By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
a sign of how much things have changed over John Paul’s 25-year reign that a
Russian leader could visit the Vatican this week and rate little more than a
footnote in the world’s press.
are the headiness of Dec. 1, 1989, when the visit of Mikhail Gorbachev and his
wife Raisa formed a stirring climax to Europe’s bloodless revolution. Endless
commentary surrounded every detail, including the fact that Raisa wore red
rather than the customary black, and pronounced Russian icons superior to
Michelangelo’s famous frescoes in the Sistine Chapel.
way of contrast, the Nov. 5 late afternoon visit of Vladimir Putin, his second
to John Paul, was mostly business as usual.
2003 Friends of NCR
(October 2003-December 2003)
Dear Reader of The Word From Rome,
We need your help. We are pleased to make available -- at no charge -- The Word From Rome. But we cannot do all we need to do without your financial assistance.
Please take a moment to consider contributing to our annual appeal and join the ranks of readers who give to the Friends of NCR campaign. National Catholic Reporter is a nonprofit organization. Contributions are tax-deductible in the United
Let's build the future together.
may be sent to:
115 E. Armour Blvd.
Kansas City, MO 64111
Make checks out to:
If you wish, you may print a form for submitting your donation.
You may also use this form for credit card donations.
P.S. Everyone who donates will receive the fourth in a series of specially designed NCR Christmas ornaments connecting us in a special way to the gospel of peace on earth. Thank you.
points seem clear about Putin’s attitude. First, he is committed to good
relations with the West, and sees rapprochement with the Vatican as part of that
effort. Second, he is unwilling to move forward without the blessing of his own
major religious constituency, the Russian Orthodox church, which does not appear
to be in the mood for détente.
while Putin has made commitments to religious freedom, the fledgling Catholic
community in Russia still faces harassment on visas for clergy (celibate priests
cannot gain permanent residency or citizenship through marriage), authorization
to construct churches, and carrying out its ministries. In a typical incident in
April 2002, after an Orthodox archbishop objected to building a Catholic church
in Pskov, city authorities placed a “temporary ban.” After five months, the ban
was lifted when Catholics agreed to scale down their plans.
Orthodox, scarred by decades of life in a police state and deeply fearful of the
West, accuse the Catholic church of “proselytizing” in Russia, and of
encouraging the expansion of the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine. Patriarch
Alexy II has taken the position that until these disputes are resolved, no
progress is possible. Among other things, that means John Paul’s long-desired
trip to Moscow appears off the table.
telling sign, Putin downplayed the idea of a papal trip.
personal position is that it’s important to make every effort in favor of unity
among the various Christian confessions,” Putin told Corriere della Sera.
“Christianity is at the base of European culture and European identity. Thus I
consider my objective not so much making it possible for the pope to come to
Russia, so much as favoring Christian unity with every opportune step.”
and John Paul spent 35 minutes alone, then were joined for five minutes by the
Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. Sodano showed Putin the
famed Madonna of Kazan, a Russian Orthodox icon that for complex historical
reasons is currently in the pope’s private chapel. Putin, in a traditional
Orthodox act of devotion, kissed the icon.
Paul, speaking in Russian, praised Putin’s ecumenical concern.
want to thank President Putin for everything he’s doing to bring the Orthodox
and Catholic churches together, and for peace in the world,” he said.
* * *
in the press pool for Putin’s visit, which meant that I was in the Cortile San
Damaso when he arrived on Nov. 5. One sign of Putin’s respect for John Paul is
that the legendarily late president actually showed up five minutes early.
(We’re talking about a man who once kept Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi waiting two hours, and even left the Queen of England cooling her
heels for 45 minutes).
respect, however, was not enough to win the pope the prize that has long eluded
him: an invitation to visit Moscow.
that kind of breakthrough in Catholic/Orthodox affairs, many observers believe a
change in the top in the Russian Orthodox Church will be required. Like
Catholics, the Russian Orthodox have been gripped in a wave of speculation
lately about such a change, since the 73-year-old Patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II,
is rumored to have serious heart problems. (Though some observers say Alexy has
pulled through and could remain in power for some time).
as in the Catholic church, personnel moves within Russian Orthodoxy these days
are being read through the prism of campaign politics. When one of the main
contenders to be the next patriarch, Metropolitan Methodius, was recently named
to a diocese in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, many observers took it
as Alexy’s “veto” on his candidacy.
the record, Alexy said the appointment instead reflects Methodius’ “merits as an
Methodius's main rival is believed to be Metropolitan Kirill, the 57-year-old
traditionalist archbishop for Smolensk and Kaliningrad who, with a weekly
television show, is the closest thing the Orthodox church has to a TV
evangelist. He’s also Russian Orthodoxy’s foreign minister.
as in the Catholic church, Orthodox officialdom tries to discourage such talk.
The new patriarch “will be elected when it is time for the church to do so, and
there is no reason to start guessing who it will be,” Alexy himself said in a
recent newspaper interview.
spoke Nov. 1 with Jesuit Fr. Robert Taft, an expert on Orthodoxy at Rome’s
Pontifical Oriental Institute, about the Russian succession.
obvious that a new patriarch will bring changes, but it’s unlikely to be the
kind of change we need,” Taft said.
need a completely new generation, not Soviet leftovers … people who are not
tainted by anything, and who can hold more moderate views of how relations with
the West and with Rome should be structured.”
said he is hopeful that the younger generation of clergy is taking a different
“There’s a certain realization that the hard line is counter-productive,” Taft
said. “The Catholic church, in the world of religion, is like the United States
in the world of politics — the lone superpower. You kick it around at your
said that below the level of metropolitans who make up the most senior level of
leadership in the Russian Orthodox church, there are a number of archbishops who
are “excellent,” in the sense of being well-educated theologically and open to
contacts with the West. He cited Philaret in Minsk and Lev in Novgorod as
* * *
Portuguese Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the
Causes of Saints, is regarded as one of the most affable men in the Roman Curia.
I arrived at his office for an appointment Nov. 5, and began by consoling him on
the performance of his beloved Lazio soccer squad the night before (one of
Rome’s two professional clubs, Lazio had lost to England’s Chelsea 4-0 in
took it well: “I’m a Lazio fan, but I’m also a man of justice, and to tell you
the truth, they deserved to lose.”
year Saraiva Martins turned 70, and the Urbaniana University Press recently
honored him with a book of essays by a slew of curial heavyweights. Our
exclusive interview was wide-ranging, looking back over his career as a
Claretian priest, theologian, rector of the Urbaniana University, then secretary
of the Congregation for Catholic Education from 1988 to 1998 and prefect of the
Congregation for Saints from 1998 to the present.
asked what his missionary background had taught him.
love the church in all its diversity and also its unity,” Saraiva Martins said.
“Diversity is intrinsic to the human person, and the various local churches have
to maintain their specific natures. This is where we find the problem of
inculturation. The churches have to express themselves with the concepts, the
language, appropriate to their own cultures, not ours.”
Inculturation, Saraiva Martins stressed, is not just a task for mission
“There’s a work of inculturation to be done right here in Rome! Also in London,
in Paris, in Lisbon, and so on … also the United States,” he said. “The great
problem facing us is that we’re not succeeding in expressing the faith in the
language of the person of today.”
“We’re in a new world, a new culture,” Saraiva Martins said. “This is obligatory
for us here too [in the Curia].”
the Congregation for Education, Saraiva Martins worked on the controversial
document Ex Corde Ecclesiae (which, as a means of protecting Catholic
identity, stipulated that theologians must be “licensed” by bishops). I asked if
he felt Ex Corde had succeeded.
“Perhaps not totally, but it’s done a lot of good,” Saraiva Martins said.
said that before Ex Corde there was no magisterial document on Catholic
universities, and the result was a “wild world” in which “everybody did his own
the most part, Catholic universities took the document very seriously and
applied it to the extent they felt it was possible in their circumstances, in
light of the various kinds of civil legislation under which they work,” Saraiva
Saraiva Martins said he closely followed debates within the U.S. bishops’
conference during the 1990s over norms to implement Ex Corde.
tried to illuminate the bishops a little bit. I don’t want to say that we
imposed, but we did exercise a little bit of pressure, in a good sense,” he
said. “Today the Catholic universities are much more aware of the duty and the
nature of a Catholic university.”
Saraiva Martins is in charge of saints, we discussed the beatification of Mother
Teresa, whom he knew personally. Prior to the beatification, there had been
discussion about skipping directly to canonization. The proposal was based in
part on the argument that the old distinction between beatification as the act
of a local church, and canonization as an act of the universal church, no longer
holds. After all, we live in a world in which CNN carried Mother Teresa’s
beatification live, making it by definition a global event.
Saraiva Martins wasn’t convinced.
the distinction lost its significance? I don’t believe so. After all, the cases
of Mother Teresa or Padre Pio are obviously exceptional. They can’t be used to
judge the norm,” Saraiva Martins said.
the other hand, this is obviously not a dogma of the faith. It could change,” he
Saraiva Martins said it would have been a mistake to bend the rules.
we had made an exception, we would have created a precedent. This would have
invited an avalanche of requests for similar exceptions,” Saraiva Martins said.
“Sure, I could say Mother Teresa is an exceptional case. But that wouldn’t stop
the general of an order from saying, ‘But my founder was just as holy as Mother
Teresa. Why can’t we have an exception for her?’ The point is that creating a
precedent is always dangerous. It’s better to stick with the existing
Finally, I asked Saraiva Martins about collegiality, a subject about which he
has written a great deal.
“We’ve come a long way,”
Saraiva Martins said. “The understanding of collegiality, thanks to the council,
has been received by both the local church and the universal church. We still
have to search for new ways in which this concept can be translated into
practice, no doubt. For me, the most important thing is that the understanding
of episcopal collegiality has entered the bloodstream of the church, because it
wasn’t always so in our history.”
Saraiva Martins stressed
that the pope himself has invited reflection on ways of restructuring the
exercise of papal primacy.
convinced that the Orthodox churches aren’t so much opposed to papal primacy as
they are to certain ways the primacy has been conceived historically, in
maximalist fashion, like a civil power or an absolute monarchy. That’s not the
evangelical sense. Hence it’s not so much defining primacy or collegiality, but
perfecting the ways in which they function together.”
full text of my interview with Saraiva Martins can be found in the Special
Documents section of NCRonline.org:
* * *
went to the headquarters of the Friars Minor Capuchin on Nov. 3 to interview
their minister general, Fr. John Corriveau, for a piece I wanted to write for
NCR on how the Capuchins are suddenly hip. In the last three years, the
order has turned around three decades of contraction and started to grow again,
seen their favorite son Padre Pio raised to the honor of sainthood, and watched
as Archbishop Sean O’Malley strode into Boston sporting his brown Capuchin
acknowledge a bit of bias here, since I was educated by the Capuchins in both
grade school and high school, but I find their new vogue delightful.
church is tuning into the Capuchins at a very interesting moment, since
Corriveau explained that the order is in the middle of a reformation. They’re
revamped their internal life to foster the ideal of fraternity, and to build an
alternative economy based on transparency and participation. The Capuchins are
preparing to wrestle with the even thornier question of authority and power in a
plenary assembly next year.
Perhaps the newsiest component of our interview concerned San Giovanni Rotondo,
the Padre Pio shrine in southern Italy that has become the largest pilgrimage
center in Europe. Some seven million people visit annually.
Rumors of financial
shenanigans have long dogged the operation. Two years ago, about $4 million set
aside for the new church disappeared in the hands of a corrupt contractor,
according to press reports. That was apparently part of the reason John Paul II
appointed Archbishop Umberto D’Ambrosio of the nearby see of Manfredonia as
overseer of the shrine, causing a minor uproar from the locals, ever protective
of their Capuchins.
Corriveau understands that even the appearance of financial sleight-of-hand is
inconsistent with the Capuchins’ commitment to transparency. For that reason,
he’s informed the brothers that next year the shrine will be subject to an
independent, external audit, in order to be able to establish exactly how much
money flows through and where it finishes.
relevant section of our interview follows.
What do you say to
suggestions that San Giovanni Rotondo is, in effect, a cash cow?
(An Italian expression meaning roughly, “If only it were so!”) I’ve got 4,000
men in the Third World. My God, and if we could tap into it, it would be
marvelous. But the money in San Giovanni Rotondo is for building a church. We’re
building a huge basilica there, and so the people are very generous.”
How much money are we talking about?
“The alarmist figures that people keep bandying around are absolutely
incredible. At one stage somebody said there’s something like 50 million Euros
passing through San Giovanni every year. Well, I’m a North American, and I think
very quickly in economic terms. With 50 million Euros in one year, I could build
a new basilica every year. You get it? That basilica doesn’t cost 50 million
Euros. I could build a new international college in San Lorenzo every year. I
could support all of our missions. Fifty million Euros is absolutely incredible.
It’s not that type of money passing through. The numbers are grossly
you know how much?
“I will, because in order to ensure transparency, we’ve already informed the
sanctuary that beginning next year we’re going to have external audits. We’re
introducing the principle of audit, so it will be absolutely clear, and so that
we can give complete statements to the authority of the church, which is also
important. We’re part of the church.”
What will be the role of the new pontifical delegate?
“We’re grateful to the Holy Father for this appointment. It’s the local bishop,
and we have good relations with him. His precise authority in the shrine hasn’t
been spelled out. We’re waiting for the further specification from the Holy See.
But my understanding is that this gesture on the part of the Holy Father was to
indicate the practical importance of San Giovanni Rotondo. It’s an important
sanctuary, and therefore the Holy Father put a personal delegate in there. It’s
first of all a pastoral act. Even without special faculties, just as the local
bishop, he must oversee that sanctuary. All the pastoral aspects of that
sanctuary fall under his concern. Thus it’s a reminder to the Capuchins to work
closely with their bishop. The administration of that sanctuary pertains to the
friars, and that hasn’t changed.
a creature of the church. What the church tells me to do, I’m going to do. We
will obey the church. That’s my message also to my brothers. They must obey the
church, end of story. Nothing more and nothing less.”
* * *
Oct. 30, new Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán, president of the
Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers, delivered a
lecture at Regina Apostolorum, the Rome university of the Legionaries of Christ.
(As a young man, Barragán spent some time in minor seminary for the Legionaries
in Mexico). The talk was supported by a power-point presentation.
Perhaps the most interesting moment came at the beginning, when a technical
snafu delayed the launch of Barragán’s computer array, and he had to improvise
for a few moments. He did so on the subject of AIDS.
Calling the AIDS epidemic a “very serious problem that increases incessantly,”
he pointed out that there are 42 million AIDS patients in the world today, and
for every person who is sick, three more are infected, bringing the total of
those suffering from the disease
to roughly 170 million.
Barragán said that one out of every four AIDS patients in the world is under the
care of the Catholic Church.
Catholic Church cares for 26.7 percent of AIDS patients, he said, while
state-run facilities 34 percent, and the rest are treated in facilities run by
NGOs or other religious denominations.
Barragán said one tragic dimension of the crisis is that some governments have,
in effect, washed their hands of AIDS. In the Baltic state of Lithuania,
Barragán said, AIDS has the surreal status of being “illegal.” The government
provides no care, medical treatment or drugs. Hence the church tries to pick up
* * *
Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe has built his career as a prodigious organizer. He
staged the celebration of John Paul’s 50th anniversary as a priest in
1996, put together the mind-bogglingly complex Jubilee Year in 2000, and today
runs the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. (Formerly known as
“Propaganda Fidei,” the office is a Vatican-in-miniature for the church’s
mission territories, which are largely in the Third World, but include even
often the case with successful people, Sepe’s chief strength is also cited as
his main weakness. He’s so good at making the trains run on time, some critics
say, that the bigger picture eludes him. Sepe is more a CEO than a pastor, this
theory runs, and his ruthless efficiency would be just at home in the corporate
or political worlds as in the Catholic church.
new book, Sepe indirectly rebuts this view, showing a more priestly and
meditative side of himself. The Gospel of the Jubilee: The Church on the
Paths of the Third Millennium collects weekly reflections he penned on the
Sunday readings during the Jubilee Year.
Jubilee that Sepe orchestrated was among the mega-events of John Paul’s papacy.
Though the Vatican never issued an official tally of what all the activity cost,
the total was certainly in the tens, and potentially the hundreds, of millions
of dollars. The opening ceremonies alone in December 1999 alone cost an
estimated $3 million, funded in that case by state-run and private television
networks in Italy. The week-long World Youth Day in August 2000, according to
church officials, cost at least $23 million.
down with Sepe in his imposing office in the Piazza di Spagna for an exclusive
interview Nov. 3 to look back at the Jubilee Year.
it still have consequences for the church?
motive [for the Jubilee] was that the church undertake an examination of
conscience after 2,000 years, leading to a new outlook that would render the
church more incarnate in the world of today. This outlook in turn generated a
more mature Christianity, a more mature faith, more self-conscious, more aware.
This is the great legacy.”
Where, concretely, does he see the evidence of this legacy?
“There’s a stronger awareness of the need for the Word of God. Many small
groups, called ‘communities of listening,’ were created,” Sepe said. “There was
also a great rediscovery of the sacraments, especially Eucharist and confession.
Many pastors said that they had to put confessionals back into their churches
because the people asked for the sacrament. … Many priests probably dedicate
themselves a little more to hearing confessions, in part because of the Jubilee,
and the faithful live with greater responsibility and coherence.”
the Jubilee worth the millions it cost?
“Look, I’ve always said that the consequences of the Jubilee are simply not
measurable,” Sepe said. “Beyond the numbers, the persons who came to Rome or who
in the various parts of the world participated in the Jubilee, there’s the
interior grace that resulted. There were so many episodes of people who felt
called to live anew their Christian faith, who underwent a kind of conversion,
but this can’t be measured. It just can’t be done.”
asked if Sepe could identify other specific fruits.
many mission countries, small medical centers were created during the Jubilee
Year,” Sepe said. “In other cases, schools for illiterate children were opened,
or perhaps centers against the spread of AIDS. They continue in operation today,
because obviously they respond to real needs. For me, all this is a continuation
of the soul of the Jubilee.”
will church historians look back on the Jubilee?
“Certainly it left its mark on an epoch, in part because the global tension
surrounding the passage from one millennium to the next was quite strong,” Sepe
said. “Remember the ‘Y2K’ problem and all the rest. There was so much fear. The
Jubilee offered a dimension of holiness, and I’m certain it changed something.
To what extent this influence will endure, I don’t know. But it won’t be
possible to talk about this moment in history without reference to the Jubilee.”
we have another Jubilee in 2025?
tradition is to have one every 25 years, so there should be one in 2025. Let’s
full text of my interview with Sepe can be found in the Special Documents
section of NCRonline.org:
Cardinal Josip Bozanic of Croatia is, at 54, the third-youngest cardinal in the
Catholic church, and generally draws positive reviews. He is cut from the Karol
Wojtyla cloth — from the moderate, internationalist wing of an Eastern European
church, impeccably orthodox and pastorally dynamic, with an open mind. He serves
as vice-president of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences (CCEE).
Nov. 6, Bozanic spoke at a Rome panel on the role of universities in the new
talk was thoughtful, if occasionally short on specifics. Bozanic argued that the
Christian roots of Europe are “not a cumbersome archeological sediment, but
constitute its very bloodstream.” The church, he said, must offer “a vision
that’s solid in its principles, but dynamic and capable of producing
orientations of true wisdom in changing historical circumstances.”
Bozanic said that Eastern Europeans know what happens when relativism and
skepticism triumph. Society becomes susceptible to “oppressive and inhuman
totalitarianism,” because it no longer has a cultural counter-proposal to offer.
the evidence of this event, however, Bozanic still has some room to grow as a
statesman and orator before he enters the lists of papabili, or
candidates to be the next pope. When it came time for Q&A on Thursday, people
asked about the role of youth, about the limits of dialogue, about the need to
create centers of social action, and the nature and limits of the lay state.
response, Bozanic said the following:
only want to say this. We have to emphasize not just the question of Europe, but
the connection between Europe and the other continents. When we talk about
Europe, we must always have this more open vision towards the other continents.
Europe has importance for the world.”
good note to strike, certainly, but some observers were frustrated that he
didn’t tackle the tougher questions.
Perhaps the nicest man in the Vatican press corps is Gerard O’Connell, who
writes for the UCAN news agency in Asia as well as the Universe in
London. Gerry is so humble, in fact, that someone not paying careful attention
might miss the fact that he is one of the keenest observers of Vatican affairs
in the world.
Thanks to his new book God’s Invisible Hand, that point will be much more
difficult to overlook.
The book collects a series of interviews with Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze,
prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. O’Connell is a marvelous
interviewer, drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of church affairs, as well as
genuine curiosity and sympathy for his subject.
Arinze is among the leading papabili, and there is no better way to know
his mind and heart than by reading O’Connell’s book.
can be ordered
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
© The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, 115 E.
Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111
All rights reserved.