if the
recent sexual abuse scandals in the United States and elsewhere will mar the
legacy of John Paul II.
“It puts a mar on the world in which
the papacy of John Paul II governed the church,” said McCarrick, who emerged as
one of the most credible and effective spokespersons for the American church
during the crisis of 2002.
“Some 40 million Americans will have
suffered some form of sexual abuse in their lives,” McCarrick said. “Obviously
if that’s true, this is a deep societal problem, and we are not alone.”
“The fact that it has infested the
church and its priests is scary and agonizing for all of us,” McCarrick said.
“But the church is human and divine, and part of it has to find its life in the
culture that is around us.”
Finally, I reminded McCarrick that when
he was made a cardinal in February 2001, at the age of 70, he told us in the
press that he never expected to participate in a conclave, meaning the election
of a pope. He was suggesting that John Paul could live until McCarrick turned 80
Does he still feel that way?
“There’s always the possibility,” he
said. He noted that the pope has ups and downs in his illness, and that
sometimes he appears to be rejuvenated.
“I’m praying for the Holy Father to
have the strength and wisdom to guide the church,” he said.
* * *
Recent days have witnessed a number of important
appointments within the Vatican power structure.
American Cardinal James Francis Stafford has
relocated from the Council for Laity to the Apostolic Penitentiary, where he
replaces Italian Archbishop Luigi De Magistris. Observers were puzzled when De
Magistris, who started his curial service as a protégé of famed Cardinal Alfredo
Ottaviani of the Holy Office, was left off John Paul’s list of new cardinals on
Sept. 28. The other shoe dropped with news of his exit at the Penitentiary. Some
speculated that his fall was a consequence of De Magistris’ outspokenness;
although he doesn’t give interviews, he is known within the Holy See for
privately expressing candid views. In one example, when De Magistris was a judge
for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, he voted against the
beatification of Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei.
Another key move came Oct. 8, when Giovanni Lajolo,
currently the nuncio in Germany, was named Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal)
Jean-Louis Tauran’s successor as the Vatican’s foreign minister. (The formal
title is Secretary for Relations with States).
The appointment is striking on several levels. For
one thing, Lajolo is 68, much older than has been the norm for this post. Tauran
was 47 when he was made foreign minister; Achille Silvestrini was 53. The job is
considered one of the Vatican’s more demanding posts, especially in moments of
international crisis such as the Iraq war.
Lajolo comes from the Piedmont, the region of
northern Italy that’s home to Secretary of State Angelo Sodano. His ascent means
that all five top spots in the power structure in the Secretariat of State are
now held by Italians (the sostituto is Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, who is
Argentinian by birth, but Italian by ancestry and culture). Beyond Sodano,
Sandri and Lajolo, those officials include the assessore, Gabriele
Giordano Caccia, and Piero Parolin, Lajolo’s deputy.
Since Paul VI began the internationalization of the
Roman Curia in the 1960s, there has never been such a concentration of power in
the hands of Italians atop the Vatican’s most important dicastery. Since Sodano
is past the age of 75, some believe the new lineup reflects his attempt to
influence the succession; others conclude that Sodano simply wants to have his
own team in place for whatever time he has left.
* * *
The complaints journalists get typically cluster
into two categories. The first is errors of fact; misspelled names, inaccurate
dates, etc. The second is accusations of bias, that by the way we assemble
information, the way we manipulate language, and so on, we “stack the deck” in
favor of particular conclusions or points of view.
Like anyone, I find both frustrating. Between the
two, however, I always churn more over instances in which I open myself to
charges of bias. I want “The Word from Rome” to be a source of information that
people of all points of view and all backgrounds can trust, where they feel
themselves respected and their views taken seriously.
Which brings me to this week’s mea culpa.
Last week I featured biographical notes on the new
cardinals announced by John Paul II on Sept. 28. Regarding Archbishop Julian
Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of
Legislative Texts, I wrote: “He has earned a reputation as humble, approachable,
and intelligent, if also staunchly traditional.” On Archbishop Marc Ouellet of
Quebec City, I wrote: “In some ways he is a traditionalist, and has advocated a
return to Eucharistic adoration and Gregorian chant ... Yet people who have
worked with Ouellet describe him as friendly, humble, and flexible.”
Several readers pointed out that I was seemingly
opposing traditionalism to positive qualities such as intelligence, openness,
friendliness, humility and flexibility, as if someone who is traditional is
somehow less likely to be these things. This was the furthest thing from my
mind; all I meant to say was that although both Herranz and Ouelette have strong
personal views, they are neither closed nor arrogant. Yet I see how my language
could not help but create the impression of bias, and I apologize.
If it helps, I was widely quoted last week in the
Canadian media that with time and a positive track record, Ouellet may have the
“right stuff” to be considered a papal candidate.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
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