National Catholic Reporter ®

December 6, 2002 
Vol. 2, No.15

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Fox on Asia in Rome; more on ‘the norms’; Arinze holds liturgical line; orders and movements take first stab at dialogue

“Throughout 30 years of FABC history . . . the Asian bishops insisted on our way of being Church in Asia as a triple dialogue: living dialogue with the poor, with cultures and with religions. We do not believe in imposition or insistence, no matter how convinced we may be. In other words, we do not believe in monologue. God is dialogue, relation, communion.”

Archbishop  Hamao
President of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees
One of the things that makes Rome such an exciting place is that it is the crossroads of the Catholic world. Virtually every thinker, every writer, every voice in the Catholic conversation with something to say either lives here or eventually washes up here for a visit. 

    Proof of the point came Dec. 4, with an all-star panel discussion devoted to the book Pentecost in Asia: A New Way of Being Church, by Tom Fox, the publisher of the National Catholic Reporter. It’s the story of the Catholic Church in Asia since the Second Vatican Council, focusing on the creative theological and pastoral perspectives emerging from the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences. NCR’s Rome bureau sponsored the event. 

    Fox is the Western journalist who got to this story first and has consistently been the one to tell it best. In part this is because he’s traveled throughout Asia off and on for four decades. In part it’s because he’s married to a wonderful Vietnamese woman, Kim Hoa Fox, giving him a living first-hand appreciation of the Asian perspective. To a large extent, it’s because he’s a hell of a reporter, and knows a great story when he sees it. (I recognize I court incredulity in saying this, since Fox signs my paychecks, but at a certain point the truth is what it is). 

    No more convincing proof of the book’s merits could be offered than the high-octane panel assembled before a crowd of over 100 people in the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier on Dec. 4. It included:

  • Fr. Jacques Dupuis, a Belgian Jesuit and probably the best-known and most important Catholic theologian on issues of religious pluralism in the world;

  • Fr. Peter Phan, a Vietnamese-American who is a widely read theologian on issues of mission and inculturation and the former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America;

  • Fr. Tom Michel, a Jesuit and former official of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, one of the Catholic Church’s leading experts on Islam, and a long-time collaborator and advisor for the FABC;

  • Fr. Antonio Pernia, a noted author and speaker on issues of religious diversity and inculturation, and the superior general of the Divine Word Missionaries, the first Asian ever to be elected the superior of an international religious order in the Catholic Church.

Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis speaks at the presentation 
of Tom Fox's book "Pentecost in Asia: A New Way of 
Being Church" at the Oratory of Ft. Francis Xavier 
in Rome Dec. 4. 

     The fifth panelist was scheduled to be Archbishop Stephen Hamao, president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. Hamao, however, suffered a bad fall recently and has just come out of six weeks in the hospital. Hence he composed a message for the evening and delegated a trusted aide from the Roman Curia, Fr. Frans Thoolen, to present it.

      Even in Rome, you don’t get a line-up like that very often.

      Even so, this is Rome, and while the gathering may have been focusing on the new ways of being church, it was clear by the lack of women on the panel that some things change very slowly. We trust the topic of the church in Asia will not disappear any time soon and that there may be other colloquys that can be, in the spirit of the Asian church, more inclusive not only of other traditions but also of women.

     Such a gathering occurred recently in Thailand, where some strong reflections were given by women theologians. The next print issue of NCR (Dec. 20) will contain a report on that meeting. 

    Hamao’s message summed up the essential message of the “new way of being church” emanating from Asian Catholicism: 

    “Throughout 30 years of FABC history,” he said, “the Asian bishops insisted on our way of being Church in Asia as a triple dialogue: living dialogue with the poor, with cultures and with religions. We do not believe in imposition or insistence, no matter how convinced we may be. In other words, we do not believe in monologue. God is dialogue, relation, communion.” 

    “Tom Fox, author of Pentecost in Asia, has understood this Church of Asia in a gentle and respectful manner. When we read this book, we realize how the Church of Asia can be a gift to the universal Church, providing not so much cold data, but insight and feeling,” Hamao said. 

    Dupuis and Phan both accented the triple dialogue. Though Dupuis’ comments were overwhelmingly positive, he also pushed Fox to flesh out his chapter on theologians who are trying to bridge East and West, bringing more non-English-speaking voices into the treatment. Likewise, Michel said the book is a clear and compelling presentation of the Asian story, then suggested that next time Fox bring in more non-episcopal and even non-Catholic voices. (He actually said the book’s perspective was “too Catholic,” leading Fox to joke that never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined coming to Rome and listening to a former curial official accuse him of being “too Catholic”). 

    This of course is the value of public reflection on a book from the experts who know the story best — the author collects feedback, and each subsequent edition makes a terrific book stronger. 

    Pernia was perhaps the most emotionally compelling speaker, explaining that he grew up as the FABC and the Asian perspective on church was taking shape, so that to him the book is like a family photo album. As an Asian, he thanked Fox for telling his story to the world, something that he felt only a sympathetic outsider could have done. He went so far as to describe the book as an “Asian Acts of the Apostles.” 

    The bottom line seemed to be that there’s an important message coming out of Asian Catholicism, and there’s no better way to understand that message than by reading Pentecost in Asia. Of course, this Asian approach is not uncontroversial. Some critics worried about losing missionary zeal and sacrificing what makes Catholicism distinct, believe it is actually dangerous. All the more reason, therefore, that the discussion should go on and that it happen not just in Asia but also here at the heart of the universal church. 

    Tutto sommato, it was quite a night to be in Rome. 

* * * 

    If anyone believed that the Nov. 13 vote in Washington by the U.S. bishops on the sex abuse norms meant the end of the story, recent events indicate how profoundly illusory that notion is. 

    In Paterson, New Jersey, Bishop Frank Rodimer recently returned a priest to ministry after a review board of five laity and three clergy determined that the misconduct of which he had been accused was “inappropriate” but did not meet the standard for “sexual abuse” as established in the bishops’ norms. According to the alleged victim, the priest touched his genitals, over his underwear, while on a bed in his private home in the early 1970s. 

    The standard for sexual abuse in the norms, drawing upon traditional canonical language, is “an external, objectively grave violation of the sixth commandment.” It is an elastic phrase. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, when asked the potential for differing interpretations during the bishops’ meeting in Washington, D.C., said that the conference would probably organize training sessions for canonical judges in order to promote a uniform standard of justice. Yet the Paterson case shows that it’s not just the judges, but also members of the review boards, whose application of the “grave violation” standard will be critical. It’s possible that two priests who committed precisely the same act — in this case, touching a minor’s genitals over clothing — could end up with very different fates, one in active ministry, the other barred for life. 

    The need to provide clear national criteria for what counts as “sexual abuse” is only one of several messy details left hanging as the final votes were counted in Washington. It is still unclear, for example, what will happen to canonical appeals (technically called recourse) from administrative measures bishops may impose under norm nine of the Washington program. 

    Yet another layer of complexity came to light this week, in a story broken by NCR. It turns out that in the rush of the work performed by the U.S./Vatican “mixed commission” in late October, a sweeping change was tossed in at the last minute. Religious clerics (priests and deacons), who were not part of the norms when they passed at Dallas and headed off to the Vatican, were written as an amendment to footnote one. This was done without consultation with the religious superiors in the United States, who were still operating under what they had been told by the bishops in Dallas, i.e., that the religious would devise their own program. 

    The story can be found here:

    The officers of CMSM found out about the switch, it turns out, by consulting the web site of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Urgent exchanges ensued with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, and this week Conventual Franciscan Fr. Canice Connors and Marist Fr. Ted Keating came to Rome to speak with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for Clergy, the Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. The revision of the norms and their impact on religious order clergy is the main item of business. 

    The concern is for the autonomy of religious life, which is guaranteed in canon law (canon 586). If bishops assert the power to block even assignments to internal ministries within communities, to demand access to confidential files, to revoke faculties granted by religious superiors, or to block transfers across provincial or international boundaries, it would amount to a serious invasion of that autonomy. The relative independence enjoyed by the orders is what has allowed them over the years to play a prophetic role, whether it’s the Franciscans keeping alive the spirit of evangelical poverty or the Jesuits pioneering new approaches to mission. 

    A related fear is how absolute a “zero tolerance” stance religious orders might be compelled to adopt if they are simply grafted onto the bishops’ norms as adopted in Washington. The CMSM assembly in Philadelphia in August voted to echo the bishops’ commitment that even a single act of sexual abuse means permanent disqualification from public ministry. They deliberately did not, however, move from that commitment to the idea of expelling a man from the community. In fact, they left open the possibility that with appropriate treatment and supervision, such a priest might be able to take up an internal ministry within the community, such as chaplain or archivist. 

    (It should be noted that the CMSM cannot compel member communities to adopt these policies, and although most may follow its lead, some may not). 

    Connors, who along with Keating spoke at a special Saturday morning session during the Union of Superiors General meeting, argued for treating each case on its merits. 

    “It’s very important that we do not use one single word to describe a very broad group of men,” he said. “‘Pedophile’ refers to someone with a sexual attraction to children younger than 12, a pre-adolescent. It is a very difficult problem to ever resolve, and no professional knows how to change someone whose sexual interest is a child. But in the vast majority of cases, we’re dealing with sexual contact with an adolescent, the term for which is ‘ephebophelia.’ The problem is not a distorted sexual fantasy life, but the emotional life. The man is not confident enough to believe that he can have a close adult relationship. 

    “About this problem, we know a great deal. These are generally not predators, actively seeking more victims. They are often very lonely, overworked, and/or abusing alcohol. These are issues we can deal with. We have evidence over an 18-year period that of 367 men we treated, only eight ever re-offended. We know a lot about recovery. No expert would say that you should reassign such a man to work with children or young people, but he could be trusted to work in other kinds of ministry.” 

    All signs are that while the Vatican is sympathetic to much of this, no one wants to make any further changes in the norms at this point, and hence the religious are going to have to make the best of it until the two year review called for in Dallas. It was, in fact, too late by the time Connors and Keating got here. Sources tell NCR that the recognitio for the U.S. norms has already been granted and is on its way to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops’ conference. 

    Connors and Keating said the U.S. bishops have agreed to a committee, made up of four bishops and four representatives from CMSM, to try to address the problems of implementation. 

    Connors told the USG that he regretted the way this decision was made without any advance warning. 

    “There are experiences in other places, and I will cite the experience in England and Wales, where a document similar to the one published in the United States from its first moment of creation involved religious leadership as full participants,” he said. “We regret that this process was not the one followed in the United States.” 

    The complexities, the brass tacks of making the norms work in practice, are only beginning. 

* * * 

    In the liturgical world, people have been trying to discern the impact of the Oct. 2 appointment of Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, former head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The last man to hold that job, Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, strongly asserted the “uniformity of the Roman Rite” over flexibility for local adaptations and flavorings. Would Arinze, observers have been wanting to know, bring change? 

    The short answer, reflected in a late October letter from Arinze regarding the statutes for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), appears to be “no.” 

    Medina had demanded as far back as October 1999 that the 11 English-speaking bishops’ conferences that govern ICEL revise those statutes to give his office sweeping powers over its operation. In general, liturgical conservatives fault ICEL for producing translations that smuggle in various ideological and theological biases (feminism, an anti-supernatural outlook, hostility to sacred language). The May 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam, setting out new principles for translation, reiterated Medina’s demands regarding the ICEL statutes. 

    The bishops who govern ICEL have revised the statutes and sent them out for comment. Arinze’s late October letter indicates that he finds them unacceptable. Specifically, Arinze says the statutes must:

  • Recognize that Rome has a nihil obstat, or veto power, over key ICEL personnel
  • Impose term limits on ICEL staff;
  • Acknowledge that it is the Vatican, not the bishops conference, that erects ICEL.
    Most observers feel the statutes will eventually be revised to reflect these points. This week’s print edition of NCR has the full story.
    In doing the reporting, I spoke to several people on both sides of the ICEL debate. Both concur that the fight is largely over. New personnel are now running the agency, and it’s working under the new principles of Liturgiam Authenticam. The statutes will be the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place. 
    Among liturgical progressives, the analysis seems to be that continuing to fight the battle at the level of structures is pointless. Instead, the goals in coming months will be to protect existing practice as best they can, so that individual dioceses or parishes can preserve models of a renewed liturgy, and to keep doing the scholarly reflection that will build the record for a time when the debate can be reopened. 
* * * 

    Fran Lebowitz once quipped that polite conversation is rarely either. She was right, of course … good manners can be the death of honest exchange. On the other hand, much public “conversation” these days is actually shouting, where the object seems to be the ever more aggressive assertion of one’s own point of view. 

    The world, therefore, is in urgent need of a model of conversation that is neither too polite nor too pugnacious. 

    It is in this light that the Nov. 27-29 plenary assembly of the Union of Superiors General in Rome was especially interesting. It was an attempt to bring two factions in the Catholic Church, which in recent years have often been at odds with one another, into dialogue. They are the established religious orders, such as the Franciscans and the Jesuits, and the “new movements,” lay-led groups such as the Community of Sant’Egidio, Focolare, L’Arche, and Comunione e Liberazione. 

    Both sides have long had their issues with the other. 

    Men and women religious often complain the movements tend to be insular, uncooperative, and sometimes narrowly conservative in their outlook, often with an excessive cult of personality focused on their founder. They’re too interested in publicity, goes a frequent line of complaint, and desperate for approval from the hierarchy. They insist on doing things their way, no matter what that means for existing structures or programs in dioceses, parishes, and religious communities. Members of orders also complain that the movements have received too many strokes under John Paul II, creating the impression that the pope sees them as the wave of the future and the orders as an artifact of the past. 

    The movements, for their part, complain that too many religious orders are turned inward, constantly grousing about their own problems (aging members, lack of new recruits, financial problems) rather than getting out into the street and doing something. The orders are obsessed with process and dialogue, they say. People in the movements sometimes feel that religious orders (and also parishes) are threatened by new ideas, or shut the movements out simply because they don’t want anyone making their quiet life more complicated. Some privately say that the orders shot themselves in the foot by becoming too political, or by being painted into a position of opposition to the magisterium. 

    One doesn’t want to paint an overly bleak picture. Much of the sentiment described above amounts to things said in anger that do not necessarily reflect the sober judgment of too many people. There are many examples of cooperation between the movements and religious orders, and by and large people in both camps have respect for the other. The level of communication is certainly better. Organizers explained that in the past when the idea of a summit had been floated, voices on both sides were critical. This time, the response was said to be much more positive. 

    Nevertheless, as when any new phenomenon arises in the church, existing institutions can feel threatened, and tensions follow. The USG initiative was thus intriguing. 

    There were some 200 people at the assembly, of whom roughly 150 came out of religious life, representing about 90 percent of male religious in the world, and perhaps 50 from 14 of the new movements. The aim, as described by organizers, was to emphasize “communion in the church” by convincing the movements and the orders to stop looking at one another, and to look together at common challenges. 

    The assembly selected five: poverty, war, spirituality, inter-religious dialogue, and evangelization. The movements and the orders were to seek ways they can pool their charisms to face these challenges together, since they are obviously bigger than the resources of any single group. What precisely the two sides came up with is as yet difficult to say, because even though the assembly is over, its final statement is still being hammered out. 

    As with any conference in Rome, there were a great many speeches. One interesting moment came after a keynote address given by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community. Several religious rose to ask Riccardi how they were supposed to “take to the sea,” as Riccardi echoing John Paul had suggested, when they’re tied down by history, tradition, and the burdens of declining membership. 

Riccardi was blunt. 

    “People die, movements die, and religious orders die,” he said. “God never said everyone will live to the end. What we need to cultivate is the art of a good death.” The key for an order facing threats to its existence, Riccardi suggested, is not to cling desperately to institutional structures, but to live its mission “fully and completely,” above all by bringing the gospel to the world. 

    In that sense, Riccardi said, some religious communities around Rome need to take a hard look at some of their practices. 

    “You have a prayer life that’s closed off to others,” he said. “You live in large, empty houses and don’t really mix with the people. You eat lunch at 12:30 and dinner at 6:00, when in Roman homes meals are usually served at 2:00 and 9:00. The people of the city don’t enter your lives.” 

    The structure of the event didn’t allow one to get much sense of reaction to the challenge Riccardi laid down, but at least it brought out in the open a glimpse of some of the tensions. 

    It’s hard to tell how much difference any of this made. There was a slight “emperor has no clothes” feel to the assembly, since everyone was trying hard not to notice that three groups with whom the orders have traditionally had the most serious conflicts were not present: the Neocatechumenate, the Legionaries of Christ, and Opus Dei. 

    The Neocatechumenate was invited but did not show up. (The executive secretary of USG, Marianist Fr. Jose Maria Arnaiz, jokingly explained to reporters that he had even tried to phone the founder, Kiko Arguello, but couldn’t come up with a working number. Not even the Vatican’s Council for Laity could help). 

    Neither the Legionaries nor Opus are movements in the technical sense, and hence they were never on the guest list. The Legionaries is a community of priests, though they have a lay branch, Regnum Christi, which was also not present. Opus is a personal prelature and hence not a lay movement, even though the majority of its members is lay. 

    Still, perhaps the first stab at any dialogue is destined to fall short. The question is whether the parties stick to it, and can eventually widen the circle. 

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

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