|Cover story -- Church in transition|
Issue Date: April 22, 2005
Three cardinals emphasize collegiality
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Under the best of circumstances it can be difficult for journalists to make contact with cardinals, and given this weeks press blackout, it is especially tricky. One danger, therefore, is that when we succeed in getting through even to a couple of the electors, were tempted to elevate what they tell us into a trend, when it may represent nothing more than what two guys happen to think.
With that caveat, I had the opportunity to speak following the declaration of the blackout with three cardinals: one European, one African, and one North American. What they are saying is of interest in terms of what these three electors are thinking; whether their thoughts illustrate broader currents within the College of Cardinals, and how decisive they will be in the election of the next pope, remains to be seen. The conclave is set to open April 18.
Each of the three cardinals spoke on the issue of collegiality -- that is, the balance of power between the papacy and the Vatican on the one hand, and the local bishops and bishops conferences on the other.
John Paul in his heart was a very collegial pope, the European said. For example, he made Jan Schotte, the secretary of the synod, a cardinal. It had never happened before, and he said it was to stress the importance of the synod.
Yet, this cardinal said, the synod never lived up to its promise.
There is no culture of debate, he said. This cardinal said that it doesnt really matter if the synod has formal deliberative authority; if theres real debate leading to a genuine consensus, he said, the pope would certainly go along with it.
The challenge is to balance a strong papacy with a strong episcopacy, he said.
Why didnt that happen under John Paul II?
In part, this cardinal said, because the pope was so focused ad extra that he never really thought much about internal church affairs. It just wasnt his cup of tea, he said.
The African cardinal said much the same thing.
In recent years, the wheels have been coming loose in the curia, he said. The notion of collegiality needs to be more applied in the life of the church.
This cardinal said that in evaluating papal candidates, he will be asking, Who would be best able to reform the curia? Does he see the problem? Or are we seeing a problem where he sees a virtue?
The African cardinal said one special form of the collegiality debate from his regional point of view pivots on inculturation, meaning allowing the faith to be expressed in distinctively African idioms. On this front, by the way, he expressed doubt that Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian who heads the Congregation for Divine Worship, would be the solution.
Hes been in Rome a long time, the cardinal said. Im not sure how well [Cardinal Arinze] actually knows the current African reality.
The North American said he is especially concerned about the issue of secularity, especially in Europe.
I look at the church in northern Europe, and it seems like a mess, he said. Aside from pockets of life, especially among the young, it doesnt look like weve succeeded in getting through to secularized culture. Weve got to find someone who can dialogue with secularity, because in fits and starts its becoming the culture of the world.
The European cardinal had a simple solution.
A new St. Francis would change Europe in a few years, he said. We need a church thats transparent, evangelical, close to the Gospel. Europeans are actually very open to a pure Christ, without power, without riches. A Christ who is a winner will not convert Europe, but a Christ who is a loser has a chance.
I asked each of these cardinals if they felt issues in the conventional sense -- collegiality, secularity, Islam, or the like -- would actually drive the election of the next pope.
I hope so, the European said. But I am not sure. I hope we can focus on this sort of thing, and not personal questions about the candidates.
The African, who spoke on April 9, confessed that he really had no idea how the election process would work.
Im hoping to have some of these conversations, but I dont really know where or how yet, he said. I guess Im sort of waiting for someone to take the initiative.
This cardinal said he would like to talk to the Latin American cardinals, although he was worried about language. The center of gravity in the Catholic church has shifted to the southern hemisphere, he said.
This cardinal also said he worried that too many cardinals dont know one another well, and that he had hoped the cardinals might be able to move into the Domus Santa Marta, the residence on the Vatican grounds where the cardinals will be housed during the conclave, a few days early in order to build a sense of community. For logistical reasons, he said, it looked like that would be impossible.
The North American, speaking April 10, said more or less the same thing.
So far, I really havent been part of any substantive conversations, he said. Im hoping that something will begin to take shape in the next few days. Like most everybody else, Ive never been through this before, and Im not quite sure how it works.
Whether collegiality, the need for a simple evangelical style, or inculturation emerge as key themes in the election of the next pope remains to be seen. At least, however, we have some sense of what three electors are thinking about on the eve of their momentous choice.
Finally, the African cardinal said his hunch is that his fellow electors will want a conclave that is neither too short nor too long. Too short, he said, and it looks like a rush to judgment; too long, and it could seem that the cardinals are divided, and that the pope has been elected by a faction rather than a consensus.
So what does that mean?
Three to four, maybe five days, he said.
National Catholic Reporter, April 22, 2005
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