|Cover story -- Lourdes|
Issue Date: August 27, 2004
Church governance in limbo
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Ironically, while the outside world fears that John Paul IIs days may be numbered, for senior church officials the concern is almost exactly the opposite: that the pope could go on for months, even years, in this vastly weakened state, leaving church governance in limbo.
Observers say that in the coming months various short-term solutions (other than papal resignation, which is viewed as out of the question) may be floated. The question is whether a pope long accustomed to operating from faith rather than realpolitik will be open to any of them.
Examples of incoherence abound, from Cardinal Renato Martinos criticism of the handling of Saddam Hussein (saying he was treated like a cow), to Cardinal Francis Arinzes endorsement of denying Communion to pro-choice politicians, to Cardinal Joseph Ratzingers recent opposition to Turkey joining the European Union. In every case, puzzled diplomats and bishops have been informed that the cardinal was expressing merely a personal view. But in the absence of any authoritative statement to the contrary, observers have a hard time distinguishing personal views from Vatican policy.
On the Communion issue, for example, Ratzinger issued two letters seemingly at odds with each other, the first appearing to support bishops threatening to deny Communion, another applauding the U.S. bishops who did not endorse that stance. On Turkey, diplomats and journalists who talk to senior officials in the Secretariat of State are being told that the Vatican is cautiously supportive, despite comments to the contrary by Ratzinger and, one year ago, by the then-foreign minister of the Holy See, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran.
In the same way, some bishops complain that in the absence of strong coordination either from the Apostolic Palace or the Secretariat of State, midlevel officials in some departments of the Roman curia are increasingly making decisions on their own. Some bishops, and even cardinals, say that the tone of correspondence from some of these officials is often imperial and condescending, suggesting a lack of effective oversight.
Privately, cardinals have floated variants of three different scenarios to address the problem:
At one level, the problem is theological and juridical. Canon 331 of the Code of Canon Law states that the pope enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the church. How much of this power he can delegate, and to whom, creates ecclesiological riddles.
At another level, however, the problem is psychological. John Paul is not a man to be told that he cant have his cake and eat it too. His life experience tells him that miracles happen, that Gods designs were often greater than what his Nazi factory supervisors or his Polish Communist overlords insisted was inevitable. Hence the question is, how will he now respond to the argument that in order to play his new symbolic/iconic role, something has to give?
National Catholic Reporter, August 27, 2004
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