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Pope’s pick befuddles analysts

NCR Staff

Pope John Paul II, by including German Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz in his latest additions to the College of Cardinals, has bolstered the moderate-to-progressive faction among the men who will elect his successor.

In so doing, the pope threw the political analysis surrounding the next papal election, whenever it might occur, into fresh confusion.

Lehmann joins six other cardinals named by John Paul during his Jan. 28 Angelus address. The announcement, coming just one week after the pope elevated 37 other men, stunned Vatican observers. On Jan. 21, the pope announced a consistory, or ceremony for making new cardinals, would be held exactly one month later, on Feb. 21.

The most recent announcement marked the first time in memory a pope has added names to such a list after revealing it publicly.

The Jan. 28 appointees, in addition to Lehmann, are: Archbishop Marian Jaworski, the Latin-rite bishop of Lviv, Ukraine; Archbishop Janis Pujats of Latvia; Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, newly elected head of the Greek Catholic church in Ukraine; Archbishop Johannes Degenhardt of Germany; Archbishop Julio Terrazas Sandoval of Bolivia; and Archbishop Wilfrid Fox Napier of South Africa.

Jaworski and Pujats, the pope said, were actually named cardinals in pectore, or secretly, in 1998.

Lehmann, 64, is clearly the bombshell.

“This nomination is very important,” said Italian church historian Alberto Melloni, who prepared the official biography for the beatification of Pope John XXIII.

For some 13 years Lehmann has been the most celebrated non-cardinal in the Catholic church -- celebrated, that is, precisely for not being a cardinal. The head of a diocese traditionally governed by a cardinal, and three times elected chair of the German bishops’ conference, Lehmann had been denied the cardinal’s red hat four times. Most analysts cited views in conflict with Vatican policy.

Among divergences from the Vatican line, Lehmann has suggested a change in the celibacy rule as a solution to the priest shortage. He allowed divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in his diocese to receive the sacraments until the Vatican intervened. He has criticized Vatican restrictions on lay ministry and called for more democracy in church structures.

Many observers think that Lehman, who speaks near-perfect Italian, will have a strong role within the college.

“Lehmann is a politically astute figure, someone who can maneuver with Sodano [the Vatican secretary of state] and Ruini [president of the Italian bishops’ conference], but from a more moderate point of view,” Melloni said.

The Vatican’s explanation for the second announcement of new cardinals was that the pope wanted to elevate the new leader of the Ukranian Greek Catholics but was not able to do so until after his election, which took place Jan. 26. Husar, the newly elected leader, succeeds Cardinal Myroslav Lubachivsky, who died last month. The pope is set to visit Ukraine June 23-27.

According to Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls, who offered the explanation, the pope reserved six other names for the second announcement so that the winner of the Greek Catholic vote would not be named alone.

So goes the official version. It is worth noting, though, that the pope did not share his plan widely, even with those most directly concerned. A spokesperson for the diocese of Mainz told NCR that Lehmann learned of his nomination late Jan. 26, just 36 hours before the announcement.

Doubts about the official account surfaced immediately in the Italian press. Many commentators speculated about a behind-the-scenes political offensive from German Catholic leaders. One analyst went so far as to suggest that former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was involved.

Generally speaking, theorists fall into two camps. One holds that Lehmann’s appointment was John Paul’s move, made against the counsel of his closest curial advisers, and motivated by a desire to transcend church politics. The other view contends that German pressure overcame John Paul’s resistance to the move. The Vatican values German loyalty, among other reasons, because Germany is one of the largest donors to the annual Vatican budget.

Whatever the case, with Lehmann joining fellow high-profile German moderate Walter Kasper, appointed Jan. 21, the moderate faction in the college seems to have gained new life.

Other moderates are said to include Cardinals Carlo Maria Martini of Italy, Godfried Danneels of Belgium, Roger Etchegaray of France, and Roger Mahony of Los Angeles in the United States. This group, according to most observers, favors reform in the direction of collegiality, or shared decision-making in the church, as opposed to a heavy concentration of power in the Vatican.

Lehmann is viewed as one of the leading theologians among the upper ranks of church leaders. He served from 1964 to 1967 as an assistant to Jesuit Fr. Karl Rahner, one of the foremost Catholic theologians of the 20th century and among the architects of the reforms associated with the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Lehmann was seen as Rahner’s likely successor and intellectual heir before he was named bishop of Mainz in 1983.

In some ways, Lehmann has come to function as a symbol of the German church, which many in the Vatican view as unacceptably “anti-Roman.” In 1995, more than 2 million Germans signed a petition demanding reforms in the church on issues such as birth control and bishops’ appointments. The strongest progressive Catholic movements in Europe are located in Germany and Austria.

Vatican displeasure with Germany has seemed strong in recent years. John Paul II has given the red hat to only six Germans in 22 years, most recently in 1991.

The two recent announcements, however, include four new German cardinals. Three are under 80 and therefore eligible to vote for the next pope.

Degenhardt, 74, another of the Germans, is seen as a staunch conservative. In the early 1990s he took away priest-psychologist Eugen Drewermann’s permission to teach Catholic theology and later expelled him from the priesthood. Drewermann, a best-selling author, had denied the historical reality of doctrines such as Jesus’ Virgin Birth, preferring to interpret them as psychological “archetypes.”

Among the other new cardinals, Napier, 59, has a reputation as a strong crusader for racial justice in South Africa and a moderate on theological issues.

Sandoval is reputedly a “classic Wojtyla appointment,” a progressive on social issues who holds a firm papal line on theological debates inside the church. His appointment raises the number of Latin American cardinals to 27, adding to speculation about a Latin American successor to John Paul II.

Jaworski, a Pole, is a long-time friend of John Paul, one of a few bishops with a standing invitation to use a guest room directly above the papal apartments when visiting Rome. When Wojtyla was a young priest in Poland, he once asked Jaworski to substitute for him because of a scheduling conflict. Jaworski lost his right hand in a train accident on the way. It was a sacrifice the pope has obviously not forgotten.

The new appointments push to 135 the number of electors, or cardinals under 80 eligible to vote in a papal election, well past the “ceiling” of 120 set by Paul VI and confirmed by John Paul himself. Barring death, it would be January 2003 before aging would reduce the number of cardinal-electors to 120.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, February 9, 2001