NEWS:  January 31, 2001

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Bird’s Eye View of the News

Atila Sinke Guimarães

OSTPOLITIK – The word spread quickly in certain centrist and narrow-minded conservative ambiences that very subtle initiatives of John Paul II and the Vatican had caused the fall of the Communist regimes in 1989/90. Before that date, I already had been making a detailed study of the relationship of the Vatican with the regimes of the East. My records begin with the Pact of Metz (August 1962), signed between Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, representative of the Holy See, and the Russian schismatic bishop Nikodin, representative of the patriarch of Moscow. It was the Pact of Metz that guaranteed that the Council would not condemn Communism so that the Russians could attend the Vatican II's sessions as observers. My notes cover and go beyond the time of the spectacular reception that John Paul II gave to Gorbatchev in December 1989. Until 1989 I did not record any significant measure by the Vatican diplomacy which could be considered an initiative to de-stabilize the Communist governments of the East. I affirm the opposite: the Ostpolitik of John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, principally executed by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, did what it could to sustain the Communist regimes. When the moment is opportune, I can publish the proofs that I have based on reports from the daily press. After the fall of the "iron curtain," the policy of the Vatican has continued almost invariably to follow the same direction. There is an interesting demonstration of this line of conduct that is provided by a recent statement of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Here are the facts as I transcribe them from America magazine (November 18, 2000, pp. 4-5), organ of the North American Jesuits.

The head of Vietnam's Communist Party lauded Catholics for their "significant contributions" to nation-building since the country began opening to the outside world more than a decade ago. "The Party and the State wish to warmly express gratitude to Catholic individuals and communities for their great services, not only to Catholic compatriots but also to the entire nation," party secretary-general Le Kha Phieu told some 150 priests, religious and lay people October 25, according to UCA News. The party chief also observed that social evils are virtually nonexistent in areas with a high proportion of Catholics.

BRAVO - The Vatican is studying the possibility of proclaiming St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort a Doctor of the Church. The French saint is best known as author of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, which has been repeatedly translated and published in the last 200 years. On October 12 Fr. Battista Cortinovis, promoter of the cause to have St. Louis de Montfort declared a Doctor of the Church, said that it was possible the Pope would make the declaration in 2001. The 33 Doctors of the Church have been honored for their important contributions to explaining and defending the Faith (National Catholic Reporter, October 27, 2000, p. 6).

TRANSITORY POPES - During an October 19 interview to Reuters Agency, Brussels Cardinal Godfried Danneels was asked if the retirement age of 75 for Bishops should also apply to Popes. Danneels replied: "The question will inevitably be posed in some form to the next Popes. And it would not surprise me if the Pope [John Paul II] were to retire after 2000. He wanted at all costs to reach the Jubilee Year 2000, but I consider him capable of retiring afterward." He added, "In the future, I think, it will have to be like this. One won't be able to do otherwise." The same day, the Vatican released a statement in response to Danneels' remarks. "This is a personal opinion of Cardinal Danneels, which finds no confirmation," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Vals (idem, p.8).

Personal opinion or not, Danneels is not considered a hothead. If he made such a statement, it is because he felt his back was well covered. Which seems to indicate that other highly placed people think like him. This could be heading toward a system of transitory Popes, who would be put out of the Chair of Peter after reaching the age of 75. A practical consequence: just as now we have retired Bishops and retired Cardinals, it seems that in the future we will have the retired Pope, or even more than one. A kind of Queen Mother with the "mission" of waving and smiling to the crowds...

EULOGIES OF KÜNG - Mary Louise Hartmann, member of the Executive Board of Directors of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church - ARCC - writes to Commonweal magazine (November 3, 2000, p. 4) to clarify that Fr. Hans Küng was not lacking support when he was censured by the Vatican. She states: "In the October 6 correspondence columns, B.F.M. writes that Hans Küng's fellow theologians 'shamelessly' let him 'stand alone' when Rome moved against him. Not all theologians: one hundred signed a letter of protest that appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Moreover, shortly after this ad appeared, and as a direct result of Rome's actions, some theologians and other concerned Catholics in the United States founded the ARCC. This organization is pledged to work for justice in the Church and for the implementation of due process procedures. ARCC's Charter of the Rights of Catholics in the Church states that 'Catholic teachers of theology have the right to responsible academic freedom. The acceptability of their teaching is to be judged in dialogue with their peers, keeping in mind the legitimacy of responsible dissent and pluralism of belief.' ARCC's membership includes many theologians."

Küng in many ways is more fortunate than Congar, Chenu, de Lubac, Rahner, von Balthasar and Ratzinger in the '40s and '50s. In fact, when he was censured, Küng enjoyed public support in the press and associations like ARCC existed to defend him. In the '40s and '50s, things were quite different. Unable to count on any significant media support, Congar was strongly censured by the Vatican for his book True and False Reform in the Church. He lost his teaching position and was successively exiled from Paris to Strasbourg, Jerusalem and London. Chenu lost his place as dean of "Le Saulchoir" - the famous Dominican School in Paris - for his book The Saulchoir, a School of Theology. De Lubac lost his chair at the Jesuit School of Lyon-Fourvière for his book Catholicism. Rahner, von Balthasar and Ratzinger were considered suspect of heresy by the Holy Office.

However, after John XXIII rose to the Papacy, these same theologians - without any display of repentance for what they had written - played important roles and received high consideration. All of them, except for von Balthasar, were invited to be periti at Vatican II. After the Council, Congar, de Lubac, von Balthasar and Ratzinger were made Cardinals. Rahner received many eulogies from Paul VI and John Paul II, and Ratzinger was chosen to be the "defender of the Faith" as head of the ancient Holy Office. Perhaps tomorrow Küng may follow on such a path of exoneration and renown. Who knows? A similar process seems to have already begun with him. In a public discourse at the Lateran Palace to journalists and members of the media, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, praised the book Christianity, Essence and History by Küng (L'Osservatore Romano, March 26, 1998, p.9). Let's wait and see.

RENT A PRIEST - Until now one could rent a car or electronic equipment. From now on, the Belgians can also "rent" a Catholic priest suspended by the Hierarchy should they stand in need of prayer or some other religious ceremony. The association "Rent a Priest," of American origin, was recently introduced in Meensel-Kiezegem, Flanders, at the initiative of Fr. Ruy Borremans. Suspended one year ago from the exercise of his ministry after he publicly announced his homosexuality, Fr. Borremans has since been occupied with the development of his "society of services" …. without ceasing his efforts for rehabilitation with the Catholic Church (Actualité des Religions, Paris, October 2000, p. 6).

NIGHTCLUB CHAPLAIN - A new profession has appeared: the nightclub chaplain. Diana Greenfield, sporting body piercings in her nose and earlobes and with a Celtic cross painted on her hair, will be the first to exercise the profession. Named by the Bishop of Winchester, she will exercise her "ministry" in the region of Sussex, Bornemouth, famous for its night-life. Diana believes that there is "a true spirituality in the nightclubs" and a mission to be worked with the youth. Assisted by a team of volunteers, she hopes to spread the good news in the nightclubs, accompany drunks to the hospital and console those depressed by frustrated loves. These are the words of the magazine Actualité des Religions (idem, p.7) to inform its readers of this surprising novelty. Undoubtedly, yet one more fruit of aggiornamento, the adaptation of the Vatican to the modern day world. Where is this process going to stop?

A "PURIFIED" CARDINAL - At an annual Thanksgiving interfaith service at the Chicago First United Methodist Church, a Chippewa medicine man in Indian ceremonial garb "purified" local area church leaders, including Catholic Cardinal Francis George. With drums beating in the background, Starr-Bresette used a white swan feather to fan the smoke of the wild sage, which he carried in a pot around the altar and through the aisles to purify those who had gathered there. The smoke that rose was supposed to be symbolic of many prayers coming together as one to honor Gitchi Manito, the "Great Spirit that moves in all things." Among the other religious confessions who participated in the service were the Baha'i, Hindu, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian. (Chicago Tribune, November 23, 2000)

Less than one week later on November 28, Cardinal George participated in a Catholic-Muslim gathering at a mosque in suburban Bridgeview to mark the Muslim month of Ramadan. There he took part in the iftar or evening meal, which breaks the Ramadan fast. Ramadan celebrates the revelation of the Muslim scriptures, the Koran, to the prophet Mohammed. The Cardinal "forgot" that the Koran says that the Most Holy Trinity, as taught by the Catholic Magisterium, is an abomination. Certainly for him this is just a "minor detail" that has to be put aside to favor the progressivist longings for a pan-religion.

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