An American in the Vatican
recently said that after the bishops’ statement on Iraq was issued in Washington
in mid-November, a senior staffer for a U.S. senator called to say, “You’ve
got to be kidding. Nobody’s listening right now.” That loss of credibility
is also part of the bleeding.
|Editor's Note: Cardinal Bernard
law resigned as archbishop of Boston December 13, 2002. For story
Besieged Cardinal Bernard Law was in Rome
this week, as it turns out to hand in his resignation to Pope John Paul
II. It was thus the final act in a story that had all the aspects of a
Greek tragedy – an ecclesiastical titan brought low, at least arguably
through his own pride.
I was the first journalist
in Rome to know Law had arrived, not through any crackerjack reporting
but rather an amazing coincidence. Careful readers of “The Word from Rome”
will recall that back in July I noted that Law and Bishop James Harvey,
the American who heads the Pontifical Household, had dined together at
a restaurant called “Cecilia Metella” on Rome’s Via Appia Antica. At the
time I had never heard of the place, but I’ve dined there several times
since. On Sunday evening, Dec. 8, my wife and I had friends in from out
of town who are frequent visitors to Rome, and we wanted to go someplace
they hadn’t been before. Thus we headed out to Cecilia Metella. We were
dumbfounded upon arrival to see Harvey and Law (along with a third cleric
I took to be Law’s secretary). Our pre-reserved table was, unbelievably,
right next to theirs.
I had seen Harvey the
day before at the North American College, which had celebrated the patronal
feast of the Immaculate Conception, so I instinctively walked up to say
hello before I realized that Law was also in the party. Circumstances did
not allow me to begin asking questions, so I simply shook Harvey’s hand
and withdrew. I have no special insight into what Law and Harvey talked
about, though I find it hard to believe it was just the weather.
Ironies continued to
abound. Just moments after Harvey and Law had left, I got a call on my
cell phone from NBC, asking if I could confirm that Law was in town. “You’re
not going to believe this,” I began. A few seconds later it was the Boston
Globe, same question, same answer. The episode ended up on the Globe’s
front page. From there the AP picked it up, and so my bit of dumb luck
briefly became a footnote to the day’s news.
Ostensibly, Law had come
to Rome to explain bankruptcy to people in the Vatican with serious reservations.
One concern is its possible impact on future giving, since going belly-up
is hardly the sort of thing that inspires investor confidence. If contributions
are already slumping in Boston and elsewhere, imagine the impact of a bankruptcy
Perhaps even more worrying
to Vatican officials is the prospect that a civil judge would, under American
law, be assigned broad powers to review and oversee archdiocesan finances.
For an institution that has fought pitched battles over the centuries to
protect its assets in order to safeguard its independence, this is no small
matter. A couple of Vatican officials privately invoked memories of the
Nazi gleichsaltung, a campaign to neutralize social institutions
that might serve as centers of opposition by assimilating them to the state.
Their point was not to compare an American judge to a Nazi thug, but merely
to note that precedents are important. Law, and now his successor, thus
face the challenge of persuading Vatican decision-makers that this step
might actually be the best of all the bad options available.
Beyond the dollars and
cents issues, the big question was whether Law would resign.
Only the pope can request
a cardinal’s resignation, and John Paul II’s personal bias undoubtedly
leaned against doing so. The pope himself, it should be remembered, has
faced calls for resignation, albeit for very different reasons – on the
grounds that he is too old and weak to govern. He has consistently spurned
those suggestions. “Jesus did not come down off the cross,” he recently
said. Hence his inclination would doubtless be that Law should stay put
and clean up the mess he’s made.
That view was at one
point widely held in the Vatican. Seen from Rome, the life of a retired
cardinal seems fairly sweet. One enjoys the privileges of high ecclesiastical
office with few of the burdens. Staying on the job in the midst of crisis,
on the other hand, is a daily ordeal. (Recall that the Vatican never removed
Cardinal Michele Giordano of Naples, even when he was facing a criminal
trial for loan-sharking in 2000 that could have landed him in jail. Privately,
several curial officials opined that resignation was too good for him).
Hence keeping Law where he is, which can look from the United States like
letting him off the hook, seems instinctively to a certain Roman way of
thinking like the most fitting sentence possible.
Having said that, sometimes
moments arrive in which even a pope can no longer afford to indulge his
personal inclinations. This was obviously deemed to be one of those situations.
One tragedy of the present
situation is that as long as Law, sex abuse and bankruptcy dominate the
headlines, the moral voice of the U.S. bishops is in some ways gagged.
Example: An American in the Vatican recently said that after the bishops’
statement on Iraq was issued in Washington in mid-November, a senior staffer
for a U.S. senator called to say, “You’ve got to be kidding. Nobody’s listening
right now.” That loss of credibility is also part of the bleeding, and
one hopes that Law’s long-awaited exit from the stage will help turn the
* * *
Recent weeks have seen
a great deal of speculation about a new Vatican document concerning the
admission of homosexuals to Catholic seminaries. Under the aegis of the
Congregation for Catholic Education, the document is expected to come out
in perhaps six months time.
In fact, the Congregation
for Education is working on two documents that will treat the issue of
homosexuality. The first is an advisory document on the use of psychological
testing in seminary admission and formation, which will contain a few,
largely uncontroversial references to homosexuality. The second deals specifically
with the question of admission of homosexuals, and is expected to take
a firmly negative stance.
A preview of sorts was
offered in early December by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the
Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican office that for obscure historical
reasons handles most requests for laicization from priests. That congregation
had been asked to respond to an unnamed bishop’s question about ordaining
homosexuals, and it published its response in its bulletin under the signature
of former prefect Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez of Chile.
“The ordination to the
diaconate or to the priesthood of homosexual persons or those with a homosexual
tendency is absolutely inadvisable and imprudent and, from a pastoral point
of view, very risky,” Medina wrote. “A person who is homosexual or has
homosexual tendencies is not, therefore, suitable to receive the sacrament
of sacred orders.”
Medina said he had consulted
with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s top
doctrinal authority, in offering this assessment.
insist this is not a new teaching, despite whatever practices to the contrary
may have developed in some parts of the Catholic world. They point to the
document “Careful Selection and Training of Candidates for the States of
Perfection and Sacred Orders,” promulgated by the Congregation for Religious
(which now bears the unwieldy title “Congregation for Societies of Consecrated
Life and Institutes of Apostolic Life”) on February 2, 1961.
The key language in that
document is: “Advancement to religious vows and ordination should be barred
to those who are afflicted with evil tendencies to homosexuality or pederasty,
since for them the common life and the priestly ministry would constitute
Since the question of
homosexuality in the priesthood has resurfaced under the weight of the
American sex abuse scandals, Vatican officials have repeatedly insisted
that the 1961 document is still in force and still represents the official
discipline of the Catholic Church.
(In an odd footnote,
when a Catholic journalist recently asked the Apostolic Nuncio to the United
States, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, for a copy of the 1961 document, Montalvo
replied: “Kindly be advised that the document, which you request, was reserved
for use of the bishops.” Like the Vatican sex abuse norms which were secret
until NCR published them two weeks ago, Rome apparently felt the
broader Catholic world had no “need to know”).
The new document is expected
to reiterate the stance of 1961, perhaps adding some new arguments along
the lines developed by Fr. Andrew Baker in America magazine in September.
Baker wrote that there are grounds for “prudent doubt” about homosexuals
due to several factors: an increased risk of substance abuse, sexual addiction
and depression; a tendency towards “duplicitous or pretentious behaviors”;
doubts about adherence to church teaching; overwhelming temptation in an
all-male environment; the tendency to form cliques; and doubts about the
capacity to live a celibate life. Moreover, Baker writes, a homosexual’s
vow of celibacy cannot have the same meaning as a heterosexual’s, because
homosexuals are already bound to abstain from sexual relations by natural
law. (See my interview with Baker in “The
Word from Rome” of Sept. 27 .
A key question is how
explicitly the new document will define what it means by “homosexuality”
or “homosexual tendencies.” It is one thing to say that a man with strong
tendencies towards homosexual behavior, i.e., sexual activity, should not
be ordained. It is quite another to say that the mere possession of a homosexual
orientation should disqualify a candidate, even if the man is capable of
making a mature commitment to celibacy. If the document remains deliberately
ambiguous on this point, it would not officially commit the Church to the
second, more exclusive position.
Some leaders in the diocesan
priesthood and in religious life have made contacts with the Congregation
for Education seeking to be heard about the document, many in opposition.
In at least some cases they have been asked to submit expert information
and analysis, suggesting that the drafting process is still open.
In the end, most canonists
say that whatever language the document eventually adopts, it will be at
the level of general principles. It will still be up to bishops to make
judgment calls in particular cases. There are some factors clearly recognized
as negative indicators for ordination, such as alcoholism or a criminal
record, but it’s up to the bishop to decide whether they absolutely disqualify
a particular candidate, or whether this specific man shows the maturity
and resolve needed to live a faithful priestly life. In the end, it may
well be the same with homosexuality. Bishops with a blanket policy against
the ordination of gays, such as Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia,
will be confirmed by the new document, but others favoring a case-by-case
approach may be able to read the document in a way that permits that stance.
After all, it is central to the bishop’s job to engage in individual discernment
In that sense, the new
document will certainly cause an explosion in the press, but it may not
change a great deal in terms of existing practice.
It must be noted that
many observers question any linkage between homosexuality and the sex abuse
crisis, as if homosexual priests are more likely to be abusers. Many experts
question such a connection. Fairly or not, however, the scandals of the
last year have put the Catholic priesthood in the United States under a
microscope, and the question of homosexuality is not going away. During
their summit in April, the American cardinals and Vatican officials agreed
to an apostolic visitation of American seminaries, which seems likely to
get under way after the new document appears. Homosexuality will be a major
concern of that process.
* * *
With the Dec. 10 appointment
of Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone as the successor to Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi
in Genova, and the Dec. 9 naming of Péter Erdö as the new archbishop
of Budapest in Hungary, the list of cardinals-in-waiting has, by my count,
grown to 18. They are:
1.George Pell, Sydney, Australia
2. Angelo Scola, Venice, Italy
3. Jean-Pierre Ricard, Bordeaux, France
4. Mario Conti, Glasgow, Scotland
5. Eusebio Oscar Scheid, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
6. Josip Bozanic, Zagreb, Croatia
7. Ennio Antonelli, Florence, Italy
8. Philippe Barbarin, Lyon, France
9. Tarcisio Bertone, Genova, Italy
10. Antoni Cañizares Lovra, 57, Toledo,
11. Péter Erdö, Budapest, Hungary
12. Eustaquio Pastor Cuquejo Verga, Asunción,
13. Henryk Muszynski, Gniezno, Poland
14. Julián Herranz, Spanish, Pontifical
Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts
15. Luigi De Magistris, Italian, Apostolic Penitentiary
16. Francesco Marchisano, Italian, Archpriest
of St. Peter’s Basilica
17. Renato Martino, Italian, Council for Justice
18. Michael Fitzgerald, English, Council for
The lengthening list
of those in line for a red hat increases the possibility of a consistory
in 2003. Traditional dates would be Feb. 22, feast of the Chair of Peter,
or June 29, feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. Note, by the way, that 15 of
the above 18 candidates are European. If John Paul holds to form, he will
certainly add a few names from the Third World.
Bertone, currently the
secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will add
a strong new member of the “Border Patrol” party outlined in my book Conclave:
The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election.
These are doctrinal conservatives concerned with maintaining the distinctiveness
of the Catholic message. Erdö is a bit more difficult to classify.
He was the rector of the Catholic university in Hungary before becoming
a bishop in 2000, and is said to have a love for Latin. One Hungarian journalist
reports that Erdö was favored by the country’s center-right political
forces. The current center-left government is seeking to unilaterally modify
Hungary’s accords with the Vatican, while the center-right supports state
funding for church institutions. The other candidate for the post was said
to be Archbishop Ternyàk Csaba, secretary of the Congregation for
Bertone, by the way,
has played a central role in the Vatican response to the American sexual
abuse crisis. He was in the special summit with the American cardinals
in April, he sat on the “mixed commission” that revised the norms in October,
and he oversees the new tribunals created in the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith to judge sex abuse cases. The appointment of his successor
will therefore be especially consequential for the United States.
Two leading Italian candidates
would seem to be Bishop Rino Fisichella, an auxiliary of Rome and rector
at the Lateran University, and Carlo Caffarra, bishop of Ferrara and a
leading conservative moral theologian. There are, however, question marks
about both. Caffarra has long been seen as the leading contender to replace
Cardinal Giacomo Biffi in Bologna, who turns 75 next June. Fisichella has
only been at the Lateran a few months, and some think he is being groomed
for even bigger things.
Another possibility would
thus be an American Dominican, Fr. Augustine Di Noia, currently the under-secretary
at CDF. Di Noia was the chief theological advisor for the U.S. bishops
from 1983 to 2001. There is actually a tradition of Dominicans in the secretary’s
role; Belgian Dominican Jerome Hamer, for example, held the job from 1973
to 1984. Di Noia’s lone drawback is that he arrived in Rome just in May,
and hence he is still mastering the place and the language. By most accounts,
however, he is a fast learner.
* * *
Speaking of papal politics,
a colleague and excellent journalist, Paul Jeffrey, recently sat down for
a lengthy interview with Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras.
Rodriguez reiterated what he has said elsewhere: “I believe that there
will be a Latin American Pope, and that Latin American pope will be able
to help to solve the North-South conflict as John Paul II helped to solve
the East-West conflict.” It was clear from the context of the interview
that he wasn’t talking about himself, though that won’t stop many people
from thinking in those terms.
* * *
Some time ago I wrote
reporting that in Rome, one theory to account for the vociferous response
in the American media to the Catholic sex abuse scandals is the disproportionate
influence of Jews in the American press. I cited a cardinal who hinted
at this publicly, and a number of other people around Rome who have made
the point in private.
Now someone has said
it out loud.
The comment came in an
address by respected Vatican affairs writer Orazio Petrosillo at the Dec.
4-8 conference of the International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP).
During a roundtable discussion, Petrosillo, who writes for the Rome daily
Messagero and who teaches journalism at the Center for Interdisciplinary
Communication Studies at the Gregorian University, responded to the question,
“Why has the mass media mounted this campaign against the church?” (Though
Petrosillo is Italian, he spoke in French).
three groups that could have inspired such a campaign: “Masonic lodges,”
“Jewish lobbies,” and “groups of free thought and free morals” such as
gays. As for the Jews, Petrosillo specified that their motive would be
“to punish the Catholic Church for its defense of the right of the Palestinians
to have a country.”
(“The Masons,” by the
way, is sort of a catch-all category in Italian thought for secretive,
elite anti-Catholic opinion. Petrosillo wasn’t necessarily referring to
the social organization in the United States that goes under that name).
Petrosillo is a widely
read and well-informed veteran journalist, with good Vatican connections.
In that sense, one can be sure that he was reflecting a view that resonates
in certain corridors of the Holy See. In fact, Petrosillo said he was only
giving voice to what “everyone thinks,” while acknowledging that one can’t
make conclusive judgments on the basis of circumstantial evidence.
* * *
While the United States
is once again focused on Boston and its woes, the Catholic Church in Canada
has a different kind of story involving clergy and sex.
Raymond Dumais, the bishop
emeritus of the diocese of Gaspe in Quebec made a stunning announcement
this week on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s French-language service.
“I’m in love ... with a woman,” Dumais said. “I don’t feel I’m living in
sin. I feel I’m living something special.”
The 52-year-old bishop,
according to media reports, lives with his partner in Bic, Quebec, about
540 kilometers northeast of Montreal.
Named a bishop at 43,
Dumais retired from active duty in July 2001. He had been in trouble off
and on with church authorities. He was called to the Vatican in 1994 after
he joined 60 Quebec theologians in signing a letter critical of the church’s
“absolute” approach to theological dissent. The letter also questioned
the hardening of the church’s stand opposing artificial birth control.
Dumais was asked to sign a letter expressing his fidelity to the teaching
authority of Rome.
“I think that in life,
there are some transformations of a human being that are obvious,” said
Dumais, who has not publicly identified the woman with whom he has the
A colleague with a Quebec
newspaper says that public opinion is solidly in favor of Dumais, in the
sense that people feel he did the honorable thing in coming clean. In other
circumstances, the resignation of a Roman Catholic bishop to be with the
woman he loves would be major world news. (Remember the Milingo story?)
But given the present climate, Dumais’ story is likely to have little echo,
even if it is a small, nagging reminder that the celibacy debate in the
Catholic Church is not going away.
The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is
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