National Catholic Reporter ®

June 14, 2002 
Vol. 1, No. 42

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In chance meeting, Cardinal Schotte’s views on Dallas; Rose petals and more for Padre Pio; a commercial announcement

All this suggests to me that it is not a slam dunk, as we say in the States, that whatever the U.S. bishops adopt will be automatically approved here in Rome. Dallas, in other words, is not the end of the story.


This week all eyes are on Dallas, where the U.S. bishops will try to round a corner on the sexual abuse crisis that broke anew in Boston in December. It’s not just the U.S. that will be watching. Here in Rome curial officials are also paying close attention, knowing that whatever the American bishops do will be widely influential around the world.

     I happened to share a plane ride last Saturday with Belgian Cardinal Jan Schotte, a very influential figure in this pontificate who runs the Synod of Bishops. I had been in Chicago giving a talk at the Religion Booksellers Trade Exhibit about my new book Conclave (more on that below). Schotte was returning to Rome from New Guinea and Australia, where he had been a houseguest of Archbishop George Pell of Sydney.

     I didn’t have a chance to chat much with Schotte in the air, since he was in business class while my wife and I were squirming back in coach. But as we waited for our bags at Fumicino Airport, Schotte was happy to kill a few minutes reflecting on the American situation. He told me he saw a divided conference, with some of the U.S. bishops focusing entirely on process, while others seem more interested in probing what really caused the crisis.

     Schotte’s main fear was that under the weight of intense media criticism, the threat of lawsuits, and enormous public pressure, the bishops may adopt ad-hoc solutions, thereby “forgetting general principles.” Those principles, Schotte said, were laid out by Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda, one of Rome’s foremost canon lawyers, in a celebrated Civilità Cattolica article of May 18. Ghirlanda called for a balance between protecting victims from abuse, but also ensuring the due process rights of accused priests, and not abandoning priests even if found to be guilty. (Most controversially, Ghirlanda denied that bishops were either “morally or juridically responsible for the criminal acts committed by one of their clergy,” unless they had reached a moral certainty that a priest was guilty of an offense and had failed to intervene).

     Schotte also expressed reservations about calls for quasi-automatic cooperation with the police and the courts. He noted that in Belgium the bishops had successfully resisted demands to turn over their records about priests accused of misconduct, on the grounds that these are confidential church documents.

     Schotte’s caution tracks with the far more explosive comments of Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who recently objected to media “persecution” of the Catholic church in the United States, comparing it to the times of Nero and Diocletian, and more recently, Stalin and Hitler. (Rodriguez also complained that a judge handling a case involving Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston is a feminist).

     All this suggests to me that it is not a slam dunk, as we say in the States, that whatever the U.S. bishops adopt will be automatically approved here in Rome. Dallas, in other words, is not the end of the story.

* * *

     To the surprise of some of my American colleagues, there are still a few other religion stories in the world, and a big one is set to happen this Sunday in Rome. It looks to be one of the largest religious celebrations the city has ever seen, which, given the history of Rome, is saying something. The event is the canonization of Blessed Padre Pio of Pietralcina, the Capuchin stigmatic, miracle worker and visionary.

     Authorities say they anticipate 400,000 people, almost all Italian, to fill St. Peter’s Square, flowing down the Mussolini-constructed Via della Conciliazione towards the Castel Sant’Angelo. Roman police say they have a contingency plan in place to handle an overflow of up to 600,000.

     The pilgrims will begin arriving at 4 a.m. Sunday, and my wife and I will be able to see them lumber into town from our balcony, since our apartment on the Via Gregorio VII overlooks the main parking lot for tourist buses near the Vatican. (Some 3,800 tour buses are anticipated). The canonization Mass itself starts at 10 a.m.

     Another crowd of some 150,000 is expected at San Giovanni Rotondo, the small southern Italian town where Padre Pio spent most of his life. They’ll watch the ceremony on a giant TV screen, and when the key moment comes, helicopters will drop rose petals, white balloons and holy cards over the devotees. The evening will be rounded out with a Marine band and fireworks.

     The Italian fascination with Padre Pio is never ending. Just this week, the medical consultant for Padre Pio’s cause of canonization, Gerardo Violi, announced the formation of a commission of doctors, lawyers, theologians and psychiatrists to study Padre Pio’s reported stigmata, or the reproduction on his body of the five wounds of Christ. (The wounds are said to have stayed fresh for decades, then closed suddenly upon his death). The commission’s aim will be to persuade the Vatican to officially recognize Padre Pio as a stigmatic.

     If it happened, he would be only the fourth case given official sanction by the Vatican, the other three being well known: St. Francis, St. Catherine, and St. Clare. Padre Pio would thus be the first priest acknowledged to have received the stigmata. 

     From a certain point of view, the recognition hardly seems necessary. After all, Paul VI once called Padre Pio a “faithful representation of the stigmata of Our Lord,” words that appear on the Capuchin’s tomb. Moreover, on March 3, 2000, the day after Padre Pio was beatified, the pope and Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano referred to him as the “stigmatized friar.” 

     Beyond these official signals of approval, virtually every Italian I know, from the most credulous to the most anti-clerical, already regards Padre Pio’s stigmata as completely, inarguably legitimate. If ever there was a case of the sensus fidelium having already settled a question, this is it.

     So what’s the point of seeking an official decree?

     It seems that in the saint business these days, for the truly zealous it’s no longer enough just to have your candidate beatified and then canonized, even if it happens in record time. In a papacy that has already beatified 1,282 people and canonized 456, this “halo inflation” has drained some of the luster from merely entering the roster of the blessed. Now something extra, a further sign of favor, is needed to signal that a particular figure is truly in the upper echelons of holiness. As always, saints with powerful lobbies behind them are more likely to get it. 

     In Padre Pio’s case, that “something more” could be official recognition of his wounds. To take another example, rumor has it that backers of Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá, to be canonized in Rome Oct. 6, are thinking of asking John Paul II to declare him a “doctor of the church.” It’s an honor bestowed on saints whose contributions have shaped the thinking of the church in some significant way, such as Augustine, Francis de Sales, and Robert Bellarmine. The last one to be added to the list was St. Thérèse of Lisieux in 1997.

     Some who have read Escrivá’s works, especially his famous 1935 collection of maxims called The Way, wonder if its author achieved the kind of profundity such a lofty title implies. (Take as an illustrative example saying # 182: “Let us drink to the last drop the chalice of pain in this poor present life. What does it matter to suffer for ten years, twenty, fifty... if afterwards there is heaven forever, forever... forever?”) 

     Nevertheless, don’t bet against Escrivá one day joining Thérèse, given the competence and dedication of his stalwarts.

     By the way, June 16 should be a special occasion not just in San Giovanni Rotondo, but also for at least three sites in the United States associated, however tangentially, with the memory of Padre Pio. Milwaukee, for example, has a link. Capuchin Fr. Dominic Meyer, who served for many years as Padre Pio’s English secretary, was the cousin of Cardinal Albert Meyer, a Milwaukee native who went on to be archbishop of Milwaukee and later Chicago. Both Mahoningtown, Pennsylvania, and Jamaica, New York, also have ties to Padre Pio, since both are places to which the saint’s father, Grazio Forgione, immigrated for brief periods over the 1890s and 1900s in order to make money for the family. In Mahoningtown he worked on a farm, while in Jamaica he was employed in construction.

     According to the small biography distributed to us in the Vatican press office, Grazio sent back the whopping sum of $9 a week to help pay Francesco’s tuition — which means that indirectly, American agriculture and building trades helped give Padre Pio his start. There’s something to remember this Sunday.

     A final footnote: Amid the drama surrounding the Dallas meeting of the U.S. bishops and the sexual abuse crisis in the American church, it may be worth noting that in canonizing Padre Pio, John Paul II is elevating to the sainthood a priest who was once accused of sexual misconduct. On July 29, 1960, an Italian monsignore, Carlo Maccari, later to become the archbishop of Ancona, began an investigation of Padre Pio on behalf of Pope John XXIII and the then Holy Office. The 200-page report he compiled, though never published, is said to be devastatingly critical. The most spectacular charge was that Padre Pio was involved sexually with female devotees. According to accounts in the Italian press, Maccari recorded a rumor that Padre Pio had sex with female penitents twice a week. (The Latin is preserved: bis in hebdomada copulabat cum muliere).

     Obviously history, or at least the version that counts at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, has cleared Padre Pio. Perhaps it’s a timely reminder that even the most scurrilous accusations sometimes get attached to holy people.

* * *

     I hope I may be forgiven a shameless commercial plug. My new book Conclave: The Politics, Personalities and Process of the Next Papal Election goes on sale this week. Published by Doubleday, I hope it’s a useful guide to the issues and the candidates heading into the next papal election. It’s intended as an “everything under one roof” handbook, with five chapters:

  • What the pope does and why it matters who holds the job
  • Five voting issues facing the next conclave
  • A day-by-day overview of the process of electing a pope
  • Political parties in today’s College of Cardinals
  • Critical biographical sketches of all the candidates
     The book is a work of journalism, so I don’t take sides, settle the arguments, or push a particular candidate. I try to offer readers the information they will need to form their own judgments.

     The next time you’re in a bookstore, I hope you’ll give it a look. If you like, you can go to and order the book on-line:

     There’s also a free excerpt from chapter one on the site, so you can give it a “test drive” before making the purchase.

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

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