By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
in this very clerical town, lay people with vision can make a difference.
American laywoman Donna Orsuto, who has built the Lay Centre and the Vincent
Pallotti Institute into indispensable resources for laity in Rome, offers one
Nicoletta Gaida presents another.
born in Tacoma, Washington, and fluent in four languages (including Italian),
was once a rising theater star. At age 23, she won Italy’s best actress award
for her performance in a musical called Cinecittà. The more she climbed
the ladder, however, the more she realized that her spiritual understanding of
the craft was not always shared by her audiences.
Gaida put it, “All they were looking at was my legs.”
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frustration led her to seek a way of blending art with her interests in
spirituality and dialogue, which prompted the creation of a theater festival for
Third World playwrights in 1991, and eventually the Centro Dionysia in 1998,
dedicated to dialogue among peoples and across cultures.
41, is sort of a Horatio Alger of the non-profit sector. Having nothing but an
idea, she convinced the region of Lazio and the city of Rome to give her a
dilapidated property on the Via Aurelia Antica, overlooking the Vatican, called
the Villa Piccolomini (named after Pope Pius II, Enea Silvio Piccolomini).
Although the last Piccolomini had stipulated that the property should be used to
support the arts, many a well-connected Italian realtor no doubt had dreams of
converting it into condos or shopping outlets.
did Gaida pull it off?
takes her Roman Catholic faith seriously, and having read John Paul II’s 1994
letter Tertio Millenio Adveniente, calling for creative approaches to the
Jubilee Year of 2000, she marched off to see the Vatican’s man for dialogue with
the arts. It happened to be then-Archbishop (now Cardinal) Francesco Marchisano,
who to his credit knew a good idea when he heard one. Marchisano backed her
request to the Roman authorities, and in 1998, after a few other twists and
turns, the Villa Piccolomini became the HQ of the Centro Dionysia.
she first walked on site, Gaida told me, she almost needed a machete because it
was so overgrown. Today, the villa is one of Rome’s truly beautiful spots, a
tribute both to her good taste and determination.
then, the center has sponsored important conferences on the Israeli/Palestinian
problem, human rights in the Islamic world, the Balkans, and Christian/Jewish
relations. In every case, the performing or visual arts were connected to the
initiative. Gaida is currently planning an event on UNESCO’s declaration on
“human duties and responsibilities,” a companion to the UN declaration on human
may slow down just slightly in coming months, since her main project is her
brand new baby boy, Milo Joseph. Yet those who know her dynamism expect that the
show will go on, and Milo will become part of the act.
* * *
cannot pretend to complete objectivity when it comes to Gaida, since we worship
together at the 11 am Mass at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita.
Despite the fact that Nicoletta is a friend, however, I suggest that if you’re
looking for models of how Vatican II understood the lay role, she might well be
Here’s a typical Gaida story.
1994, she was running a theater festival to promote playwrights from the Third
World in a small Italian town called Veroli. It happed to be a time of upsurge
in xenophobic sentiment in Italy, and a group of young neo-Nazis showed up to
disrupt the festival. Gaida, however, got them talking, lending them cigarettes
and inviting them to check out the shows. Gao Xingjian, a Chinese playwright who
later won the Nobel Prize for literature, was putting on a one-man production.
The young Nazis watched, and by the end some had tears in their eyes.
realized these guys weren’t really criminals, they were just misguided,” Gaida
she launched a project she called “The Hood,” bringing 60 ghetto kids from New
York, Los Angeles, Palermo and South Africa to Rome, where they worked on a
hip-hop street theater project, with the idea of getting them interested in each
other and their surroundings.
is the kind of energy that percolates in the Centro Dionysia, and it’s why many
people think it’s one of the most important new acts on the Roman stage.
can find the center at
* * *
Oct. 28, the Centro Dionysia sponsored a celebration of the 38th
anniversary of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s document on non-Christian
religions. It’s the third consecutive year they’ve marked the occasion, and as
always Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious
Relations with Jews, was scheduled to give the lead address. Unfortunately, for
only the second time in six years he was too sick to come, and so his trusted
aide, Fr. Oliver Lahl, read his remarks.
Catholic/Jewish relations, a burning theological question is how to reconcile
the eternality of God’s covenant with Israel with the Christian missionary
imperative to make disciples of all nations. To put the problem bluntly, if Jews
already are in covenant with God, why do they need Christ?
Kasper did not answer the question, but sought to put it in a new context:
the Church recognizes the eternality of the promises and the covenant, it does
not in any way diminish its vocation to confess and preach Christ,” Kasper said.
“It simply recognizes that the mystery of his salvation includes [that
eternality] and encompasses it, in an embrace of healing mercy in which everyone
has a place. Thus the Church affirms its respect for every religious experience,
and not in the name of an abstract ideal owing to the fact that we live in a
pluralistic society. It recognizes that in the many paths that people follow in
search of happiness and good, there is a common aspiration, written in hearts
and in consciences by the Creator of the world, which is the aspiration for
* * *
Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, had been described to me
as one of the sharpest minds in English-speaking Catholicism, and this by
Dominican confreres who don’t necessarily share his rather traditional views on
Fisher is an expert in bioethics, and director of the John Paul II Institute for
Marriage and Family in Melbourne under the patronage of conservative Cardinal
George Pell. Yet Fisher has also been socius, or assistant to the
provincial, as well as master of students, in his own rather liberal Dominican
province, a sign that he commands respect across ideological lines.
down with Fisher Oct. 25, at Rome’s San Clemente church, to discuss John Paul
II’s record on moral questions.
noted that the pope has long hammered away at a “culture of death” – abortion,
birth control, euthanasia, gay marriage, and so forth. Yet he has failed to
persuade: 12 European nations permit civil registration for same-sex
partnerships, and polls show that overwhelming majorities of Catholics reject
the papal stance on issues such as divorce and birth control. If, as that famous
Dominican Thomas Aquinas argued, truth is inherently attractive, and if what the
pope is saying is true, why aren’t people buying it?
part of the answer is that no pope could hold back such a tide of social and
cultural change,” Fisher said. “We don’t know how much worse things might have
been without the pope’s constant effort.”
Fisher said that a decade ago many observers felt euthanasia would go the way of
abortion, and be widely legalized. As of today, however, there are only two
nations that have adopted such statutes. In the same way, he pointed to
standards for stem cell research adopted in the United States and elsewhere,
which “could have been much worse.”
fundamentally, Fisher argued, despite the fact that our minds are made for
truth, we are often “fragile, broken people,” for whom the truth may be
threatening. “It might shake up our comfortable consumer lifestyle,” he said.
example, Fisher argued, it is difficult for people in the West to accept that
suffering in old age or an unwanted pregnancy are part of the human condition,
instead of annoyances to which there should be a technological or medical “fix.”
truth is inconvenient. It is subversive,” Fisher said.
Fisher also suggested that the Western experience of democracy produces
confusion, since Westerners tend to view church teachings as matters of law or
policy, assuming that if there was sufficient will, the church could change
them. Such a view, he argued, neglects the way the church is constrained by
Fisher said, reflects a larger problem concerning the church’s use of the
vocabulary of human rights, which tends to make a fetish out of personal
liberty. “It’s natural to use the language and concepts of an age to try to
communicate ourselves,” he said. “But they will always fit only up to a point.”
He made a comparison to the Chinese Rites controversy, suggesting that it too
raised the question of how far the church can go in adopting the idiom of a
culture without losing itself.
pressed Fisher on the church’s capacity to keep up with scientific change. I
noted as one example a clash between Vatican documents, which rule out
non-therapeutic research on unborn life, and U.S. and Australian guidelines that
permit it with parental consent. Won’t the next pope, I asked, have to bring
Fisher’s answer was interesting.
not sure you’ll ever get complete coherence on issues like that, and I’m not
sure you’d want it,” he said. “There are good arguments within the Catholic
moral tradition that cut both ways, and what decides the matter may be the
political situation, or what’s happening in the culture, or how cautious or
creative you are.”
Finally, we discussed the media. Fisher agreed that often the Catholic church
does a poor job of expressing itself – in part because sometimes the wrong
people are speaking, in part because sometimes their language is inaccessible.
this regard, Fisher and his boss could be models for media savvy, as they may
well be the only cardinal/auxiliary bishop duo in the world with columns in
competing metro newspapers. Pell writes a popular weekly column in Sydney’s
Sunday Telegraph, and Fisher has just been asked to pen a similar feature
for one of the paper’s rivals.
* * *
evening of Oct. 28, Rome’s Gregorian University presented a book on China by
Italian journalist Alceste Santini called China and the Vatican. On hand
was French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a veteran of several sensitive missions to
China on behalf of the pope. Etchegaray made two interesting observations.
First, he explained that the Vatican has stressed establishing diplomatic
relations with Beijing because it regards it as the best way to heal the
division between the government-sponsored Catholic community in China, and an
“underground” group. Although it has become common to speak of the “official
church” and the “underground church,” Etchegaray insisted there is only one
church in China, divided artificially into two communities. He said this is a
source of “great suffering” for the pope, and that the division would be healed
if China and the Holy See could establish ties.
Second, he admitted that the canonization of 120 Chinese martyrs on Oct. 1,
2000, was a mistake – not the act itself, but the date. Oct. 1 is a festival of
national liberation in China, and the pope’s decision to hold the canonization
that day was taken as a provocation by the Communist government. In fact,
Etchegaray said, the pope did not know the significance of Oct. 1 for the
Chinese. This was a repetition of a point Etchegarary had made in 2000, when the
Chinese first objected; he observed that Oct. 1 is the feast of St. Teresa of
the Child Jesus, the patron saint of missions. The choice of day was neither “a
provocation nor an act of revenge,” he said.
* * *
debate erupted in Italy last week when a local court ordered a public school to
take its crucifixes off the walls, after an Islamic firebrand, Adel Smith,
complained that their exposition discriminated against his sons. Outraged church
leaders sprang to battle.
crucifix expresses the soul of our continent, and should remain the sign of
European identity,” said Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the pope’s vicar for the Rome
archdiocese and president of the Italian bishops’ conference.
some extent it’s a tempest in a teapot, because no one believes the sentence
will stand – Italy is not like France, with a Republican tradition of
church/state separation. This is a country, after all, where the bishop’s
conference last year received over $1 billion in public money. In the end, the
crucifixes will remain.
Nevertheless, some observers believe there is a serious issue lurking beneath
“The Catholic church is no
longer alone in Italy,” said Renzo Guolo, who teaches sociology of religion at
the University of Trieste, and is a specialist in Islamic fundamentalism. He
writes editorials on this subject for the newspaper of the Italian bishops’
conference, Avvenire, and has recently published a book entitled
Xenophobes and Xenophiles: Italians and Islam.
“The real problem is how
Italy navigates the transition from being mono-cultural to being a religiously
diverse society, especially with respect to Islam,” Guolo told NCR Oct.
28. And because much of the Catholic world takes cues from Italy, how the
relationship with Islam is managed here will have wide consequences.
In his book, Guolo
observed that in recent years the leadership of the Italian Church has shifted
from a welcoming stance towards Islamic immigration, to a more “prudent” and at
times critical posture.
“There are divergent
positions,” Guolo said. “Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of
Milan, represented dialogue and openness, closer to the pope on this issue,
whereas Cardinal Giacomo Biffi of Bologna and Bishop Alessandro Maggiolini of
Como take a much harder line, demanding reciprocity in the Islam world for
tolerance in the West.”
This second attitude,
Guolo explained, tends to be directed not at Muslims as individuals, but their
associations and institutions, such as the Saudi Arabia-funded Rome mosque.
Ruini, Guolo said, is
somewhere in between, but has been moving steadily closer to the Biffi/Maggiolini
stance. For Ruini, Guolo explained, this is part of a larger concern with the
re-evangelization of Italian society.
Though Guolo did not
develop the point, Vatican sources describe a similar divergence within the Holy
See. The Martini position is associated with Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald,
president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, while the Biffi/Maggiolini
line has adherents in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Propaganda
Fidei, and some elements in the Secretariat of State.
Guolo made the interesting
point that the Ruini strategy, of aggressively defending the Catholic Church’s
prerogatives, may backfire.
“Given the fact that
Muslims will be increasingly present in Italy, there will be growing pressure to
extend rights currently enjoyed by the church also to Muslims,” Guolo said. “By
protecting its own interests, the church serves the interests of Islam.”
He offered the example of
education, where the Italian Church has waged a long campaign to obtain state
support for its schools. Ultimately social pressure will be intense to grant
Islamic schools the same status, with the danger of creating cultural ghettoes.
“Would it be better for
the church to accept a certain lay space in the public forum?” Guolo asked.
“That’s a question that has to be faced.”
* * *
Oct. 23, presidents of English-speaking bishops’ conferences met in the
Congregation for Divine Worship with Cardinal Francis Arinze and his staff. The
purpose was a discussion of matters connected to the translation of liturgical
texts into English, a source of recurrent tension in recent years.
discussion was devoted to inculturation, and Arinze insisted that any blending
of elements of local culture into Catholic liturgy must be carefully prepared.
That echoed a point he made at the meeting of the Federation of Diocesan
Liturgical Commissions Oct. 7-11 in San Antonio in the United States. (The text
of Arinze’s San Antonio address may be found here: http://www.fdlc.org/home.htm)
40 people participated in the Oct. 23 session, including bishops not just from
the 11 English-speaking nations that are full members of the International
Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), a translation body set up after
Vatican II, but from other conferences in which English is used, such as Ghana,
Kenya and Cameroon. One source said it was the first time such a group had ever
all accounts, Arinze won good marks for his flexibility and willingness to
listen – traits that some found lacking in his predecessor, the strong-willed
Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez. One participant attributed Arinze’s
approach to his experience as head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious
Dialogue. “If we can dialogue with Muslims and Buddhists, the cardinal told us,
surely we can talk to each other,” this source said.
Critics argue, however, that it’s easy for Arinze to invite dialogue now, since
the painful decisions have already been made. The May 2001 document Liturgiam
Authenticam demanded a more “sacral” approach to translation, closer to the
Latin originals, and new statues for ICEL make it clear that the commission
answers to the Congregation.
conferences – including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand – expressed
reservations at the Oct. 23 meeting about the new controls, but without
fireworks. The discussion involved complex points of canon law, and Arinze
signaled a desire to keep talking.
Bruce Harbert, executive director of ICEL, along with English Bishop Arthur
Roche, ICEL’s chair, made a presentation. Roche spoke about ICEL structures and
process, while Harbert gave some examples of translation, trying to argue that
Liturgiam Authenticam doesn’t necessarily require a slavish
transliteration of Latin or excessively complicated syntax.
Cardinal George Pell of Australia spoke on the Vox Clara Commission, an advisory
body to the congregation on translation issues. Pell emphasized that Vox Clara
is not connected to ICEL. Participants stressed the need for Vox Clara to
complete its ratio translationis, or guidelines for translation, since it
will guide ICEL’s work on the Roman Missal, the book of prayers for the
point made by some bishops, especially from Africa, was that they use local
liturgical languages in addition to English. Although Latin is supposed to be
the basis of translations, many versions are made from English. It was suggested
that ICEL could help with this process.
source said he left the meeting with greater confidence that ICEL is making
progress towards new texts. Still, it’s anyone’s guess how long it will take to
have a translation of the Roman Missal. Pell said during an Oct. 21 news
conference that he thought it was possible within two years. A Vatican source
said Oct. 24 that Pell’s prediction sounded “rather optimistic.”
* * *
has been a big week for book presentations.
addition to Santini’s book on China, mentioned above, a volume of essays in
honor of Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins’s 70th birthday was
presented on Oct. 27. Entitled Veritas in Caritate, Saraiva Martins’
episcopal motto, the book collects essays from several Vatican heavyweights.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, writes
on collegiality; Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, archbishop of Genoa and former
secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, comments on the
Catechism of the Catholic Church; Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, addresses the ecumenical
significance of the veneration of saints; Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald,
president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, outlines the
theological fundamentals of dialogue; Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, prefect of
the Congregation for Catholic Education, treats priestly formation; and Cardinal
Dario Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, writes on
priestly life and spirituality.
Oct. 29, a panel at the Urban University presented a book by Cardinal Crescenzio
Sepe, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. It
collects essays Sepe penned during 2000, while he was general secretary for the
Jubilee Year. Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, and
Mario Agnes, director of L’Osservatore Romano, stressed reawakening the
spirit of the Jubilee, which Riccardi described as a manifestation of popular
faith. Agnes said: “The great events of the church must not be archived,” he
said. “They must be lived.”
books are published by the Urbaniana University Press.
on Oct. 29, a new edition of the first volume of Pope John XXIII’s Diary of a
Soul was presented. The editor is Italian church historian Alberto Melloni,
and on hand to comment were Riccardi, Etchegaray, and Bianchi. The book is
published by the Istituto per le scienze religiose in Bologna; more
information can be had by writing
* * *
the “keeping an eye on the papabili” file: Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez
Maradiaga of Honduras, a leading Latin American candidate, has given an
interview to the BBC program “Hardtalk,” which has a half-hour, no-holds-barred
format. The segment is scheduled to air on Friday, Oct. 31, on the BBC World
Service; it will also be available on the BBC web site for those whose Internet
hook-ups can handle it.
* * *
weeks ago I carried an item about Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo’s comments to
the BBC on condoms and their alleged defects in blocking transmission of HIV.
The item brought this response from Frances Kissling, president of Catholics
for a Free Choice, calling my report “irresponsible and dangerous.”
Allen reports on claims by
Lopez Trujillo that the AIDS virus passes through condoms and therefore causes
the spread of AIDS. In support of this and without any comment, Allen cites an
article on “safe sex” written by a Monsignor Jacques Suaudeau in the
Lexicon-Ambiguous terms on
family, life, and ethical concerns, a recent publication of the Pontifical
Council for the Family, and containing articles by authors with close ties to
Allen cites Suaudeau as if
he were a credible AIDS expert, calling him “a medical doctor who once worked in
the [National Institutes of Health].” A search of medical journals and studies
shows that Suaudeau, trained as a surgeon in France before joining the
priesthood, published on coronary research during his tenure at the Institutes,
and turns up no contribution by him to scientific journals on sexually
transmitted disease, HIV/AIDS, or any related topic. His contributions on HIV
and AIDS can be found in such places as the aforementioned
Lexicon, the Vatican’s
newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, and journals from Catholic universities
in Rome – hardly the peer-reviewed outlets one expects from Allen’s description
of the man.
Allen attempts to justify his
one-sided reporting, claiming that he does not know enough science to pass
judgment on Suaudeau’s, and subsequently Trujillo’s, claims. A brief survey of
other news could have helped educate Allen and
NCR readers. Immediately after
Trujillo’s statement was broadcast, public health experts spoke out condemning
The World Health Organization
said, “These incorrect statements about condoms and HIV are dangerous when we
are facing a global pandemic which has already killed more than 20 million
people, and currently affects at least 42 million.” WHO maintains that
“consistent and correct” use of condoms reduces transmission by 90 percent.
Thoraya Obaid, executive director of UNFPA, the United National Population Fund,
said, “[Trujillo’s] position is not scientifically accurate, and could
contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS.”
No reputable figure in the
AIDS prevention community, the gay community, or the church reform community has
ever claimed that condoms are 100 percent effective in preventing the spread of
AIDS. But every reliable scientific and health related agency and professional
has been clear that if one is going to be sexually active and is at risk of
spreading HIV, condoms are an essential and very effective – even at less than
100 percent – measure to prevent the spread of the disease.
We might understand that
Vatican officials pay no heed to facts about condom efficacy for AIDS
prevention; in fact, responding to research clearly disputing Trujillo’s
statements, the cardinal said merely, “They are wrong.” We expect more from
NCR. … No
report, even one that is not designed to deal with the health issue of the AIDS
crisis, should ever be written or published without making the facts on
transmission and effective measures to reduce transmission perfectly clear.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
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