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June 2, 2006
Vol. 5, No. 38

John L. Allen Jr.


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Cardinal Pell on Islam and on translations; The pope's freedom and his Achille's heel; Jerzy Kluger, Wojtyla's boyhood friend; The congress for new movements


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Popes only rarely lead by decree. Far more often, their example is decisive, pointing a new direction by what they do and say.

Such has been the case under Benedict XVI on Islam. There's been no Vatican edict, but everyone recognizes something has changed. It's not that Benedict created a more hawkish climate on Islam; those currents were always present, and gathered steam in the post-9/11 period. It's rather that Benedict has unleashed them.

One good example occurred in the unlikely setting of Naples, Florida, in early April, when Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, spoke on Islam to a meeting of Legatus, a group for Catholic businessmen. Pell's blunt language made global headlines, especially when he asserted, "Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion."

Pell was in Rome this week for meetings of the Vox Clara Commission, a body of English-speaking bishops advising the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on liturgical translation issues. We spoke about his views on Islam, as well as briefly about the upcoming June vote of the American bishops on the proposed new translation of the Order of the Mass.

The full text of the interview can be found in the Special Documents section of Some excerpts follow.

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Looking at the global scene, it would seem that disaffected Muslims drift towards political jihadism, while disaffected Christians drift towards "sects" that promise prosperity and individual fulfillment. Why do you think that is?
That's an interesting question. I suppose the first thing I would say is that I suspect those things are more a function of the societies in which Christians and Muslims live rather than the religion itself. I'd also say that Islam is a much more war-like culture than Christianity. … The more significant factor is the presence or absence of jihad, and what that means. I've had it asserted to me is that in the relationship between the Islamic and non-Islamic world, the normal thing is a situation of tension if not war, of outright hostility. You have to declare peace. … That's what's been alleged. A state of tension or hostility between Islam and the dar al-Harb, the non-Islamic world, is constant.

Is Islam without at least a notional striving towards an Islamic state conceivable?
We don't yet know. It was only after the First World War that they were encouraged, or even allowed, to live in a non-Islamic state. I think that was a development that enabled them to cope with their changed circumstances. They weren't allowed to live in non-Islamic states, and many are still encouraged not to mix with non-Muslims.

So you believe jihad is not a modern distortion of Islam, but something that arises from its internal logic?
That's the million dollar question. I don't know. It remains to be seen. To put it another way, can a good moderate Muslim be faithful to the Koran? I think it depends on who's going to win where, if there is going to be a struggle between the moderates and the extremists.

You use the subjunctive. You don't think there's such a struggle now?
Yes, I do. But I'm not sure in how many places the moderates are prevailing.

You also said there are different concepts of the human person, and you expressed the Christian concept as a unique intersection of freedom, love and intelligence. How do you understand the Muslim concept?
I'm not nearly as well informed on that side of it as I am the Christian side, but I'm happy to say something. I don't know to what extent they have a concept of conscience like we do at all. It's tied up with their understanding of the Koran, which they believe is directly the word of God as dictated by Gabriel. The pope has made this point. Whereas with our Scriptures, we recognize that there is a human author who worked under the power of the Spirit. Although I've gotten into trouble for saying this, there are errors in Scripture. Not religious errors, but misunderstandings of geography and other matters. Even when there's no separation of church and state, that makes a difference.

You're raising questions rather than proposing definitive conclusions?
Exactly. I know enough to be a nuisance. I'm continuing to read and talk with people, and I think this is a legitimate question.

You said, "Considered on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion." What did you mean?
I'd been thinking about the general historical and political record of Islam. Now you might say that for a lot of our history, we weren't particularly tolerant either. To that objection, I'd say, 'Show me where they're tolerant.'

You said that President Bush's ambition to export democracy to the Middle East is a risky business. Why?
The President of Iran was voted in by the people, and Hamas was voted in by the people. You can't guarantee that because you give everyone a vote you're going to get a reasonable regime. If you could get democracy long enough, it would probably shake down to something reasonable. The problem is you're likely to get extremists in, and they'll just change the rules.

You spoke in passing about Muslim immigration in the West, and that we tend to think of the religious affiliation of immigrants as irrelevant. Do you think there should be restrictions on Muslim immigration in the West, along the lines suggested by Cardinal Giacomo Biffi of Bologna?
He got into all sorts of trouble for suggesting there should be limits, but he's raised a very real and interesting question that needs to be debated and discussed calmly, not in the aftermath of some atrocity when there could be a ferocious and horrendous reaction against Muslims.

Why are some forces resistant to discussing the religious dimension of immigration policy? Is it just religious indifference?
I think it's deeper than that. I think some seculars are so deeply anti-Christian, that anyone opposed to Christianity is seen as their ally. That could be one of the most spectacularly disastrous miscalculations in history.

You give a comparison between Russia and Yemen with regard to fertility rates. To put it crassly, are you worried that Muslims are out-breeding Christians?
I think that some people with a decidedly Christian point of view in Europe should be interested in the question. When John Paul II first started to talk about the 'culture of death,' I thought it was over the top, just a bit too much. But I think there's a lot of truth in it. I think it's intimately tied up with, first, the collapse of Christianity, and also the decline of hope. The presence or absence of children is substantially allied with a world view. You've only got to look at the difference in the birth rates between the red states and the blue states in the United States.

Oriana Fallaci and others warn that Europe may become an outpost of Islamic civilization. Do you think that goes too far?
I do. I don't think that's the more immediate danger at all. The greater danger is that there would be a white fascist reaction. I think both dangers are remote at the moment, but between the two, the danger of an anti-Muslim reaction is greater. I don't think Europe is going to go Muslim at all, but I would be frightened of the turmoil if things got out of hand.

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Where do things stand on the new Order of the Mass?
Basically pretty healthy. It's been approved in Australia, it's been approved in England.

There's a big vote coming up in June in the United States. Do you have any sense of what you think will happen?
I think it'll get through.

If so, are the big battles over?
Experience has taught me that it's always dangerous to claim that. Nevertheless, if it gets through, that represents a significant achievement. I think the approval by Australia and England of the Order of the Mass is also significant.

When do you expect the Order of Mass will be in use?
I'm not sure. I think that we'll probably proceed together. I don't think it will be approved country-by-country piecemeal, because the ambition is to have one Roman Missal for the English-speaking world, with possibly a few local variants. I think that's a very worthy ambition.

What if the American bishops vote to request significant changes? Would the Australians and the English take another look?
I'm not exactly sure. I suspect that there would be informal consultations, and very possibly if the changes weren't too radical the Congregation for Divine Worship would either rule or suggest some compromise. But we're talking hypothetically, because I don't know.

You've seen the recent letter from Cardinal Francis Arinze to Bishop William Skylstad in the United States, warning that any text departing from the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam could not be approved. What do you make of it?
It's just stating what the situation is. It's sometimes useful to be reminded of the basic verities.

The Vox Clara Commission believes the new text satisfies those principles?
Yes, very much so.

A cynic might suggest the cardinal's letter was intended to influence the upcoming vote of the U.S. bishops.
I'm sure he'd write it for some good purpose!

If this text is eventually approved, are the liturgy wars over?
I'm tempted to say that it would enormously change the balance of things, but I have no doubt there would be isolated and sporadic resistance. We have a big challenge to make the English [texts] powerful modern, appropriate and strong. We don't want to just achieve doctrinal fidelity but have clumsy English. We've got the doctrinal fidelity now. The ICEL translations are coming through beautifully on that score. But I think with some of them, a few of them, the quality is quite uneven.

Including the Order of the Mass?
No, I think the Order of the Mass is OK. I'm looking at other texts that are at a much earlier stage.

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One thing about Benedict XVI which, by now, ought to be abundantly clear is that he is very much his own man. As I have written before, this is not a "PC" pope. He does not feel constrained by other people's expectations.

It's not that Benedict is an innovator. In fact, his exercise of the papal office is in many ways far more traditional than that of his predecessor, John Paul II, who made a career out of shattering antique norms. (Being pope, for example, used to mean never having to say you're sorry, while John Paul apologized repeatedly for all manner of past failings of the church).

Yet at 79, with nothing left to prove, never facing reelection, and carrying an enormous burden he never sought, Benedict exhibits a remarkable interior freedom by the standards of major world leaders.

Cultural norms of the Vatican, for example, dictated that an American could not become prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, yet Cardinal William Levada is there anyway; Vatican diplomatic logic held that Joseph Zen of Hong Kong should not be made a cardinal in order to avoid irritating the Chinese, since Zen is the biggest thorn in their side on the religious freedom issue, yet Zen is now wearing the scarlet. Powerful political pressures suggested delay or inaction on the case of Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, yet Benedict nevertheless imposed sanctions.

As if it were needed, further proof of the point came during Benedict's Sunday visit to Auschwitz.

When a prominent German Catholic visits Auschwitz, there's a certain script that person is expected to follow. One should acknowledge German complicity in the Holocaust, and in some sense ask forgiveness; pledge to fight modern anti-Semitism; and avoid opening old wounds, such as controversies over Edith Stein or the presence of a Carmelite convent near Auschwitz. On Sunday, Benedict utterly disregarded the script -- he defended virtuous Germans who resisted the Nazis, ignored the issue of anti-Semitism, and praised both Stein and the Carmelites.

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Benedict did so, at least in his own mind, because he had a deeper point to make. He came to say that Auschwitz represents the most terrifying example of a more general tendency in human psychology, which is the desire to slay God as the final limit on human power.

Either we see the world as a gift from God, Benedict suggested, with a moral law that regulates what we can do to one another, or the only reality is human power. If that's the world, Benedict argued, sooner or later it ends in Auschwitz -- as well as Rwanda, Bosnia, and all the other monuments to arrogance and hatred that mar human history.

That's the message Benedict wanted to deliver, and both his greatest strength and his Achille's heel are that nothing on earth was going to stop him from doing so.

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From a communications point of view, the pope's Achille's heel is that by refusing to satisfy prevailing expectations, Benedict can sometimes send the wrong signal to people who, quite naturally, interpret his words and deeds through the prism of those expectations.

Thus by neglecting to say anything about anti-Semitism, and by avoiding the complicity of ordinary Germans, Benedict seemed to some observers to be "rolling back" post-Second Vatican Council gains in the Catholic church on relations with Judaism and the church's capacity for self-criticism.

"It's symbolically important that Pope Benedict went to Auschwitz, but I was expecting a different speech," said Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, noting that the pope did not expressly condemn anti-Semitism.

"At Auschwitz, of all places, Benedict might have referred to the biblical and Catholic roots of European anti-Semitism," Oliver Kamm wrote in The Times of London. "He preferred to concentrate on the heroism of Catholic witnesses against Nazism. The picture he gave was thereby highly misleading."

Perhaps the most intemperate comment came from Sever Plocker in Ynetnews.

"Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Auschwitz was a historical, human and moral failure," Plocker wrote afterwards. "He arrived in a black, armored, German car, gave an objectionable speech filled with smooth words like 'reconciliation' and 'understanding,' prayed to Jesus, failed to ask forgiveness for the crimes committed by his people, and got back in his black, armored, German car and drove back to Rome."

"The visit was extraneous, annoying and infuriating. The German pope failed to do the most basic thing he should have done at Auschwitz: He failed to kneel next to the ovens, look to the blue skies of the Auschwitz afternoon and ask forgiveness for the murder of six million Jews, in the name of German or the German Catholic church."

Privately, Israeli sources made it clear on Monday that they were disappointed in several aspects of Benedict's Auschwitz visit.

Vatican sources strenuously rejected suggestions that Benedict's "silence" on anti-Semitism should be read as a step backwards in papal leadership on the issue.

In his Wednesday General Audience, Benedict spelled out what he left unsaid on Sunday:

"Auschwitz must not be forgotten, and the other 'factories of death' in which the Nazi regime tried to eliminate God in order to take his place!" the pope said. "We must not cede to the temptation of racial hatred, which is at the origins of the worst forms of anti-Semitism!"

With respect to Plocker's comments, it's true that a black car dropped the pope off outside the famous Arbeit Macht Frei, but he walked on foot through the gate and down the main lane of the camp in order to arrive at the Wall of Death, keeping his entourage at a healthy distance behind. After praying before the wall, he moved slowly down a line of survivors, hearing their stories and, in the case of one Jewish survivor, exchanging kisses on the cheek.

Perhaps a bit like Kennedy's famous debate with Nixon, people who saw Benedict's visit on television probably had a more positive impression that those who simply read the text -- because in the context of his body language, facial gestures, and the time he took with each person he met, it seemed clear Benedict was moved by the experience.

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I had the honor on Wednesday of having lunch with Jerzy and Irene Kluger. I met Jerzy Kluger at Auschwitz on Sunday during the visit of Benedict XVI. Now 84, Kluger is famous as the Jewish boyhood friend of Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, and the two renewed their friendship when "Lolek," as friends called Wojtyla, became archbishop of Krakow and later Pope John Paul II.

On the subject of Benedict XVI's speech at Auschwitz, Kluger expressed the view that the pope had said virtually everything he could, and that it's important to understand the Polish context of the visit. Poles, he said, are sensitive that the undeniable decimation of Jews under the Nazis not obscure their own suffering. At Auschwitz, for example, 150,000 Poles perished along with one million Jews.

In that setting, he said, it would be difficult for the pope to discuss anti-Semitism without also commemorating Polish losses, and this perhaps would have distracted from the focus of his speech. Moreover, Kluger said, the mere fact of Benedict's presence in Auschwitz spoke volumes.

At the same time, Kluger, who lost his mother and sister in Auschwitz, said it would have been better had Benedict's reference to anti-Semitism during the Wednesday General Audience been included in the Sunday text.

Most of our lunch, however, had little to do with contemporary papal politics. Instead, the Klugers regaled me with anecdotes involving their good friend Karol Wojtyla. Kluger pulled out a photo album and showed me pictures of him and Wojtyla in grade school, again in high school, and in intimate moments spent in the papal apartment over the course of 26 years. The last photo ever taken of John Paul at his dining table, for example, is with the Klugers.

Kluger said that even as a young man, Wojtyla's promise was evident. He laughed that his grandmother, for example, whenever she became annoyed, would sometimes point to Wojtyla and ask: "Why can't you be more like him?"

Irene, an Irish Catholic, joked that she has been married four times -- all, however, to the same man. She and "Jurek," Kluger's Polish diminutive, met in Egypt during the Second World War, where she was a personal aide to a British Field Marshall and Kluger was a Polish soldier. They came together because both played tennis at a Cairo club. (Kluger was actually a star tennis player in Poland). Irene was 19 and Jerzy 21 when they married for the first time in a civil ceremony; her Irish-Catholic parents had reservations about the match. Later, a rabbi performed a Jewish ceremony, and eventually a priest blessed the union. In those days, however, a mixed marriage could not be celebrated in church, but had to be held in the sacristy.

Later, after John Paul II became pope, he blessed their marriage again. He also celebrated a full wedding Mass for their daughter, in English, in the chapel of the papal apartment.

Kluger's friendship with Wojtyla was the subject of the 1998 book The Hidden Pope by Darcy O'Brien, and in microcosm it speaks volumes about the revolution John Paul II worked in Jewish/Catholic relations.

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Pressed for immediate assessments, many observers initially judge the success or failure of papal trips by crowd size. Applying that standard, one would have to say Benedict did well in Poland. He drew 300,000 on a cold and rainy day in Warsaw, a half-million at Czestochowa, and more than a million for his final Mass at Blonia Park in Krakow.

While these were not quite the throngs that flocked to John Paul II, the crowds were nevertheless large and enthusiastic, and seemed to genuinely like the new pope.

Yet from a certain point of view, a pope drawing a big crowd in Poland is a bit like "dog bites man" … it would only be news if the opposite were the case.

Benedict's aim wasn't to demonstrate through crowd size that Catholicism is still alive in Poland, something that even five minutes in the country is enough to make clear. His deeper aspiration was to convince Poles to carry their Catholic heritage into the construction of the new Europe, to assume a leadership role in forging a Europe respectful of its Christian roots.

Whether the trip succeeded on that level cannot be assessed in any immediate fashion, and if the record of similar appeals from John Paul is any indication, the jury may be out for quite some time.

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Tomorrow, the first massive gathering in St. Peter's Square since Benedict XVI's inaugural Mass one year ago will bring together an estimated 300,000 members of the "new movements," groups of Catholic laity such as the Focolare, the Neocatechumenate, L'Arche, Sant'Egidio, Communion and Liberation, Schönstatt, the Charismatic Renewal and Regnum Christi, which have largely developed in the 20th century. Some 300 representatives of more than 100 movements and new communities are taking part in a congress outside Rome May 31-June 2, leading to the June 3 encounter in the square with the pope.

The event is an echo of the gathering of the new movements with John Paul II in 1998, also held on the Feast of Pentecost.

At a Vatican press conference on Tuesday, Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, suggested that the movements are a perfect illustration of Benedict's suggestion, borrowed from the historian Arnold Toynbee, that in a relativistic world convinced Christians represent a "creative minority."

Bishop Josef Clemens, secretary of the Council for the Laity and erstwhile private secretary of Benedict XVI, said that roughly 1,400 of the expected crowd of 300,000 would be from North America, principally the United States. Guzmán Carriquiry, under-secretary of the council, said that most of those 1,400 Americans will be drawn from the world of the Charismatic Renewal and Cursillo, with small pockets from other movements.

Over the years, some bishops and diocesan personnel have complained that the movements tend to pursue their own agendas rather than the common good of the church. Benedict XVI's general support does not mean he is indifferent to such concerns.In his message to the congress, which was released June 1, Benedict said, "The church thanks you for the openness you demonstrate in welcoming the operative indications not only of the Successor of Peter, but also of the bishops in the different local churches, who, together with the pope, are the custodians of the truth and of charity in unity."

"Every problem has to be confronted by the movements with sentiments of profound communion, in a spirit of adhesion to the legitimate pastors," he said.

Asked at the press conference about these tensions, Rylko said that he "wouldn't be pessimistic."

"We see a notable increase in the number of bishops who come to us during their ad limina visits, from all continents, convinced that the new movements are a gift to be received with gratitude and responsibility," he said.

"Both pastors and the movements must allow themselves to be purified and educated by the Holy Spirit," Rylko said.

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One footnote to Rylko's reference to the movements as an example of what Benedict XVI means by a "creative minority." While Rylko's point is valid, there's a risk in circumscribing Benedict's now-famous invocation of Toynbee a bit too narrowly.

In making this reference, the pope had in mind not so much specific groups such as Communion and Liberation or the Focolare, which meet the classic sociological profile of a minority. He really meant a certain kind of Christian psychology, which doesn't rely on the broader culture or on any of the normal social subgroups (family, school, neighborhood) to foster Christian living. Instead, a "creative minority" Christian sees the faith as an intentional, deeply personal choice that has to be preserved and deepened every day in the midst of a culture either indifferent or hostile to religious belief. Christianity has to be chosen and has to be confirmed every day, on purpose, and support systems (what Benedict calls "islands of spiritual composure") likewise have to be intentionally chosen and constructed.

It is precisely from the passion that such a deeply personal commitment requires, Benedict believes, that this "minority" becomes "creative." Despite the small numbers willing to make such a choice, the pope believes, they will have a disproportionate impact on the culture because people will look on and think, "The future belongs to them."

In this sense, it would be a mistake to think that Benedict believes the movements are the only, or even the primary, way for Christians to function as a "creative minority." Quite the contrary; it's a disposition to which all Christians are called, with the movements as only one, and perhaps not the best, example.

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

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