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July 1, 2005
Vol. 4, No. 38

John L. Allen Jr.


Americans receive palliums; Interviews with Archbishops Gregory and Fiorenza; Benedict extends a hand to Constantinople; John Paul's beatification opens; Scripture and hermeneutics seminar; Two books of interest


Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of San Antonio and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., are seen in St. Peter's Basilica during a June 29 Mass at which they received the pallium.
Four Americans were among the 32 archbishops who received the pallium, a woolen stole symbolizing the authority of their office, from Pope Benedict XVI on June 29: Archbishops Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston, Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., and José Gómez of San Antonio, Texas.

The four present a snapshot of the diversity of the American church. Fiorenza and Naumann come from Italian and German immigrant families; Gregory is an African-American; and Gómez is a native Spanish speaker born in Monterrey, Mexico.

Fiorenza's family actually hails from Sicily, in a small town called Gibellina, and on June 29 a group of Sicilian relatives joined the roughly 550 people who accompanied Fiorenza from Texas for the ceremony.

The pallium, by the way, is a circular band about two inches wide, with two pendants hanging down front and back. It's ornamented with six dark crosses of silk, and is worn over liturgical vestments. The pallium is given to metropolitan archbishops appointed during the last year, and can be worn only within their ecclesiastical province. The ceremony is held annually on June 29, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

Pope Benedict XVI presents Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston with a pallium during Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican June 29.
As a bit of ecclesiastical trivia, the pallium is made of lamb's wool. The lambs are raised by Trappist monks of the Abbey of The Three Fountains in Rome, then blessed by the pope every year on Jan. 21, the feast of St. Agnes, whose name means "lamb." The lambs are then entrusted to a cloistered community of Benedictine sisters at the Basilica of St. Cecilia. The lambs are delivered to the nuns by two sediari pontifici, the corps that used to carry the pope on his sedia gestatoria, and who still perform other ritual functions. According to tradition, an archbishop with two palliums is buried with the most recent one around his neck; the other is rolled up and placed under his head.

Gregory and Fiorenza are well known figures, both in Rome and the States, since both are past presidents of the U.S. bishops' conference. I sat down with both in separate interviews on Tuesday, June 28, at the North American College to talk about the significance of the pallium, as well as their views on the challenges facing the conference they once led.

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NCR: What's the significance of the pallium for you and your local church?
For me, it's a ritualization of the heightened awareness we bishops have of being responsible for one another. … During a recent retreat, I read the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops (2004), published by the Congregation for Bishops, and I was especially interested in the section on metropolitans. In the document, there is heightened emphasis on the mutual responsibility we bishops have for one another, especially in the provinces. The metropolitan is a catalyst of unity, of fraternal bonding, of mutual support and responsibility. In a way, it's a continuation of a conversation we American bishops have been having over the past three years … We are not in isolation from one another, we are not unaffected by what other bishops do, or don't do, or do poorly.

Fiorenza: The pallium is a sign of communion with the Holy Father and the Holy See. It's another bond of fidelity. We have a papal church, and the Holy Father means so much to every Catholic. … It's also a recognition of the Catholics of Texas, the growth of the church in our state, and all across the South and Southwest. Texas is now the only state other than California to have two metropolitan provinces. … The most urgent challenge for us is the Hispanic presence, which demands our energy and attention everywhere. Among other things, this means working for immigration reform, so these wonderful people will not have to live under the shadow of illegality. We need a reform that will lead to legal status for these people and eventual access to citizenship, both for the good of the individual person, but certainly also because it's in the best interests of the United States. We see this more acutely than other parts of the country, the great contribution these people are making to our nation. My mind just boggles when people say we'd better stop this, keeping immigrants out or making them live illegally. Who would build our homes? The restaurant and hotel industries would close down, and the nicer parts of town would have no one to cut their lawns or take out their trash. As bishops of the province, I hope we can work together on this.

The American church has lived through the deepest crisis in its history over the last three years. Do you see any positive results from the experience?
I see growth that pre-dates my presidency of the conference. Five or six years ago, for reasons of financial accountability, the conference agreed that within the provinces each bishop would have an active and effective finance council; that he would sponsor an annual, or at least regular, audit; and that those audits would be forwarded to the metropolitan. … The desire to use the provincial structure in a more effective way had already been in the ascendancy, and it got a major boost in the last three years. …

In smaller groups, bishops have more scheduled and frequent opportunities to voice their concerns. The conference is so large, with more than 300 bishops, that under the best of circumstances not everyone gets a chance to express his opinion. … I also think a very positive thing is that we bishops are feeling more acutely, and I would say gratefully, the pressure of being more directly related to our people. We're more open in discussing plans and goals, more dialogic in dealing with the advisory bodies that we have. Bishops are holding open listening sessions, they've strengthened diocesan pastoral councils, there's more give-and-take with finance councils.

Fiorenza: In so many places where there were terrible experiences, it has tested the faith of our people, and I think they've come through in spectacular fashion. The deep pain of the victims of sexual abuse, their friends and family, is still an open sore. Most Catholics, however, have rallied. The spirit is, 'We're embarrassed, but this is our church and we have to get on with it.' … The church will come out of this stronger. The signs are small, but they will blossom. For one thing, seminaries will be much better prepared to recognize problems. In that regard, I think the coming visitation of seminaries will be helpful, making all of us aware that we have to be careful about the criteria for admission and the scrutiny of candidates, ensuring that we're preparing men who are totally dedicated to serving the gospel. In the past maybe we were a little too tolerant.

In some circles, a "golden age" of the U.S. bishops' conference is dated to the 1980s and early 1990s, associated with the leadership of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and landmark documents on the economy and peace. Is the conference less visionary today?
I have a deep personal and historic affection for Cardinal Bernardin … he was my mentor, and I am in a sense his protégé. I have great admiration for his leadership and that of his contemporaries. But they built on a structure that had to undergo a metamorphosis … it used to be at bishops' meetings that the cardinals all sat on a raised dais, and acted as a kind of senate, vetting issues and so on. Then there was a democratization, and the conference evolved. I look for it to continue evolving. I think it will narrow its focus. Right now, the conference is document-driven, and everyone wants a document on his favorite subject. The bishops will have to struggle, and it will be a struggle, to limit the range of things we can take upon ourselves as a conference. … It will be difficult to agree on three to five issues that will get our full engagement. Among those priorities, I don't see how we as a church can lessen our commitment to the sanctity of life from natural conception to natural death. Evangelization and the building up of the sacramental and devotional life of the church are also top concerns.

Fiorenza: Some say that too many bishops in the past emphasized Gaudium et Spes [the Vatican II document on the church and the world], and not enough Lumen Gentium or Dei Verbum [Vatican documents on ecclesiology and revelation, respectively]. I think that's unfair, because I think we've done both. I think we'd make a mistake if we didn't do both. … We cannot forget Gaudium et Spes. It would be a tragedy if we don't involve ourselves in issues coming to the fore, such as immigration. If we don't show Hispanics that the church is committed to them we're going to lose them, and this too is part of evangelization. … Today, however, there are probably more bishops in the conference who would tend to accent Dei Verbum rather than Gaudium et Spes. I think that's a fair statement.

What are your early impressions of Pope Benedict XVI?
I made 13 trips to Rome during my tenure as president of the conference, and each time I met with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, either individually or as part of a group. It was always the easiest meeting on the schedule. We would send ahead a list of the points we wanted to discuss, and he would come to the meetings with a folder. In it was the letter we had sent, his notes in response, and then his own list of points he wanted to raise. I always felt that there was nothing we couldn't bring up. He would not get offended or unhappy. … Now he has a new responsibility, and he's rising to it. He's no longer a university professor, nor a doctrinal prefect, but the Holy Father, and that's bringing new dimensions of his character to the fore.

Fiorenza: Most lay people didn't know much about what he had done at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and among them I think the initial reaction was positive, simply because we had a new Holy Father. His first moments in the public eye were also important, because he came out smiling and connected well with the public. For the most part I think priests feel that way too. Some are cautious, wondering, 'What is this going to mean? Will there be a crackdown?' But even they tend to say, 'He's the pope now, let's give him a chance.' You don't hear them saying, 'Let's fall on our swords.' "

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Benedict XVI has repeatedly vowed to make ecumenism a top priority, pledging, for example, in Bari on May 29 "to take up as a fundamental duty working with all my energy for the reconstruction of full and visible unity among all the followers of Christ."

The Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul was another opportunity for the pope to advance the ecumenical cause, since it is customary for the Patriarch of Constantinople to send a delegation to Rome on June 29; the Vatican reciprocates by sending delegates to the Phanar for the Feast of St. Andrew, the chief patron of Constantinople.

Benedict did not let the opportunity slip by.

After expressing greetings to Patriarch Bartholomew I in his homily, Benedict conceded that Rome and Constantinople are still divided over the interpretation of the Petrine office, but stressed a number of areas where there is strong agreement: "We are together in apostolic succession, we are profoundly united with one another in terms of episcopal ministry and the sacrament of the priesthood, and we confess together the same faith of the apostles as it is given to us by Scripture and as it is interpreted in the great Councils," the pope said, drawing strong applause.

Even Benedict XVI's body language bespoke ecumenical concern.

During the entrance procession at the beginning of the June 29 Mass, Benedict walked straight up the central aisle of St. Peter's Basilica. He made a point, however, of walking over to Metropolitan Johannes, who was leading the delegation from Constantinople, and shaking hands.

Later, when the Mass had ended and Benedict walked down under the main altar to pray briefly before the remains of St. Peter, he was positioned by papal liturgist Archbishop Piero Marini with Johannes behind him. Benedict shuffled to the side and motioned to Johannes to join him, and the two stood side by side.

In a meeting with the delegation from Constantinople on June 30, Benedict XVI indicated willingness to seek mutually satisfactory solutions to outstanding tensions.

"How can we release ourselves from the obligation to examine our differences, with clarity and good will, confronting them with the conviction that they must be resolved?" he asked. "The unity we seek is neither absorption nor fusion, but respect for the multiform fullness of the church, which, in conformity with the will of its founder Jesus Christ, must always be one, holy, catholic and apostolic."

Benedict applauded the efforts of Bartholomew to restart the international theological dialogue between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

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The memory of Pope John Paul II was very much in the air this week.

A pilgrim follows the program at an evening prayer service in Rome that opened the cause for the beatification and canonization of Pope John Paul II June 28.
First, the cause for his beatification was officially opened on Tuesday evening, June 28, in a ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John Lateran. Though organizers have vowed that the process will be scrupulously observed, there does not seem to be much serious doubt about the eventual outcome. Fr. Giuseppe D'Alonzo, the promoter of justice in the case (the role that used to be known as the "Devil's advocate"), indicated in an interview with the Associated Press that his private opinion was the same as that of the people who expressed themselves at the pope's April 8 funeral Mass. On that occasion, the crowd shouted "Santo!" "Santo!" and unfurled banners reading, "Santo Subito," meaning "Sainthood now!"

Further, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the vicar of Rome and thus the authority responsible for the diocesan phase of the case, said Tuesday night that he hopes the process will reach conclusion "as soon as possible," and quoted Benedict XVI's now-famous line about John Paul being "at the window of his Father's house," meaning already in heaven.

John Paul's private secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, even expressed the hope that the late pope could be beatified by Benedict during his trip to Cologne in August. Dziwisz, recently appointed archbishop of Kraków (the see once led by Karol Wojtyla), admitted there was probably "zero possibility" of that happening, but it does illustrate the wide conviction that sooner or later, John Paul II will be declared a saint.

Once the pope's life and writings have been examined and determined to be of exemplary holiness, resulting in a decree of "heroic virtue," a miracle will be necessary before beatification. Organizers have launched a web site,, and they say that some 100 e-mails arrive every day, many carrying reports of miracles. For example, one Pole said his wife was able to conceive after a long period of infertility after praying to the pope; an Italian priest reported a case of a young man awaking from a coma.

To count, the miracle must have happened after John Paul's death, the logic being that it demonstrates the candidate is in heaven and capable of interceding with God. In some 95 percent of cases the miracle is a healing, and the usual standards are that it must be instantaneous, complete, lasting, and without scientific explanation.

Speaking of Dziwisz, there was a touching moment during the June 29 papal Mass, when Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos read out the names of the new archbishops to receive the pallium. The basilica was quiet until he got to Dziwisz, and then it erupted in strong applause - a tribute to John Paul II, but also to Dziwisz, widely admired in Rome for his deep and sincere devotion to the pope he served.

As Benedict XVI processed out of the basilica after Mass, he also stopped to greet the Polish sisters who had served John Paul's household, members of the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, who were in the crowd in a show of support for Dziwisz. Benedict spotted Sr. Tobiana, an especially devoted servant of John Paul II, who always carried a small black bag with his medicines on papal trips. Benedict was smiling broadly, but Sr. Tobiana kept her poker face. The pope then greeted the other sisters.

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A commonplace observation these days is that the most important divisions in Christianity are no longer between denominations, but inside them. In part, this is because the most urgent Christian debate no longer seems to center on papal authority, but the proper Christian response to secularity. For Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, who believe that secular culture denies the philosophical underpinnings of belief itself -- the existence of the supernatural, the possibility of objective truth -- resistance to that threat is far more urgent than rehashing stale questions of infallibility and primacy.

Coalitions that would have been unthinkable a generation ago, most notably between evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics, are now routine.

That point was thrown into relief anew in Rome June 23-25, during the 8th International Consultation of a group called the "Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar," composed of Biblical scholars and other academics who seek a "kneeling exegesis," a combination of rigorous academic investigation with deep faith in the Bible as the revealed Word of God.

In various ways, these scholars, both Protestant and Catholic, are committed to something known as the "canonical approach," meaning the study of the Bible not just in terms of discrete literary units or layers of tradition, but as a coherent text meant to be understood in its final form. Such understanding, moreover, is not just historical but theological.

The main sponsors of the seminar come from the Anglo-Saxon Protestant world -- the British Foreign Bible Society, the University of Gloucestshire in the U.K., Baylor University in the States and Redeemer University College in Canada. Yet the choice to hold the meeting in Rome reflected strong Catholic participation, which included layman Scott Hahn and Cistercian Abbot Denis Farkasfalvy of the University of Dallas; Mary Healy of Christendom College; Fr. Matthew Lamb of Ave Maria University; Jean Vanier, founder of the L'Arche movement; and Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Nova Scotia, in Canada. Most of the working sessions were held at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

"Faith is a basic principle to the scientific character of exegesis," Ouellet told a panel entitled "Catholics and Protestants together" on Friday evening, June 24. The session was held at the Villa Aurelia, where most participants stayed.

"If we exclude faith, we are not being rigorous, we are misunderstanding the book," he said. "This point has to be made in the academy."

Ouellet endorsed what he said seemed the prime directive of this group: "You may not leave your faith at the door."

"When I see what is happening in my country with secularization, how even within theology faculties Scripture is disappearing, we are losing even the notion of the Word of God," Ouellet said. "We have to move, we have to help each other come home to Scripture in the spiritual sense."

As a Vatican official back in 1997, Ouellet organized a symposium at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Scriptural exegesis. He said he saw a "convergence" between the concerns of that gathering and the "Scripture and Hermeneutics Seminar."

Vanier gave a presentation on "Lectio Divina," or "divine reading," referring to the use of Scripture in prayer and devotion, and its connection to Christian exegesis of the Bible. Hahn spoke on the liturgical reading of Scripture.

More information about the seminar can be found at

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Two books of interest on the Vatican beat have appeared in recent days.

One was a 205-page synthesis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, presented on June 28 by Pope Benedict XVI, who as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had been responsible for its production. The synthesis, composed of 598 brief questions and answers, has been published only in Italian, with bishops' conferences around the world responsible for translations in their languages. (The Italian is available in two forms, one large edition and the other pocket size).

In terms of content, the synthesis doesn't add anything. On hot-button questions such as the death penalty (recognized in theory as potentially legitimate but "in practice" as unnecessary), to the conditions for a just war (certainty of grave harm from inaction, lack of peaceful alternatives, a well founded possibility of success, the absence of greater evils), the synthesis repeats the language of the 1992 Catechism, generally using the same words.

The synthesis was published with the Latin texts of many traditional Catholic prayers -- including the Sign of the Cross, the Gloria, the Hail Mary and Come, Holy Spirit. Benedict XVI urged Catholics to memorize the prayers in Latin.

The other title of interest is The Europe of Benedict in the Crisis of Cultures, written by Joseph Ratzinger shortly before his election as Benedict XVI, and now published by Cantagalli. The introduction is written by Marcello Pera, president of the Italian Senate and a member of the ruling conservative coalition, who is also a professor of philosophy at the University of Pisa. Pera, whose academic studies focused on Karl Popper (out of step with the typical European intellectual's disdain for Anglo-Saxon social theory), supported the church's campaign for abstention from the recent Italian referendum on in-vitro fertilization.

In the book, Benedict XVI makes clear that his vision of Christianity in the West as a "creative minority" does not imply a retreat from social engagement.

"We need precisely a public morality," he writes, "a morality that knows how to respond to the threats that burden all of our lives."

Nor does the pope shrink from the magnitude of the challenge he sees.

"If Christianity, on the one hand, found its most efficacious form in Europe, it has to be said on the other hand that a culture has developed in Europe that constitutes the most absolute, radical contradiction not only of Christianity, but of traditional religions and the morals of humanity," he writes.

This is an observation, the pope believes, with immediate consequences for relations with other religions.

"The true clash that characterizes today's world," he writes, "is not that between diverse religious cultures, but between the radical emancipation of the human being from God, from the roots of life, on the one hand, and the great religious cultures on the other."

In a clear sign that Benedict intends to be primarily an evangelist, not a diplomat, in his approach to political questions, he takes a swipe at those Christians who argued that an explicit reference to God wasn't really necessary in the European constitution, since Article 52 of that document guaranteed the institutional rights of the churches. But that strategy, he writes, means that the churches would be allowed to find space in the realm of political compromise, but not at the basis of European culture. In other words, it would sacrifice truth for pragmatic gain.

Though he does not say so explicitly, Pope Benedict is well aware that some advocates of the view that Article 52 was enough were found in the Vatican's own Secretariat of State.

The pope warns that secular European culture, divorced from its Christian roots, is becoming an increasingly hostile environment for the church.

"Before long it won't be possible to affirm that homosexuality, as the Catholic church teaches, constitutes an objective disorder in the structuring of human existence," he writes. "And the fact that the church is convinced that it does not have the right to bestow priestly ordination on women is considered, by some, to be irreconcilable with the spirit of the European constitution."

Finally, Benedict reiterates his reservations about Turkey's candidacy to enter the European Union.

"The entrance of Turkey into this community … would also imply that God has nothing to do with public life and with the basis of the state," he writes.

To date, there are no plans for an English translation.

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

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