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October 28, 2005 
The Word From Rome
Vol. 5, No. 9

John L. Allen Jr. 




The continuing challenge of Nostra Aetate; Synod debates remain open; A sit down with Cardinal Angelo Scola; Wuerl's view of the synod; American ambassador to the Holy See arrives; A seminar on trafficking in persons


At 6:30 p.m. (Rome time) Oct. 28, the Holy See Press Office released the a statement regarding the recent terrorist attack in Israel, anticipated reprisals from the Israelis against Palestinian targets, and comments from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding the destruction of the State of Israel. Statement on Terrorism and Violence in the Holy Land.

Oct. 27 marked the 40th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that dealt with non-Christian religions, above all Judaism. Events all over the world are marking the occasion.

For most Christians and Jews, Nostra Aetate is remembered for three principal points:

  • A clear disavowal of the traditional charge of deicide, i.e., that the Jews killed Christ;
  • Recognition that "God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made," meaning that the covenant between God and the Jews remains valid, even if Christians believe it finds fulfillment in Christ;
  • Unequivocal rejection of anti-Semitism or prejudice against Jews.

In Rome, a high-level Oct. 27 conference featured Cardinals Walter Kasper, the Vatican's point man for relations with Jews, and Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris, a convert from Judaism and a longtime champion of Catholic-Jewish dialogue. Rabbi David Rosen, director of the Interreligious Affairs department of the American Jewish Committee, spoke for the Jewish side.

"As we celebrate this revolutionary transformation in the Catholic church's teaching about Jews, Judaism and Israel, we must urge that these teachings become an essential component of the training of priests," Rosen said before the event. "Nostra Aetate must be woven more profoundly into the fabric of the Church."

Benedict XVI sent a message, in English, to Kasper.

"I have expressed my own firm determination to walk in the footsteps traced by my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II," Benedict wrote. "The Jewish-Christian dialogue must continue to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed, while preaching and catechesis must be committed to ensuring that our mutual relations are presented in the light of the principles set forth by the Council.

"As we look to the future, I express my hope that both in theological dialogue and in everyday contacts and collaboration, Christians and Jews will offer an ever more compelling shared witness to the One God and his commandments, the sanctity of life, the promotion of human dignity, the rights of the family and the need to build a world of justice, reconciliation and peace for future generations."

A number of prominent Jewish leaders were on hand. Wednesday night, for example, I attended a dinner at the British Embassy in honor of Sir Sigmund Sternberg, an English Jew and co-founder of the "Three Faiths Forum" promoting dialogue among Jews, Christian and Muslims. Sternberg prompted many of those in attendance, including Jews, Christians and Muslims, to tell their own stories about the importance of Nostra Aetate, which added up to an impressive witness to the gains made over the last 40 years.

Perhaps the most poignant moment, however, came when Israeli Ambassador to the Holy See Oded Ben-Hur rose to point out that Wednesday was yet another sad day for Israelis, scarred by a Palestinian suicide bombing in the northern Israeli city of Hadera that left five dead and more than 20 injured. To some extent he felt awkward, Ben-Hur said, about enjoying a lovely evening with a sumptuous meal in elegant surroundings while such tragedies unfold. His point was that while much progress has indeed been made since Nostra Aetate, no one should be in denial about the work remaining to be done.

Everyone present, from all three faiths, commiserated with Ben-Hur and expressed unequivocal condemnation of violence. The problem, of course, is that none of the people wreaking havoc in the Middle East and elsewhere were in the room. How to expand the dialogue beyond the circles of the already-convinced would seem to be the central challenge facing those concerned with the lasting legacy of Nostra Aetate.

* * *

Just to make the point that church debates often continue long after meetings try to settle them, two cardinals have joined Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Georgia, in suggesting that questions given clear answers in the recently concluded Synod of Bishops may in fact still be open.

In an Oct. 19 interview with NCR, Gregory said that in the synod "the status quo held" on the ordination of viri probati, or tested married men, because the group could not find consensus, but Gregory left open the possibility that individual bishops or bishops' conferences could still raise the issue.

NCR previously reported Oct. 17 that at least four of the 12 small language groups -- two of the English groups, a French group, and the German group -- in the synod called for further study on the viri probati.

Confirmation of that report has now come from the Dutch media, where Cardinal Adrianus Simonis told the TV outlet RKK that he was among those in the German group pushing for more study.

"I can see that it is not a solution [to the priest shortage], but you could say that in times of need, when the sacramentality of the church is at risk, it would be a possibility," Simonis said. Simonis said he remains committed to mandatory celibacy, but is happy that the viri probati were discussed.

"It is good to see that it is possible to talk about it, but the question remains very complicated," he said.

On Monday, Oct. 24, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican's point person on ecumenism, appeared at Rome's Foreign Press Club to discuss ecumenism and relations with Jews 40 years after the close of the Second Vatican Council.

During the question period, a reporter asked Kasper about the issue of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. In the synod, the bishops reaffirmed the existing ban.

"This is a very urgent problem, especially for bishops in the West, in places such as Germany," Kasper said, noting that even the pope had expressed doubts about the best way to respond in a meeting with priests during his summer vacation in Valle D'Aosta.

"I cannot imagine that the discussion on this issue is closed," Kasper said.

Shortly afterwards, however, Colombian Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo gave an interview to Italy’s La Repubblica in which he said the debate over the divorced and remarried is not open, and that the church’s teaching on the point is clear.

All this makes the wait for Pope Benedict's eventual apostolic exhortation based on the synod's results more dramatic, to see if the pope sides with the fairly definitive approach of the propositions, or the more open stance of some of the men who adopted those propositions.

* * *

After the close of the synod's final session on Saturday, Oct. 22, I was part of a small group of journalists invited to sit down with Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice, the relator. Scola is by any standard a rising star in global Catholicism; some touted him as a possible papal candidate last April, and many believe he is destined to replace Cardinal Camillo Ruini as president of the Italian bishops' conference.

I put the first question to Scola, asking him to explain the principal motive for the strong reaffirmation of priestly celibacy in proposition 11.

"I wouldn't call it an affirmation of a discipline," Scola said. "There was a desire on everybody's part to see, especially in terms of the beauty of existence, how Jesus connects us to the divine. In this perspective, the theme of the great Latin tradition of a connection between ordination and celibacy emerged. It appeared to the fathers that in today's world, amid all the great anthropological transformations, that it's still possible to witness and testify to the great beauty of likeness to Christ, without gloss, expressed in virginity and in celibacy. It's a form of great congruity with Christ."

"The fathers asked that the reasons for this choice be better illustrated to the faithful," Scola said.

"At bottom, this concerns the true sense of love, which will also help spouses to love better. Celibacy is not at all about disrespect for married love. The problem is that modern man risks losing the unifying sense of love, the awareness that love is about the total gift of self. In Christian tradition, the sense of love is one, though each responds in the way God calls him or her. … Celibacy is a form of accepting the will of God, living and experiencing it deeply. This is its deep significance."

As for the priest shortage, Scola said the church "can't apply a commercial logic. In some locations, yes, priests are not plentiful. But if this is what God gives us, this is what God gives us. … If someone were to ask me what the 'right' number of priests is for Venice, I wouldn't know what to say. We're not managers of companies with precise quotas. If one of my priests wants to go into a mission, I'm happy to support him, even if it's a problem to fill his place. I'm convinced that the Lord will help us. We have to be realistic and practical, yes, but we also can't follow the logic of a multi-national corporation."

A colleague asked Scola about inter-faith relationships, which led him to reflect on the subject of church and culture.

"Karl Barth wrote that Christianity is a faith, not a religion," Scola said. "I would say instead that it's a faith that lives in a religion. Christianity is also a tradition and a people. … Faith does not live disincarnated. What Christianity does in its contact with other religions is to collect the sense of that religion, elevate it and purify it."

Another journalist asked Scola about media coverage of the synod.

"I haven't followed it much," he joked. "I can guess what they said."

More seriously, Scola seemed frustrated with the lack of broad interest in the synod's work.

"Two hundred and fifty-six bishops from the entire world, elected by their episcopal conferences, left their dioceses to spend a month together, spending eight hours a day sharing, praying, talking," Scola said. "They succeeded in giving voice to everyone, developing an idea of how to live and give Christian witness in the most diverse places, in India, Mexico, Romania, Africa, Europe, everywhere … it was moving, and extraordinary. They also did some detailed work, producing 50 propositions and a message."

"In what sense," Scola asked rhetorically, "is this not news?"

"The bishops, in very positive fashion, committed themselves to going forward with the liturgical reforms that followed Vatican II, despite the great arguments after the council and despite significant abuses. In what sense is this not news?"

"The synod demonstrated that the Eucharist is at the heart of the Christian people, and in itself it has a social dynamism," Scola said. "That means commitment to resolving conflicts between peoples, such as those we see in Africa, and to cosmological questions such as ecology. … Unlike pagan temples, the Christian cult does not separate the sacred and the profane. Everything is cult.

"In what sense is this not news?"

Scola asserted that the synod was an instance of "substantial democracy which in some ways is more powerful than the formal democracy in civil societies."

* * *

Few bishops were as busy during the synod as Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, who, for the third time, was tapped as a relator, or "secretary," for one of the small language groups.

Wuerl is no stranger to the Vatican scene, having served in Rome from 1969 to 1979 as secretary to Cardinal John Wright, who was the prefect of the Congregation for Clergy. (That bit of biography has occasionally led to speculation that Wuerl himself could one day return to Rome to head the same office).

I sat down with Wuerl on Oct. 24 for an interview shortly before he returned to Pittsburgh. The following are excerpts.

It seems that the synod aimed to mix doctrinal firmness with pastoral compassion. Is that right?
Wuerl: Yes, because this is so much a part of the way the church has understood her role from the beginning. The task of the church, and thus of her pastors, is to proclaim the fullness of her teaching, of revelation and the teaching that expounds it. It's also the role of the same pastor of souls, however, to meet people where they are, and to gradually lead them to a full acceptance of that truth. In the pulpit, a pastor must be the source of complete, clear, and authentic teaching, of who we are called to be. Yet in dealing with the faithful one-on-one, in counseling, in confession, and so on, he meets them where they are.

Does the church have a communications problem here? Normally the firmness about rules comes across much better to the average person than the compassion.
It's a perplexing issue. … Sometimes the church simply presents its principles, expecting that the compassionate application of those principles will happen on a one-to-one basis. In news coverage, however, there's a tendency to focus just on the proclamation of principle, because it's easy to talk about that in general terms. It's much harder to define the pastoral connotation. That's not say, however, that we should stop talking about principles. … If we don't say it every chance we get, someone's not going to hear it. If we don't say it, people will begin to forget. …

It also has to be understood that church teaching is not the same thing as law, even though we have a Code of Canon Law. For example, the church calls us to participate in the Eucharist every Sunday, and there are canons to support that, but the goal is not to have people say, "I'm here because I must do it," but rather, "I understand what this is all about and I want to be here." That's why a pastor of souls will say, "I'm just glad if they come with some regularity, so I can help them understand what it's all about." Otherwise, if this was all about laws, we'd be issuing penalties for people who didn't come.

This synod marks the third time you've served as relator. What differences did you notice?
We are rapidly losing what might be called a usable common language. Latin has not been conserved as a universal language for all in the synod. For a long time, Italian was it, but at least in the groups I worked with that's no longer the case. It's not understood by everyone around the table. It's not a major hurdle, but it does make things more difficult. …

I also found the free discussions in the evening very healthy, very open. There's a forum now for everybody to be engaged in the discussion. If it's a little repetitious, well, so are a lot of conversations in which I take part.

Proposition 46, on Catholic politicians and legislators, seems like a vindication of the approach of the American bishops, and especially the commission led by Cardinal McCarrick. Do you see it that way?
I saw what I would take to be the church's traditional posture. We have to teach the faith, and we have to explain it. It's always been a part of that same tradition, however, that only in very specific circumstances, and with great prudence, can a judgment be made about an individual's worthiness for communion.

So the synod affirmed the American approach?
What we saw in that proposition is very reflective of what the American bishops said, and both reflect long-standing Catholic tradition.

You don't believe there's any movement for the Vatican or the pope to issue a new ruling for the universal church?
I didn't hear any suggestion in the synod that something new is needed.

A synod is sometimes as important for what it doesn't say as for what it does. How do you interpret the near-total silence on the old Latin Mass?
I believe the fact that this did not surface, that it was not a part of our discussions, means that it's a settled issue. I was reminded of a story a pastor told me about a 12-year-old who was talking with his parent, and the parent was talking about the beauty of the Latin Mass. The 12-year-old responded, 'But we've always done Mass this way!' Three generations have come and gone since the transition into the vernacular, and I think by now it's no longer really an issue.

Does this mean there will be no 'universal indult' for celebration of the pre-Vatican II Mass?
I don't know where that might be going. It's a very specific response to a specific case. On the level of overall principle for the whole church all these years after the close of the council, however, I think the question of language and liturgy has been answered. … The overall perspective of the synod is that Vatican II brought about a renewal and reform of the liturgy that, historically speaking, has been embraced by the church universal. That doesn't mean by everybody, of course, but by the church universal.

* * *

After a wait of nearly nine months, the new American Ambassador to the Holy See touched down in Rome on Sunday, Oct. 23. Francis Rooney arrived at Rome's Fiumicino Airport shortly after 8 a.m., where he was greeted by Msgr. James Green, head of the English department in the First Section of the Secretariat of State, on behalf of the Vatican.

Rooney was approved on Friday, Oct. 7, by the U.S. Senate, and sworn in as ambassador by the Senate on Oct. 13.

"To be the ambassador to the Holy See is an important undertaking, because at the core of the diplomatic relationship between the United States and the Holy See lies a common vision and task -- to promote and defend the dignity of every man, woman and child," Rooney said Sunday morning.

During confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late September, Rooney made brief comments about a couple of issues he'll tackle as ambassador. Rooney said Benedict XVI has made it clear he intends to continue John Paul II's work in promoting human dignity and "building bridges to the Muslim world."

Sen. George Allen, R-Va., who presided over the hearing, said he was concerned about reports the Vatican is considering severing relations with Taiwan. Allen said he didn't want to see the Vatican recognizing China over Taiwan.

Rooney said he would make it a priority to ensure the Vatican has "a sensitivity to the feelings of our government" on the issue.

He'll be facing an uphill battle, especially in light of recent comments from Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano to the effect that the Vatican is ready to cut ties with Taiwan right away if it can be assured of the immediate launch of relations with Beijing.

Rooney, a graduate of Georgetown University and Georgetown Law School, is an entrepreneur rather than a politician or diplomat. He was the chief executive officer of Rooney Holdings, an investment and holding company based in Naples, Florida, with offices in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

By any standard, he's done well. According to a financial disclosure report he filed with the Office of Government Ethics, Rooney had more than $40 million in income from Jan. 1, 2004, through July of 2005.

Rooney has been an ardent supporter of U.S. President George W. Bush. Rooney Holdings, his company, gave more than $500,000 to the president's re-election campaign as a corporate donor in 2004.

In one of his last acts before leaving the United States for his new assignment, Rooney solidified his Catholic roots by attending the Notre Dame-USC football game on Oct. 18, a nail-biter which the Irish dropped 34-31.

Rooney replaces former Ambassador Jim Nicholson, who left in January to become the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

* * *

Speaking of American ambassadors, Ambassador John Miller, Director of the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State on trafficking, was in Rome this week.

The U.S. embassies to Italy and the Holy See sponsored an Oct. 26 conference titled "Joining the Fight Against Modern-Day Slavery: A Seminar on Trafficking in Persons," where Miller was the featured speaker.

Estimates are that some 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, forced into service in areas such as prostitution, factory work, and farming, with several hundred thousand others constrained against their will inside their own countries. Some one-third to-one half are believed to be children.

"Who would have thought that in the 21st century we would be talking about slavery?" Miller asked rhetorically, suggesting that terms such as "trafficking" are really euphemisms.

"What we need is a 21st century abolitionist movement," Miller said.

The United States has been in the front-line of anti-trafficking efforts, in part because of the efforts of an "odd bedfellows" coalition in America of Christian conservatives, human rights groups, and feminist organizations. The trafficking issue was also a personal passion of Nicholson, the former U. S. ambassador to the Holy See.

Despite this investment of personnel and resources to combat trafficking, some have accused the U.S. of a double standard when it comes to countries which are the worst violators. In 2005, an annual report produced by Miller's office flagged Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as among "tier three" countries, meaning those with the least effective anti-trafficking measures. The president has the option of imposing sanctions. U.S. President George Bush chose to impose sanctions, however, only on nations with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations, such as North Korea, while Saudi Arabia, long seen as an important American ally, was not punished.

U.S. Representative Chris Smith, R-N.J., who championed the American anti-trafficking law, denounced the decision.

"Actions like this send the wrong signal to nations -- friend and foe alike -- that turn a blind eye to this international horror," Smith said in September.

I asked Miller about Bush's decision.

"The purpose in putting a country in tier three is not to punish it, but to get progress," he said. "In the case of Saudi Arabia, sanctions would not be that effective, because the United States doesn't give them much aid. It's a rich country."

If at the end of this year Saudi Arabia has not improved, Miller said, the U.S. will look for some way to express its displeasure, perhaps by canceling a student exchange program.

"Publicity by itself tends to bring action," Miller said, "when countries are concerned about their image."

Miller cited Greece, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as countries that in recent years took significant steps to improve their anti-trafficking efforts after being listed as "tier three" nations.

Miller added that he has been invited to meet with the King of Saudi Arabia in the coming months to discuss how to deal with migrant laborers in the country, many at risk for trafficking.

Earlier in the week, the Jesuit Refugee Service held a conference in Rome to mark its 25th anniversary in serving poor and marginalized groups. Among other topics, the conference addressed the issue of immigration and trafficking.

One specific problem highlighted is what speakers called the growing tendency of governments to place asylum seekers in detention camps, sometimes for indefinite periods as long as several years.

Jesuit Relief Services-Europe has launched a campaign on the issue, proposing that:

  • European countries avoid detention, or at least stipulate a brief fixed time period, and make allowances for visitation, health care, and protection of minors and families;
  • The European Union create a body to monitor detention practices in European nations.

While in Rome, Miller also met with officials in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees.

Speaking at a Oct. 28 Vatican news conference, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Refugees, said his meeting with Miller “already expresses a kind of collaboration [with the United States], respecting the competence of each party. … We’re on a path together.”

“We cannot do anything other than be in agreement with a campaign against slavery,” Marchetto said, recalling the Vatican’s collaboration with the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See to promote anti-trafficking efforts among women’s religious communities in various parts of the world. He called on states to support church-based efforts to combat trafficking.

Cardinal Stephen Hamao, president of the council, said that the problem will not diminish until “poverty, injustice, persecution, and corruption” in the countries of origin are addressed.

The occasion for the press conference was the release of Benedict XVI’s message of the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, in which the pope cited the problem of trafficking, which he said implies “a whole program of redemption and liberation from which Christians cannot withdraw.”

The next World Day for Migrants and Refugees is set for Jan. 15, 2006.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org

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