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 The Word From Rome

May 7, 2004
Vol. 3, No. 37

global perspective


"I believe religion has a lot to contribute to Georgetown and to America. An attempt to remove religious values from our public discourse is dangerous."

Imam Yahya Hendi,
Georgetown University's Muslim chaplain

The future of Catholic Education in America; The Vatican ponders globalization; Georgetown's Muslim chaplain; Molla - Pro-life saint; Nathan Mitchell on liturgy; More on just war


For anyone interested in Catholic higher education, Archbishop Michael Miller is a very important person.

As the new secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, Miller is the Holy See’s “point person” on the implementation of the 1990 document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which called on colleges and universities to revivify their Catholic identity. It launched a decade of controversy in the United States by, among other things, insisting that a theologian have a mandatum — a license — from the local bishop.

Though the debate has recently been frozen in place by the sex abuse crisis, it has not gone away. Hence Miller’s May 6 lecture at Rome’s Lay Centre on “Ex Corde Ecclesiae and the Future of Catholic Higher Education in America” was newsworthy indeed. While his views do not automatically translate into Vatican policy, it’s hard not to imagine they’ll be consequential.

Miller, a Basilian who has served both in Rome and in numerous capacities at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, including a term as president, summarized developments in American Catholic higher education since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He suggested that a legitimate desire to meet the highest secular standards led, largely unconsciously, to a diminution in religious identity. He robustly defended Ex Corde as “a wonderful kick in the pants to all of us to get the Catholic identity issue on the table.”

Miller identified a series of issues now coming to the fore.

• Miller said he doesn’t see room under the Catholic “big tent” for a “non-mandatum option.” One “open question,” however, is whether the mandatum should be a matter of public record. Some bishops and theologians argue it is a private affair between them, but Miller said it has public ramifications. Do parents and students, for example, have the right to know when choosing particular courses whether or not its instructor has received the mandatum? Given that Ex Corde is intended “to foster and promote the common good of the church,” Miller said, “transparency may be helpful.”

• Miller predicted that “affirmative action” will be necessary to increase the presence of practicing Catholics in the professorial ranks. “It would be unrealistic and naïve to believe that a Catholic institution can transmit itself over generations through people whose life and piety is not that of the Catholic church,” he said. “‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ will not cut it.” Yet Miller stressed that he was not proposing rigid quotas or percentages, and that non-Catholic faculty can play an important role.

• Miller called for a recovery of the “vibrant Catholic intellectual tradition” in the curriculum of Catholic colleges and universities. Among other things, this tradition fosters “a passion for truth, and a conviction that truth cannot only be sought, but can be discerned and can order one’s life.” Catholic colleges, Miller argued, “have a responsibility to the rest of the academic community and to the culture to provide these points of reference.”

• Miller suggested that in measuring the success or failure of Catholic institutions, impact on religious attitudes and practices of students should be considered. A healthy Catholic college, he said, should generate vocations to the priesthood and religious life. It should increase the likelihood that its graduates pray, attend Mass, and accept church teaching.

“Catholic universities are essential to the flourishing of the church, but they have to be truly Catholic,” Miller said. “We have to be confident in the richness and wonders the Catholic tradition has to offer.”

* * *

One footnote. Miller told his Lay Centre audience that, as surprising as this may sound, there is no exact list of Catholic colleges and universities in the world. What it means to be “Catholic,” and who recognizes it, has never been clarified. The Congregation for Catholic Education is currently working on such a list; it was supposed to be published in June, but Miller suggested it may not be ready. He said his office has prepared a draft list of institutions in the United States, and is currently asking each of the American bishops as they come through for their ad limina visits to check off those institutions they regard as legitimately under their pastoral concern.

“Not everyone,” Miller said, “has been checked.”

* * *

Friends who work in the Vatican say that among the more satisfying aspects of their jobs is ready access to the world’s leading experts on virtually any topic. There are few thinkers, writers or analysts, however famous or sought after, who say “no” to a papal summons. (Actually, there are few people who would decline a trip to Rome for any reason, giving the Vatican a mammoth home-court advantage).

Last week offered proof of the point.

The Centesimus Annus-Pro Pontifice Foundation, a pontifical body founded by Catholic businessmen in response to the pope’s 1991 encyclical on social questions, hosted an April 30-May 1 conference on “Confronting Globalization: Global Governance and the Politics of Development.” The event featured high-profile speakers such as John Ikenberry, a Georgetown professor and a former State Department official; Antonio Maria Costa, head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime; and American Catholic intellectual Michael Novak.

At the same time, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences conducted its 10th plenary session on the theme of “intergenerational solidarity.” No less an eminence than Francis Fukuyama, the political theorist who coined the phrase “the end of history” to describe the collapse of the Soviet system, was a keynote speaker. Other contributors included American Catholic writer Fr. Richard John Neuhaus (unable to be physically present) and Argentinean economist and former Education Minister Juan L. Llach.

Such sessions are fascinating not merely in their own right, but because they indicate the kinds of thinking circulating in Vatican corridors.

Ikenberry told the Centesimus Annus conference that the central crisis created by globalization is one of governance. The world has entered a period, he said, in which its “rules of the game” are perceived as unfair by a broad swath of the population, and hence a major rethinking of the global order is looming.

Ikenberry identified four mega-trends today:

• The rise of American global power;
• The globalization of the world economy;
• The rise of terrorism and the privatization of war;
• The growing politics of misery.

In this light, Ikenberry argued, the central challenge is to make globalization “more accountable, inclusive, governed, and more responsive to the losers.” There is a “hunger for representation” in the world, he said. Ikenberry quoted the ambassador from Singapore in a recent United Nations speech, who said on behalf of his fellow Asians: “There are six billion eyeballs looking at the United States and Western Europe and wondering why they don’t have a place at the table.”

Fukuyama, meanwhile, argued at the plenary assembly of the Academy of Social Sciences that the “great disruption” over the last 35-40 years, which has witnessed an disintegration of traditional family structures, is due primarily to two factors:

• The introduction of the birth control pill in the early 1960s;
• A post-industrial workplace with greater opportunities for women to work outside the home.

Fukuyama predicted that Western culture is headed for another “great disruption” driven by two factors: the demographic decline of native-born populations in the developed world (the first time in history a population has dropped so steeply from causes other than disease or war), and the consequent need to increase immigration. The growing cultural diversity those two trends augur raises questions about how pluralistic Western cultures can become without breaking apart.

One can’t draw a straight line between either  Ikenberry’s or Fukuyama’s presentations and eventual Vatican policy. Indeed, Llach challenged Fukuyama at the Academy of Social Sciences for ignoring the impact of global economic justice on social stability, and Novak offered a more optimistic vision of globalization at the Centesimus Annus conference. Hence there was robust debate.

Yet the papers by Ikenberry and Fukuyama illustrate the conversations being held in Rome these days, and hence they suggest what’s on the Vatican’s mind.

* * *

Speaking of the Vatican’s mind, Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, offered the Centesimus Annus conference an overview of current priorities in his office.

“Globalization must be read with the social doctrine of the church,” Crepaldi said. “That means it is among the signs of the times. It is neither good nor bad in itself. It’s a question of what one makes of it.”

Given that some 3 billion people live on less than two dollars a day, Crepaldi asserted, there are clearly flaws in the way globalization is working. Among other things, he said, the world situation is marred by an inefficient distribution of resources and inadequate government at both the national and international levels.

Crepaldi listed the following front-burner concerns:

• Resolving the international debt of poor countries, and ensuring that any funds released go towards social needs such as health and education;
• Augmenting the amount of public aid for development from today’s 0.2 percent of GDP to the 0.7 percent agreed upon at the Monterey Financing for Development Conference in 2002;
• Lowering barriers to international commerce for developing countries;
• Encouraging scientific and technical development in poor countries;
• Meeting the U.N. goal of a 50 percent increase in global literacy by 2015;
• Developing more satisfactory mechanisms of global governance;
• Providing adequate assurances for public health and the provision of safe drinking water.

 * * *

Novak appealed for greater attention to what he called “the forgotten 1 billion Muslims.” He said that many Muslim nations, especially Arab states, command natural resources (especially oil) that should make their people wealthy. Instead there is widespread poverty, in large measure because many Arab governments practice what Novak called “political repression” and “fear of their own people.” He urged greater attention to human rights issues in these states.

Novak then offered an optimistic reading of globalization’s impact.

Echoing the analysis of Jagdish Bhagwati in In Defense of Globalization, Novak observed that in 1970 some 70 percent of the world’s poor were in Asia, and 11 percent in Africa. By 1998, Africa had 66 percent of the poor, and Asia only 15 percent. This spectacular reversal was driven in part by the economic progress of both India and China; never before, Novak said, have so many people been lifted out of poverty so rapidly. China over this period reduced the percentage of its population that lives in poverty from 28 percent to 9 percent, while India reduced its percentage of poor citizens from 51 percent to 26 percent. In effect, some one-half billion Asians moved into the middle class.

Novak acknowledged that to date the benefits of globalization are less evident in Africa, which he attributed in part to failures in governance. But he urged that these problems not obscure the gains in other parts of the world.

“We deserve to take pride in this,” Novak said. “It’s good to take pleasure in what has been achieved.”

 * * *

Georgetown University’s Muslim chaplain has said that if the university were to ever remove crucifixes from its classrooms, as some students and even faculty have proposed, he would resign.

“I will not continue to be at Georgetown if that cross is removed,” said Imam Yahya Hendi in Rome May 5. “I believe religion has a lot to contribute to Georgetown and to America. An attempt to remove religious values from our public discourse is dangerous.”

A widely quoted spokesperson for Muslims in the United States, Hendi also said that he believes global Islam needs an authoritative institution that can speak for Muslims as an antidote to radical voices.

He also called on the Saudi government to offer greater freedom for religious minorities, long a sore point among Western critics of Islam.

Georgetown is the only university in America with a full-time Muslim chaplain, a position Hendi has held for five years. He was in Italy at the invitation of the United States embassy to speak about the experience of religious pluralism in America.

Georgetown University has periodically debated whether or not crucifixes should be removed from classrooms. Roughly half of the student population today is non-Catholic, and some students and faculty have argued that respect for pluralism requires a religiously neutral academic environment. Others concerned with a loss of the university’s Catholic identity have opposed such a move.

Hendi spoke May 5 at a lunch with American and Italian journalists arranged by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

He insisted that the “Islamic street” does not seek violence, but acknowledged that it can be difficult for this message to get through to the West given the lack of authoritative institutions that can speak for mainstream Islam.

“It is a true challenge for Muslims,” he said. “It is an issue Muslims have to solve.”

Hendi said that American Muslims may be able to point a way forward.

“In the United States, we are working on the idea of a Muslim Congress, a representative body able to speak on behalf of all Muslims,” he said. “I think we are moving in the right direction. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely doable. Very soon, we in America will be able to say: ‘Call this person.’”

“If the experience succeeds in one place, it can be imitated elsewhere,” he said.

Hendi said the candidate usually proposed as an authoritative spokesperson for Islam, Cairo’s Al-Azhar Institute, is perceived as too close to the Egyptian government to command the assent of mainstream Muslim opinion.

In response to frequent complaints about religious intolerance in Saudi Arabia, where some 1 million Christians are legally unable to import Bibles or wear crosses, Hendi called for greater openness.

“Should Saudi Arabia be more inclusive? I believe that should happen, with no doubt, on the basis that Islam is inclusive,” he said.

* * *

The Vatican confirmed May 3 something that had already been widely reported, including in “The Word from Rome,” which is that John Paul II will visit Bern, Switzerland, June 5-6 for a national gathering of Catholic youth.

From a media point of view, the event has three layers of significance.

First is the papal health angle. This is John Paul’s first foreign outing since last September’s trip to Slovakia, when his clear fatigue had networks scrambling in case the end was near. Antennae will be up to assess how the pope manages. Given that Switzerland is the first of at least two other trips under consideration for 2004, it will also be an important “reality check.”

Second is the European dimension. The Vatican has been waging a steady, if so far fruitless, campaign to convince the recently expanded European Union to include an explicit reference to Christianity in its constitutional document. John Paul has been insisting that the new Europe must not forget its Christian roots. We will hear these themes again in Switzerland, which is something of a Europe in miniature with its French-speaking, German-speaking and Italian-speaking zones.

Third is the intra-Catholic aspect. It was in Switzerland in 1990 that Bishop Wolfgang Haas had to enter the cathedral in Chur for his installation ceremony through a back door, sidestepping more than 200 protesters who had lined the front entrance with their bodies. They were protesting John Paul’s choice to bypass the cathedral chapter’s traditional prerogative of electing its bishop. (Haas has since been transferred to Lichtenstein). Last November, a lay synod in Lucerne voted in favor of abolishing mandatory celibacy and ordaining women priests. That stance was endorsed by a lay Catholic parliament in St. Gallen. Strain continues in the present; some Swiss Catholics feel targeted by the recent Vatican document on liturgical abuses, Redemptionis Sacramentum, because it bans modes of lay participation such as preaching that in parts of Switzerland have become common practice. (A priest recently told me that a Swiss parish once asked him to say Mass, explaining that his role was to “stay quiet until after the homily”).

Hence John Paul faces the challenge of healing a divided flock while simultaneously asserting ecclesiastical discipline, cajoling Europe to shake off what he sees as historical amnesia, and reassuring an anxious world (not to mention the Roman Curia) that he is still up to the rigors of travel.

All in all, a tall order for less than two days.

* * *

As the American debate over Catholic politicians and abortion heats up, John Paul II is set to canonize the leading 20th century Catholic martyr of the pro-life movement: Italian lay woman Gianna Beretta Molla, who died in April 1962 at the age of 39 rather than abort her child.

The pope will declare Molla a saint on Sunday, May 16.

While anti-abortion groups have declared Molla a patron, critics complain the church is suggesting that unborn life is more valuable than the health and welfare of women.

A doctor, Molla married in 1955, and by 1961 had three children when she became pregnant again. Towards the end of her second month she began experiencing acute pain. Her doctor diagnosed a fibrous tumor in the uterus, and recommended an abortion to allow him to completely remove the cyst. Molla declined, and insisted that the surgery not harm the child.

A couple of days before she delivered her baby, Molla told her doctor: “If you have to choose, there should be no doubt; choose — I demand it — choose the life of the baby. Save him.” On April 21, the child, named Gianna Emanuela, was born. Seven days later, on the morning of April 28, Molla died. Her daughter is still alive.

Some find Molla’s story unedifying. On April 10, the left-wing Italian newspaper L’Unità carried an article by Gloria Buffo, a member of the Italian parliament from the main center-left party, criticizing a decision by the Minister of the Interior to include Molla among 250 biographies of Italian women in a three-volume series.

A footnote. The miracle required for Molla’s canonization also involved saving an unborn child. In 2000, Italian Elisabete Arcolino Comparini began to have serious problems with her third pregnancy. In her third month, Comparini lost all her amniotic fluid. The unborn child normally would have died, yet the girl was born in May 2000. Her parents, who prayed to Molla, named the baby Gianna Maria.

* * *

University of Notre Dame liturgist Nathan Mitchell, well known for his “Amen Corner” column in Worship magazine, was in Rome this week for a conference on confirmation at the Gregorian University. He gave a public presentation on Monday, May 3, at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier del Caravita, part of that community’s Conversazioni a Caravita series sponsored by Jesuit Fr. Keith Pecklers.

Mitchell, a poet, is known for the richness and beauty of his language. He was the primary author of the proposed “Eucharistic Prayer A” in a translation of the Roman Missal from the International Commission on English in the Liturgy submitted in 1998 that was rejected by the Vatican. (Ironically, his prayer has in the meantime been incorporated by the Church of England into its book of worship).

Mitchell spoke on liturgy and ecumenism, listing insights he believes have resulted from the ecumenical movement.

First, Mitchell said, ecumenical dialogue has clarified that “people are the point” of liturgical celebration.

“Just as Jesus offered the liturgy of the cross for all, so the liturgy of the church is for all,” Mitchell said.

Following the German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner, Mitchell argued that the primary liturgical celebration in our experience is not formal worship in a church but the “liturgy of the world,” what he called the “immense ceremony of goodness and grace in human history.” In that sense, he said, the church does not “own” public worship.

Second, Mitchell said, ecumenism has underscored that liturgy is “a radical act of dispossession.” Worship is not about having, he said, but divesting.

Finally, Mitchell said ecumenism has reinforced the links between ethics and the Eucharist. Liturgy is false if it does not give rise to a keen sense of justice, he said.

“Sometimes Roman Catholics imagine that we get together just to transubstantiate the bread and wine,” Mitchell said. “But what gets transformed most deeply is ourselves.”

* * *

To offer a rather strained analogy, one might say that St. John Chrysostom, the “golden-tongued” father of Eastern Christianity, is sort of the Boston Red Sox of the patristic period – usually overshadowed by a flashier and more successful rival.  In Chrysostom’s case, that rival is not the Bronx Bombers but St. Augustine, the North African father whose autobiographical Confessions has so captivated the Christian imagination over the centuries. 

A May 6-8 Rome conference on Chrysostom, the first of its kind since 1972, lamented this imbalance.

Professor Wendy Mayer from Adelaide in Australia observed, for example, that at the 1995 Oxford Conference on Patristics, there were 17 papers on Chrysostom to 62 on Augustine. In 1999 the respective numbers were 12 and 66; in 2003, they were 9 and 72. She called Chrysostom studies “under-staffed, under-researched, and under-valued.”

Ironically enough, she was speaking in the aula magna of the Augustinianum, run by the Augustinian Fathers.

After her talk, I asked Mayer what we’re missing. She said Chrysostom has an accessible, pastoral style in his letters and homilies that still can enrich Christian life today. Further, the vicissitudes of his life — his relations with laity as Patriarch of Constantinople, ecclesiastical and political infighting — give us a very human picture of the man, allowing today’s Christian to identity with Chrysostom in a way that overly pious or “sanitized” portraits fail to achieve.

* * *

Two weeks ago I covered a conference sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See entitled “Revitalizing International Law to Meet the Challenge of Terrorism.” I noted that Legionaries of Christ Fr. Thomas Williams argued that the anti-war impulse in modern papal teaching has been, in part, shaped by the threat of a nuclear holocaust. Given that weaponry today has become more precise, allowing for greater discrimination between combatants and non-combatants and more restricted collateral damage, Williams suggested a near-absolute prohibition of war may need review.

Williams’ line of argument brought a response from Redemptorist Fr. Brian Johnstone, one of Rome’s foremost moral theologians. Herewith Johnstone's reply:

“Probably the best account of papal teaching on peace and war in the modern era is that by Joseph Joblin, L' église et la guerre: conscience, violence, pouvoir (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1988). Papal rejection of war in this period goes back to Benedict XV and was a component of what developed into a doctrine on peace and war of which the main points were:  (1) War is not inevitable, in other words, war is not tied to human nature, so that there will always be war; (2) War is not worthy of humankind; (3) Peace is possible; (4) Active involvement for peace is a moral imperative; (5) Specifically, the arms race ought to be done away with.

“A reading of Pope John Paul II’s statements on the theme makes it clear that he is not basing his opposition to war simply on the consequentialist argument that any war would entail the risk of nuclear war, and that the effects of nuclear war would be so terrible as to outweigh any conceivable benefit.

“The clearest statement he made was that contained in his address to the diplomatic corps in January 2003:

‘No to war’! War is not always inevitable. It is always a defeat for humanity . . . I say this as I think of those who still place their trust in nuclear weapons and of the all-too-numerous conflicts which continue to hold hostage our brothers and sisters in humanity.

It is quite clear that the Pope's rejection of war is not based simply on the fear of nuclear war."

I offered Williams a chance to comment. His response:

“My intervention was not a review of just war theory but rather a discourse on the need for an increasing role of international law in the contemporary world and specifically the underlying reasons for the Church's push for international legal structures.

“I think it is important to note that I never said nor implied that the church's anti-war stance is merely the fruit of fear of all-out war and mutual destruction. What I said was rather that the conciliar document Gaudium et spes calls for a reevaluation of war based on the new hazards of weapons of mass destruction. 

“I noted that in situations where ius in bello just war criteria, specifically proportionality and discrimination, are rendered impossible by the nature of the weapons being employed, ius ad bellum criteria can never be adequately satisfied.  Therefore the possibility of a just war becomes radically diminished.  That I take to be the thrust of Gaudium et spes’ reevaluation of war.

“I stand by my statement that technological advances in precision conventional weapons does attenuate somewhat the evaluation called for by the council, not in its basic presumption against war and the need to phase out war altogether (I made that clear elsewhere in my intervention), but in specific instances where recourse to the use of armed force may be deemed necessary.

“In other words, I would never say that the bias against war needs reviewing, but that a nearly absolute prohibition of war because of the inability to guarantee in bello criteria needs attenuating.  They are two different things, at least as I see it.”

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

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