Father Andrew Greeley recounts the dramatic unfolding of the centuries-old conclave of cardinals in this firstshand account of the papal election of 2005. 16-page insert.
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The Making of the Pope 2005
By Andrew M. Greeley
Little, BrownCopyright © 2005 Andrew M. Greeley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChicago, October 15, 2003
There is much festivity in Rome these days. October brings the twenty-fifth anniversary of John Paul II, the beatification of Mother Teresa, and a consistory for the creation of thirty-one new cardinals. There's a lot of coverage in the American media-an apotheosis of the Pope, but also a display of his frailty. Frank Bruni does a piece in the New York Times about the handful of men who are running the Church because of John Paul's weakness. The Pope will not resign, even if he has to take to his bed. He believes that a father does not resign from his family.
With the media spotlight on our eighty-three-year-old Pope, Catholicism is celebrated but also made to look a little ridiculous. I have gut instincts against the personality cult that has grown up around John Paul, but he is entitled to a celebration. He has been an impressive influence for the last quarter century. How does one evaluate his administration? In my book on the conclaves of 1978, I was ecstatic about him. I thought that he would carry the reforms of the Second Vatican Council on to their logical conclusion - a more democratic, sensitive, open Church. I admit that I was terribly wrong.
He surely is one of the most talented men ever to be Pope, an actor, a poet, a philosopher, a man of enormous personal charm. He has had a tremendous impact on the Catholic Church and on the world. Time magazine rates him one of the "men of the century." Some authors (like Jonathan Kwitny in his book Man of the Century -Henry Holt and Company, 1997) argue that he brought down the socialist empire of the Soviet Union. He has traveled abroad tirelessly. Everywhere he has been hailed by massive crowds of enthusiastic Catholics. He has involved himself in the politics of countries like Nigeria and Cuba as well as his native Poland. He has lectured world leaders, including President Clinton. He has put his stamp irrevocably on the Catholic Church. He has, according to many, restored order and discipline to a Church which was in chaos during the years after the Second Vatican Council. Still others would say he has saved the Church from the folly of Pope John XXIII.
He sincerely believes that he is loyal to the Second Vatican Council, in which he participated. Yet he has virtually ignored the principle of collegial consultation with the bishops which that council endorsed, most notably in his unilateral declaration that women cannot become priests. Bishops are once again treated like lower-level bureaucrats who are servants of the Roman Curia.
Their triennial synods in Rome are manipulated by the Curia. He has hassled theologians and scholars at the cost of diminishing the freedom of discussion that the council seemed to support. He has appointed extremely conservative bishops. He has sternly lectured married laypeople about the immorality of birth control. He has brought ecumenical discussions virtually to a halt. Although he was one of the principal architects of the counciliar document on the Church and the modern world, he seems profoundly suspicious of the modern world. He refuses to consider the ordination of married men and makes it difficult and humiliating for men who wish to leave the priesthood to marry. He has encouraged right-wing organizations like Opus Dei and the Legionnaires of Christ, which have in effect become diligent hunters of heresy.
All of these actions have led many to speak of him as a Pope of "restoration," a Pope who has restored to his office and to the Vatican the power and the attitudes of Pope Pius XII (1939-58).
On social and political issues, however, his orientation could hardly be called conservative. He condemns war and the death penalty, defends the rights of immigrants, and denounces anti- Semitism - all of which make him far more "liberal" than most Catholics.
There isn't much debate that he has been intent on the restoration of order, discipline, and obedience to the Church. If one believes that such a restoration is good, then one indeed thinks he is the Pope of the Century. If one believes that such restoration is mistaken, unnecessary, and counterproductive, then one has profound reservations about his papacy.
I don't doubt his greatness. I wish that he had been more collaborative in his governance and less authoritarian in his style. I wish his many global visits (over a hundred now) had been fact- finding instead of manifestations. I wish above all he had not aborted the reform in the Church. I even wish he had pushed ahead with a reform of the papacy itself.
However, no one is perfect. I can disagree with him, respectfully, and still admire him.
The new cardinals don't impress. Justin Rigali, a former curialist and destined to move from St. Louis to Philadelphia, gets the red hat, and Michael Fitzgerald, the specialist on Islam who heads the Interreligious Dialogue office, does not. A lot of unfamiliar third-world names. There is talk now that there will certainly be a third-world Pope. That doesn't make me enthusiastic, because third-world bishops tend to be more Roman than the Romans. I'm glad I scheduled my upcoming reconnaissance to Rome when things calm down a little.
Rome, November 9, 2003
This place is weird.
You used to be able to walk into St. Peter's and say a prayer. Not anymore. They have made part of the plaza a kind of amphitheater for papal performances. You can get in only through the north entrance, and you must go through metal screeners, a sign of the time, I guess. There are nine screeners, but only one seems to be operating. The queue stretches all the way around the colonnade and back to the Via Conciliazione. Given the notorious inefficiency and indifference of the Italian police, the screening is probably pro forma. St. Peter's certainly would be an ideal target for terrorism, particularly at the time of a papal election. Still, in earlier times you could walk into San Pietro and say a prayer to the Lord whenever you wanted, just like back home. Except back home now the clergy keep the churches locked all day, so that the laity can't make the once popular "visits to the Blessed Sacrament." Here you can, if you're willing to stand in line for an hour.
A metal fence has been built around the obelisk that Pope Sixtus put in the middle of the Piazza. Some of my best photos of the last conclaves were of the ragazzi (boy punks) climbing all over the base. They can't do it anymore, which seems like a notable loss. Huge construction edifices have been erected in front of the press office on one side of the Conciliazione and the Congregation for Bishops on the other side, thus effectively blocking much of the view of the church as you walk up the street. Worse still, the edifices have been turned into billboards. There doesn't seem to be any construction going on, so the locals claim that the whole purpose is to earn billboard income!
I don't think I believe that, but it does add to the weirdness of the situation. The Pope is sick, probably terminally. People say that Cardinal Sodano, secretary of state, and Archbishop Dziwisz, the Pope's personal secretary (often called Don Stanislaus), are running the Church, sometimes with disagreements between them. The present quasi interregnum may be long.
Even weirder, it seems to me, is the absence of conversation about a successor. There was so much discussion in past years about the Pope's health and a conclave that speculation seems to have run out of steam. More seriously, perhaps, the Sacred College seems less distinguished than it has been in a long time, a subject to which I will return later. Thus the Vatican is a strange, gray, almost depressed place. My friend Adolfo says maybe an old man recalls excitement of earlier years that didn't really exist. I don't believe it for a minute. The celebration to mark the Pope's twenty-fifth anniversary on the Throne of the Fisherman (who in his most fantastical moments could not have imagined having a throne) was a bright, almost gaudy event. When it was over, however, the weariness returned, not merely of the Pope but also of the Vatican and of the Church. Despite his successes John Paul will leave the Catholic Church with serious problems of governance, including a somewhat listless Sacred College and an undistinguished episcopate. I will reflect on that later when I've had more chance to talk to people.
I lunched today with John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter, and a monsignor who is in charge of the permission for the Tridentine Latin Mass came into the restaurant. (If some want to reinstitute the Tridentine Mass, it's all right with me, so long as they don't try to impose it on the rest of us - which of course is their goal.) This man refuses to say the Mass of Paul VI - the modern Mass - around the edges of which the current reactionaries at the Congregation for Divine Worship are eating away. He also believes that the Pope is a heretic: strong on "morals" (meaning sex), John Paul is weak on faith. Hence, for example, his prayers with various kinds of heretics, schismatics, and infidels at the Assisi interreligious dialogues these past several years. The Pope is a philosopher, the priest says, but unfortunately not a theologian - a criticism one also hears from liberal theologians!
There is one aspect of John Paul's administrative style about which most people are unaware. While he signs almost every document the curialists bring him, he pays rather little attention to what they are doing. Many of them have been consistently upset at the Pope because he would rather roam around the world than stay at home and tend to business - by which they mean their business.
The Curia is composed of the Secretariat of State (a "prime minister"); nine Congregations (for example, Doctrine of the Faith, Divine Worship, Making of Bishops); three Tribunals; eleven Pontifical Councils (Christian Unity, Family, Interreligious Dialogue, Social Communications); five Offices (Economic Affairs); and eleven commissions or committees (Historical Sciences, Bible). Its members do not necessarily share a common ideology, save for maintaining their own power, as does every bureaucracy.
Popes for the last half century have dealt with the entrenched power and age-old culture of the Curia (or one should say powers, since there are many internal divisions within the Curia) in many different ways. Pius XII ran the Church though his housekeeper, Madre Pasqualina (who actually accompanied him into the conclave at which he was elected Pope). John XXIII used the Vatican Council as a counterweight to curial imperatives. John Paul II signs their documents and ignores them. One would think that someday a Pope might simply abolish the Curia and create a more modern civil service.
So as I say, this is a weird city, sometimes tragic, sometimes comic, sometimes both. Yet as I watch the faithful of every hue under heaven walk to and fro in front of the great basilica (which started the Reformation and cost us Germany), I am impressed once again by the majesty of the building and the enormous strength of the Catholic imagination, which binds us all together.
Rome, November 10, 2003
I reflect tonight that the Catholic Church is in deep trouble. It is fractured, polarized. The right is small in numbers but because of its influence on the present Pope large in power. The left is increasingly alienated. The center leans sharply to the left on matters of sexuality. Few Catholics, even the "good" ones, listen to the Vatican or take it seriously.
Those who want the cork back in the bottle will be happy with the papacy of John Paul II. Those who do not will be unhappy, regardless of Time magazine's judgments. There remains also a pragmatic question of whether his restoration has been effective. Have order and discipline been restored in the Church or have the laity and the lower clergy simply gone their own way, cheered for the Pope when he has come to their country, but made their own decisions? Has the persecution of some theologians stopped other theologians from speculations that go much further than those of comparatively moderate men like Hans Kung? Are the conservative bishops he has appointed able to turn the tide against those who believe in and want greater cultural and theological pluralism, more lay participation, less hierarchy, more dialogue?
This is an empirical question that is not answered by the ecstatic enthusiasms of conservative Catholics or by the praise of bishops. Has the restoration worked? If it hasn't, might there have been other and more subtle and sophisticated methods for tempering the explosive enthusiasms generated by the Vatican Council and Pope John? One does not arrive at doctrines by taking surveys. But one can measure with survey data whether a policy perspective enforced for two decades has been successful. Catholic conservatives will perhaps insist that it is not necessary that a Pope's policy be successful, but merely that he lay down the law and demand that people obey him. Yet this is a narrow and rigid view of the role of a teacher. At this period in the history of the human species - and perhaps at any period - the good teacher must persuade, no matter how lofty his position. Whether the Pope should persuade or not may be debatable. One can nonetheless ask whether he has persuaded on those matters he considers most important.
I will take as criteria three positions which it is not unfair to say the Pope has made central to his policy of restoration - abortion, birth control, and married priests. Each position has a different theological valence. Abortion has traditionally been considered a moral evil whose rejection is central to Catholic morality. Birth control has been forbidden, but no one claims by infallible authority. Clerical celibacy is a disciplinary matter that could be changed tomorrow.
In many different countries on which data are available- the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Federal Republic, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Ireland, Canada, Austria, even Poland-any changes that have occurred in the last twenty years have been counter to the Pope's aims. In all those countries but Poland the majority also favor the ordination of women. Moreover, on such issues as birth control, masturbation, and in vitro fertilization, for example, the lower clergy are clearly on the side of the laity. The restoration has not worked.
Some might argue that I ought not to evaluate the success or failure of a papal administration. That's God's job. Yet historians have evaluated the success or failure of papal tenures for at least half a millennium. No leader in the world, dead or alive, is so exalted that he is above criticism.
The Pope has lectured laypeople that birth control is wrong because it interferes with the complete gift of spouses to one another. It is not an argument that most married laypeople are inclined to take seriously. Indeed, many dismiss it - if they even hear it - as what one would expect from a celibate who has no sense of how essential sexual love is to heal the frictions and the hurts of the common life. For all the enthusiasm that meets the papal visitor when his plane touches down, the harsh truth is that the papacy has lost all credibility on human sexuality. Indeed, there are very few issues that affect modern life - the death penalty, war, and immigration, for example - on which the laity listen to what the Pope says. If John Paul II intended his restoration to reestablish the credibility of the papacy, it seems to have had the opposite effect. The next Pope will face the situation of a Catholic population that cheers but does not listen. With the exception of the Netherlands, there has not been a massive withdrawal of Catholics from their religion, but there has been a withdrawal of credibility from Church authority, even more among Catholic women than among Catholic men.
Excerpted from The Making of the Pope 2005 by Andrew M. Greeley Copyright © 2005 by Andrew M. Greeley.
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