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February 24, 2006
Vol. 5, No. 25

John L. Allen Jr.


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John L. Allen Jr.

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NCR's Latin America Series

The churches in Asia gather
Papal Coverage: Read NCR's 25 days of non-stop coverage of the death of John Paul II and the elction of Benedict XVI. This includes Sr. Joan Chittister's essays, An American Catholic in Rome

Interview with New Zealand Cardinal Thomas Williams Benedict's first cardinal appointments; Thumbnail sketches of the new cardinals


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New Zealand is a funny place, a distant Pacific outpost where the Anglo-Saxon work ethic has fused with a laid-back island ethos, producing a culture of hard-working people who nevertheless come off as remarkably unflappable and unpretentious.

In a nation of a little over four million, where the barriers that insulate leaders from their people are not nearly as thick as elsewhere, it's remarkably difficult to put on airs.

All of which brings me to Cardinal Thomas Williams of Wellington, New Zealand, 75 and now retired, one of the most unassuming Princes of the Church you're ever likely to meet.

Williams once wrote that titles such as "Your Eminence" and "Your Grace" make him "shrivel up inside," and that aversion to pretense shows. As he walked into a room at the archbishop's residence for our interview last Saturday, he sported an open-collar shirt and casual slacks. Momentarily stuck in Roman protocol, I ask if it was OK to remove my suit jacket; Williams laughed and said the only reason he didn't come down in shorts is because he thought I might have a camera.

Despite his rather modest style, Williams is nobody's fool. He has thought long and hard over a quarter-century about the distinctive contribution of Catholicism in Oceania, by which Williams has in mind not just people like himself, but also indigenous populations such as New Zealand's Maori, as well as the cultures of Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Tongo and Fiji. All this makes Williams a passionate advocate for his local church, which has sometimes meant defending it when he believes Rome hasn't sufficiently grasped its challenges and its promise.

On the other hand, Williams also sees a dark side to the affluent, secularized society of today's New Zealand. In a now-famous June 2004 essay, Williams wrote, "We have rejected the moral sustenance of the past, and are attempting to live on junk food provided by a bankrupt liberalism." He warned that while today's barbarians "may be soberly suited and stylishly presented," their impact is still ruin.

I was in New Zealand for a Feb. 17 lecture, and I sat down with Williams the next day, Feb. 18, for a wide-ranging interview about his role in last spring's conclave, his assessment of the new pope, and his views on what Oceania has to teach the church. What follows are excerpts. More of the interview will appear in a future issue of National Catholic Reporter.

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NCR: Let's talk about the conclave that elected Benedict XVI. You've said there was no lobbying among the cardinals?
Cardinal Thomas Williams:
There were no blocks or lobbying, and no tone of 'don't vote for x.' Coming in, I didn't know what to expect. I suppose I thought that my vote is as good as anyone else's, even if I am a country yokel, so if there is a question of garnering votes, I thought, well, mine is as valuable as anyone else's. I would drive a hard bargain. Yet I would say that the ethos against lobbying really was observed.

How did the politics unfold, in your experience?
We were encouraged to discuss things with one another outside the General Congregation meetings, over meals, coffee, and gatherings of small groups. I was only present at one such meeting, which included 16 [English-speaking] cardinals. There was no discussion of the merits and demerits of a given candidate, but it was in the spirit of 'You know so-and-so, what can you tell me?' It was held at the Irish College, and there was a great spirit of fraternity. It began with a very good meal, which was formally hosted by Cardinal Desmond Connell of Dublin, though the meal was actually prepared by the staff at the Irish College.

How could the process be improved?
We [cardinals] need to find ways to get to know each other better. For example, I was staying with the Marists in Rome and saw an insert in La Croix that had pictures of all the cardinals, with their ages and nationalities. I took it with me to the General Congregation meetings, and whenever somebody would speak, I'd pull out the sheet and identify them. Before long, a number of other cardinals would come over to ask, 'Who's that speaking?'

Why do you think Ratzinger won?
He was the best known member of the College of Cardinals, and it was clear that those who knew him best respected and admired him most. His writings were well-disseminated. … Then there was his leadership in the General Congregation meetings. He was patient, yet quite decisive. … His homilies were also admirable. Finally, I think he represented what I called the need for a "bilingual pope." By that I meant someone who could speak the language of the faithful, the language of Scripture, tradition, the Fathers, and so on, but who could also speak the language of the modern Barbarians. I felt Ratzinger had this ability. He could engage the secular world on its own terms. He would be not just a religious leader, but a world leader.

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You've been passionate about the need for inculturation. Why?
To take a negative example, the evangelization of the Maori [New Zealand's indigenous people] has been largely ineffective because of the lack of inculturation. The missionaries were French, and they brought the Roman rite celebrated in Latin. For the Maori, once something becomes a tradition, it is very difficult to change. … Many are now trapped in a 19th century mold. Among the Maori, there isn't the degree of religious practice, as well as theological and liturgical sophistication, that we would want. …On the other hand, the Samoans give us a very positive example. The late Samoan Cardinal Pio Taofinu'u related a Samoan ceremony called the kava to the Eucharist. The kava is the root of a pepper tree, which is ceremonially pounded and strained to make a drink. It's an elaborate ceremony, with a special cloth used to strain the kava. Those preparing the drink are guarded by warriors while they perform the rites. Taofinu'u said the Eucharist is the kava par excellence, and so he had it guarded by the chiefs themselves. There are also parallels with the symbolism of the Eucharist. The kava is always served only from one cup, and it's taken to the people as a sign of unity. Taofinu'u's book was called Kava as Prophecy. … The Samoans have brought that kind of liturgy here. I was there when we did this for the first time, and an old man came up to me and said, "This is the first time I've ever been to Mass that I felt like I was Samoan."

You've also been outspoken in defense of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, and the need for flexibility in liturgical translation. Do you see this as an issue of inculturation?
It has to be. There is no one English language. If anyone believes that English is a homogenous language, then why does the Oxford University Press print a separate Australian and a New Zealand English dictionary in addition to its standard editions? In New Zealand, it's estimated that we use 300 Maori words. How can anyone think our English is the same as everyone else's? …. It's a matter of competence and trust. Translations should be within the competence of episcopal conferences working singly or collegially. The role of the Holy See is to assist in the area of doctrinal integrity. To say that we know your language better than you do is to betray a distrust that goes beyond the competence of the Holy See.

At the Synod for Oceania in 1998, there was much talk about the subject of celibacy. Where do things stand?
In the end, it was clear that the ordination of the viri probati was not going to get majority support in the form of a proposition, in part because of the views of some of the bishops from the Curia. In the end, the decision was to live to battle in another arena on another day. Some felt, 'How bad do things have to get before we can get people to listen?' Some bishops are very concerned. They have to send consecrated hosts in quantity in biscuit tins with pilots on island-hopping planes, or with the skippers of fishing boats, to be handed over to catechists, in order to be sure that people have the Eucharist. This is happening in Papua New Guinea, in the Solomon Islands, in other Pacific Islands. These places would be isolated without their airstrips. In New Guinea, some missionaries have to trek for three days to reach their communities.

In 2001, you predicted that the sexual abuse crisis in New Zealand would not be as bad as in the United States. Has that proved true?
The incidents here have certainly been serious enough, but I think they're less. We acted early in setting up diocesan professional standard groups. We set up a national office to oversee the program, headed by the former head of the national police. We didn't go in for cover-ups. We've tried to use the best psychiatric assistance available. Also, things have been less dramatic here because New Zealand is a less litigious society. In this country, we have an "Accidents Compensation Corporation" into which companies and institutions pay a premium, and then it pays settlements when people get hurt. The church pays premiums for every priest and sister, and then the fund pays grants to victims where charges come forward.

What has been your experience of working with Rome on these cases?
There have been no cases of recourse to Rome that I'm aware of, so we've had no difficulties that way. If somebody wanted to take recourse, we'd be prepared to defend ourselves. As far as sending our case files to Rome [under the terms of a 2001 motu proprio from John Paul II], we don't do it. We handle it ourselves.

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On Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI named 15 new cardinals, with the date for the consistory, or the formal ceremony marking their elevation to the College of Cardinals, set for March 25. Just 12 of the 15 are under 80 and hence eligible to vote for the next pope.

Given the small number of new cardinals, and the fact that most of them were named to cardinal-track positions by John Paul II, the nominations don't reveal a great deal about the course Benedict intends to chart.

That said, there are three observations to be made.

First, the appointments are another signal that Benedict intends to "color within the lines" more than John Paul II. Instead of dispensing from the ceiling of 120 voting age cardinals, Benedict carefully limited himself to 12 selections, the exact number it will require on March 25 to return to 120. It's another small sign of how conscious he is of himself as the bearer of a tradition, rather than a charismatic leader blazing new trails.

Second, the choice of Bishop Joseph Zen of Hong Kong is confirmation that in making his personnel moves, Benedict will not be swayed by external political considerations. When he had to name his own successor at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, conventional wisdom said that it would be impolitic to name an American. Benedict wanted William Levada, and tapped him anyway. In the case of Zen, conventional diplomatic wisdom said that the Vatican's strong desire for improved relations with Beijing made his elevation impossible, since the mainland Chinese authorities have been irked by Zen's strong comments on religious freedom and democracy. Once again, Benedict did it anyway.

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Finally, one striking thing about Wednesday's nominations is that geographical inequities in the distribution of cardinals were not addressed. Prior to Benedict's picks, for example, the Americans had more cardinals of voting age than Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines combined, the three largest Catholic countries on earth, representing a block of more than 300 million Catholics. On Wednesday, the Americans got two new cardinals, while the Philippines got one, Brazil and Mexico none. Similarly, in the April conclave, American cardinals cast more votes than all of Africa, and yet the only African picked this time is already beyond voting age. The fact that Benedict didn't balance the scales more is perhaps another indication that his focus is largely on the man, not political considerations.

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Thumbnail sketches of the 12 new cardinal-electors follow.

Archbishop William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Levada, 69, wrote his doctoral thesis in theology at Rome's Gregorian University under the direction of Jesuit Fr. Francis Sullivan, on the subject of "The Infallible Church Magisterium and the Natural Moral Law." He worked in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1976 to 1982, during the era that Croatian Cardinal Franjo Šeper was prefect under Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, and then in the early months of Ratzinger's term. Levada was appointed archbishop of Portland in 1986, and archbishop of San Francisco in 1995. From 1986 to 1993, he served as the only American bishop on the editorial committee of the Vatican commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Levada was part of a joint U.S.-Vatican mixed commission that finalized the American norms on sexual abuse, as well as on a task force on the church's response to dissenting Catholic politicians. He was chair of the U.S. bishops' committee on doctrine.

During that service, Levada carved out a profile as someone cautious about matters of doctrine, but a pragmatic and flexible leader with the capacity to get things done. Levada also is able to envision imaginative solutions to difficult problems. A case in point came in 1997, when the City of San Francisco threatened to withdraw funding from any social service agency that did not provide health benefits to domestic partners. At the eleventh hour, Levada proposed allowing employees to designate anyone they wanted as a recipient of benefits on their health plans -- an aunt, a parent, a good friend. In that sense, he argued the church was making benefits more widely available, without endorsing same-sex relationships.

Archbishop Franc Rodč, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life
Rodč, 71, was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In 1945 he fled with his family from to Austria and emigrated later to Argentina. He was ordained for the Vincentians in 1960, and holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic Institute of Paris. He returned to Slovenia in 1965, where he was director of the Vincentian scholasticate and provincial visitor. At the same time he taught fundamental theology and missiology at the Theological Faculty of Ljubljana. He arrived at the Vatican as an official of the Secretariat for Non-Believers in 1981, and undersecretary the following year. In 1993 he became Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Like many Eastern European prelates, Rodč is considered to be rather traditional doctrinally, though with a pragmatic pastoral side and an awareness of broader cultural currents. In 1999, he spoke at the European Synod.

"'To live for God or to live for death', said the French poet Pierre Emmanuel," Rodč commented. "This is the dilemma. We can hope that European man will choose God, and with him, life rather than death."

Archbishop Agostino Vallini, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura
Vallini, 65, was born in Poli, Italy, in the diocese of Tivoli, and later served as the vicar general of the Naples archdiocese. From 1999 to 2004 he served as bishop of Albano, scene of a tragedy in 2001 when a mother and her three-year-old son were assaulted and killed by two local youths. Vallini called for forgiveness, but also demanded an "examination of conscience" by a society which fosters "a false conception of individual liberty which ends up compromising the common good and the right to life."

Vallini is known as an expert canon lawyer, explaining his appointment to head the church's equivalent of a Supreme Court.

Archbishop Jorge Liberato Urosa Savino of Caracas
Urosa Savino, 63, arrived in Caracas as archbishop just last September. He had served as archbishop of Valencia en Venezuela, and prior to that was an auxiliary in Caracas. He holds a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University, and has a reputation for being mild-mannered and pastoral.

Although the Venezuelan bishops have clashed repeatedly with the populist and anti-Western government of President Hugo Chavez, Urosa Savino has kept his distance from political opposition groups, reflecting concerns Benedict XVI expressed in Deus Caritas Est about the church becoming identified with an ideological movement. For example, he recently refused to participate in an election boycott in which anti-Chavez forces had called for people to go to churches rather than the polls. Urosa Savino is seen as a more cautious alternative to the hard line of Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara, who has accused Chavez of being "paranoid," leading a "despotic government" and has said Venezuela was living under a "dictatorship."

Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila
The successor to legendary Cardinal Jaime Sin, Rosales, 73, has been more cautious about wading into politics, but will speak when he believes justice matters are at stake. In response to the recent landslide in the Philippines, for example, he said, "The real reason for this terrible tragedy is that forests have been badly denuded and no serious replanting has been done. It is time for the powers that be to address strongly these issues." A soft-spoken, modest man, Rosales recently declined election as president of the country's bishop conference four times, saying that he wanted to concentrate instead on the "Pondo ng Pinoy," a project encouraging Filipinos to save one cent daily as a way of changing what he sees as "the predominantly apathetic approach to the poor."

Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux
Ricard, 61, was elected president of the French bishops conference in 2001, and Le Monde describes him as "jovial and open." He comes from the southern diocese of Marseilles, and is reputed to have a quick analytical mind and a reconciler's spirit. As bishop of Montpellier, people say he worked well with laity, especially women. His priests in Montpellier nicknamed him Edredon -- meaning a big fluffy blanket. The idea is that he covers you in warmth, no matter what you say or do.

Ricard has been willing to tackle difficult social and political questions. Part of his sensitivity comes from spending 1964-65 in Mali as part of his national service commitment. On the other hand, he has criticized Catholic Action in France for being too wrapped up in matters of social justice and forgetting the gospel.

One key to understanding Ricard is the fact that he served as vicar general to Cardinal Robert Coffy of Marseille from 1988 to 1993. Coffy was the classic French prelate: an open, intellectual pastor deeply engaged with the modern world, having published works on Marx, Kierkegaard and Teilhard.

Archbishop Antonio Cańizares Lloveda of Toledo
Cańizares, 60, is considered part of the conservative wing of the Spanish bishops' conference, aligned with Cardinal Antonio Rouco Varela of Madrid. The two men were the prime movers behind the church's mobilization against the gay marriage law adopted by Spain's Socialist-led parliament over the summer. In 2003, Cańizares was among religious leaders invited to advise the European Union regarding its new constitutional document, and he pushed hard for a reference to God in the preamble -- a fight the church eventually lost. He has a doctoral degree in theology, and in 1995 he was nominated as a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he had an opportunity to work closely with the future Pope Benedict XVI.

Archbishop Nicholas Cheong Jin-Suk of Seoul
Cheong Jin-Suk, 74, is a mild-mannered prelate who since 1998 has faced the daunting task of serving not just as the archbishop of Seoul, but also the apostolic administrator of North Korea, thus placing him on the front lines of dealing with one of the world's most difficult governments for religious institutions. The Vatican will expect the new cardinal to be a bridge with nations such North Korea and China. According to unverified reports from the North Korean government, the Communist state has around 3,000 Catholics. From behind the scenes diplomatic work, Cheong Jin-Suk is also willing to take public stands when he feels important articles of church teaching are at stake. He criticized the stem cell research of Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-suk when the now-disgraced scientist enjoyed overwhelming Korean public support. Born into a Catholic family in Seoul in 1932, Cheong entered into the priesthood in 1961 after graduating from the Catholic University of Korea. After serving as bishop of Chongju, South Chungchong Province for 28 years, he became Archbishop of Seoul in 1998.

Archbishop Sean O'Malley of Boston
O'Malley, 61, was named to Boston to cope with the meltdown following the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law. After a honeymoon in which his humility and simplicity, grounded in part in his vocation as a Capuchin Franciscan, earned wide sympathy, the difficulties have proved far more intractable than initial expectations of rapid healing suggested. In 2003, O'Malley presided over the largest legal settlement of its kind, an $85 million deal to settle more than 500 sex abuse lawsuits, in hopes that only mop-up would remain. Today, he's involved in negotiations with 200 more alleged victims, saying he's strapped for resources and unable to meet their demands. In the meantime, a bitter controversy over proposed parish closings has eroded some of the good will he enjoyed in the early months. In a letter on the issue, O'Malley confessed that sometimes he prays that God will "call me home and let someone else finish this job." In light of all this, Benedict's choice to elevate him to the College of Cardinals will be seen as a show of support for a man in a very tough job.

Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow
In terms of global media interest, Dziwisz, 66, is certain to be the star of this consistory. The event will fall just seven days short of the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II, and the fact that his beloved private secretary, in a sense the closest thing Karol Wojtyla ever had to a son, will become a Prince of the Church on that date will be widely seen as a fitting tribute. Early reviews on Dziwisz in Krakow have been largely positive; Polish sources say that Dziwisz has established good relations with most of his priests, and seems a capable administrator, skills honed while functioning as the pope's chief of staff. Dziwisz is staunchly traditionalist on most doctrinal questions, and has a robust sense of humor. (On the papal plane, I once saw him introduce a journalist known for sensationalistic coverage of the Vatican to the pope, jokingly suggesting to John Paul that he "cast out the demons" from the reporter.) To date, Dziwisz's main passion seems to be preserving the legacy of John Paul II, aggressively pushing for an early date for the late pope's beatification.

Archbishop Carlo Caffarra of Bologna
The only real "culture warrior" in Benedict's first crop of cardinals, Caffarra is known in Italy and throughout the Catholic world as an especially strong voice on issues of Catholic identity and the "culture of life." Although Caffarra's doctorate is in canon law, his interest lies in moral theology. From 1980 to 1995 he served as president of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, and he was also the founder of a journal called Anthropotes, the journal of the John Paul II Institute. Caffarra's stands have been warmly appreciated in conservative circles. In 1988, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, an honor he shared with Dr. James Dobson, founder of "Focus on the Family." Caffarra is also very close to the Comunione e Liberazione movement founded in Italy by Fr. Luigi Giussani, who died in 2005; at the regular summer "meeting" sponsored by the movement in Rimini, Caffarra is always a star attraction. For those interested in Caffarra, there is a Web site devoted to his writings:

Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong
Certainly the most politically intriguing selection among the new cardinals, Zen has long been an outspoken force for human rights, political freedom, and religious liberty in Chinese affairs, making him an unpopular religious leader with the Chinese authorities. Zen has bluntly said that the Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square was "a big mistake," and called on the government to "tell the truth" about those events. He is a vocal proponent of a push for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, telling his flock in a 2005 homily that "a path will appear when enough people walk on it." He has publicly called on officials in Hong Kong to support the aspirations of the people, rather than functioning as spokespersons for the central government in Beijing. At a personal level, Zen is a gracious, humble man, a moderate on most issues, who has said that when he retires he'd like to either teach in mainland China or go on a mission in Africa. His elevation to the College of Cardinals makes that unlikely, and suggests that Benedict XVI is unlikely to accept Zen's resignation when he turns 75 in January 2007.

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