Beatification Ahead for Former Order of Malta Grand Master?


The process of beatifying the late Grand Master of the ancient Order of Malta, Fra’ Andrew Bertie, appears set to begin. In this article, I recall his life through the eyes of those who knew him.

Fra’ Andrew Bertie Remembered for Service
Edward Pentin

ROME, January 24, 2013 (


Fra Bertie“The only worthwhile striving is after the highest ideals: If you aim for an easy target, your standard will inevitably decline, and no progress is ever made, except through real effort and real suffering.”

These are words attributed to Fra’ Andrew Bertie, (pronounced “Barty”), the 78th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, whose cause for beatification is expected to open next month, according to informed sources.

Andrew Willoughby Ninian Bertie, a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth II whose family has had royal ties for centuries, was the first Englishman to be elected to the post of Grand Master in the Order’s 900 year history. He served in the Rome-based position from 1988 until his death in February 2008 at the age of 78.

But for all the lofty titles and blue blood, those who knew Fra’ Andrew remember him as a down-to-earth yet eccentric personality, a true gentleman with impeccable manners, and greatly loved by former pupils at Worth Abbey School in Sussex, England, where he taught for 23 years.

“He was an extremely vivid person and one of the teachers whom the pupils all remember,” said Father Stephen Ortiger, a colleague and friend at Worth, a Benedictine school. The priest said he felt Fra’ Andrew would be “convulsed with laughter” if he heard his cause for beatification was to be opened.

He didn’t have an aura of holiness, Father Ortiger said, “not because he wasn’t holy but because he would rather die than exude an aura of holiness — he would do everything by stealth and wouldn’t wear his heart or his goodness on his sleeve.”

“If he saw a balloon was coming,” he said, “he would prick it.”

Alumni of Worth recall how, on his way to breakfast each morning, Fra’ Andrew would give the fullest possible voice to the Moslem call to prayer — Allah u Akbar. “No other Roman Catholic school in England, indeed anywhere, could boast this distinctive feature and it stayed in the memory of many,” said Father Ortiger. “He was deliberately zany and deliberately eccentric.”

Highly knowledgeable, Fra’ Andrew was employed to teach French and Spanish at Worth but would also happily teach a variety of other languages — Russian, Tibetan and Sanskrit — to anyone who asked him. He was also greatly interested in Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism, though was never a relativist wavering from the true faith. A judo black belt, he also learned the sport of fencing.

“I learned from him that the accumulation of knowledge was a lifelong obligation to oneself,” said Father Ortiger, a trained aircraft pilot and former headmaster and abbot of Worth School and Abbey. “He was an inspiration to me and, I am sure, to the thousands who followed me at Worth. His knowledge of the world and mastery of so many languages was like opening an encyclopaedia when you spoke to him.”

He was also ascetic, apparently wearing just two suits, and driving a rusty old Fiat during his summer holidays in Malta. He also liked the odd whisky or two (he could drink to be the last man standing, according to one acquaintance) and smoked Gauloises cigarettes.

Friends say he showed signs of heroic virtue, the primary requirements for sainthood, and had no shortage of fortitude, stability, humility and a profound sense of service. He also always had an eye for the underdog. “He was one of the most generous people I knew, an absolute gentlemen who would go to great trouble for people,” said Father Ortiger. “He liked to offer hospitality.”

Others who knew him remember Fra’ Andrew as a very humble and very focused individual with a deep devotion to Our Lady. He took care of the sick very seriously, and would love to visit Lourdes. Soon after arriving at Worth in 1960, Fra’ Andrew began to promote Lourdes pilgrimages and pioneered visits from Worth and Downside, incorporating them into the Order of Malta Volunteers — a group aimed at encouraging a sense of service in the young.

Friends say Fra’ Andrew was never happiest than when at the service of young people, and many remember him for those Lourdes pilgrimages. “To be doing something useful for them was very important,” said Father Ortiger, “to get them to think outside the box and to think in terms of Lourdes, about helping other people.”

It was his concern for the sick that prompted him to join the Knights of Malta in 1956 and then, in 1981, to become a professed Knight — to live under solemn vows. The Order’s work for the poor and the sick is extensive, providing hospitals, hospices and medical services in some 120 countries. But more than merely setting up facilities, Fra’ Andrew rolled up his sleeves and would regularly tend to the sick himself. As Grand Master, he would frequently visit San Giovanni Battista Hospital at La Magliana on the outskirts of Rome, and was even known to work anonymously in a Rome hospital as a ward orderly.

In an address to Pope Benedict XVI who visited there in 2007, Fra’ Andrew recalled how the first hospitallers chose to dedicate their lives to those they called “our lords the sick.” Remaining faithful to this choice, he said, “we, too, consider the sick the most important aspect of our mission.”

Born in London in 1929, Fra’ Andrew Bertie was on his father’s side a grandson of the 7th Earl of Abingdon, and on his mother’s, of the Marquess of Bute, a direct descendent of the Stuart line of monarchs. He was educated at Ampleforth College, a private Benedictine school in northern England, and graduated in Modern History from Christ Church, Oxford before moving on to study at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. From 1948 to 1950 he carried out military service in the Scots Guards, becoming a commissioned officer in 1949.

After taking Solemn Vows in the Order of Malta in 1981, he was elected to the Sovereign Council, the Order’s ruling body, in 1983. Forced to choose between Worth and Rome, he felt he must go where his vows beckoned, and five years later he was elected Grand Master. He was perhaps “quite miffed” at being sent to Rome, Father Ortiger said, but he would never say it, accepting the change out of a sense of duty and obedience.

The Order of Malta grew exponentially during his time as head of the Order, where fellow members say he left a legacy of “selfless humility and service.”

“As Grand Master, he combined intelligence with dignity and authority, presiding over the Order at this very difficult time in the history of Europe and its increasing secularisation,” Prince Rupert Zu Loewenstein, president of the British Association of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, told mourners at Fra’ Andrew’s funeral. “In our area of influence he worked hard to increase the relevance of our ancient religious Order.”

Regarded by those who knew him as someone in the world but not of the world, who always continued to strive after the highest ideals, many see the opening of his cause for beatification as a logical step — even if he himself would be both amused and surprised.

The Catechism Turns 20


CatechismTwo decades after the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, how effective has it been in terms of catechesis? In this article for the National Catholic Register I interview a number of senior Church figures and lay catechists to obtain a clearer picture.


VATICAN CITY: One landmark celebration in the Church, somewhat passed over during a month of anniversary celebrations in October, was the 20th anniversary of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Oct. 11.

Described by John Paul II as “a sure norm for teaching the faith,” the Catechism is widely seen as a great treasure for all Catholics and an invaluable resource for catechists, whether they are laypeople, bishops, priests or religious.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church is shaping and molding youth, young adult and adult catechesis texts and resources,” said Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a truly great gift to the universal Catholic Church. … The obvious fruit of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the U.S. is that more of the faithful are beginning to have a deeper understanding of their faith and have a desire to pass it on.”

The decision to publish the 700-page volume came out of a Synod of Bishops, convened by Pope John Paul II on Jan. 25, 1985, to mark the 20th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.

The following year, the Pope appointed 12 bishops and cardinals to a commission, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to oversee the project. Dominican Father Christoph Schönborn, now the cardinal archbishop of Vienna, would become its editorial secretary, assisted by a seven-member committee, including diocesan bishops and experts in theology and catechesis.

John Paul II approved the texts on June 25, 1992, and promulgated the Catechism on Oct. 11, 1992, the 30th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, with his apostolic constitution Fidei Depositum. The English translation didn’t appear until 1994.

A Statement of Faith

The Catechism — the first universal catechism published by the Church in nearly 450 years — is “a most powerful instrument because it’s the best articulation of our Catholic faith in our times,” Cardinal Francis Arinze told the Register.

“I say to seminarians and priests that, after the Bible, the next book you should have is the Catechism of the Catholic Church,” said Cardinal Arinze, who served as president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and subsequently as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of Sacraments prior to his retirement in 2008. “When you are going to preach on any topic on the faith or give a lecture, go to the index, and you will see it there. It isn’t about theories or hypotheses of professors, but a basic statement of our faith.”

With the Catechism’s basis in holy Scripture, sacred Tradition and the magisterium, the Nigerian cardinal said, any reader can be sure he is on “solid ground.” But it isn’t just an educational resource; it’s also an invitation to prayer. Cardinal Arinze finds it invaluable for his own personal prayer life. “If I take a page a day, I find it nourishes me,” he said.

For the papal theologian Dominican Father Wojciech Giertych, the Catechism’s strength is that, although it is a large volume, its texts are structured in such a way that they can be reduced down to its four major parts — the “Four Pillars” of the Catholic faith (the Creed, seven sacraments, Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer).

“This is something that a 7-year-old can learn off by heart and what a 7-year-old should learn off by heart,” he told the Register. “A developed explanation of what is contained in these four basic texts can be reduced almost to the bare minimum and can be expanded.”

Applying the Catechism in the education of a child, Father Giertych explained that although the child might not initially understand the meaning of phrases like “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” he learns the phrase and recalls it later, understanding the teaching, Father Giertych explained.

Catechists’ Resource

Among lay catechists, the Catechism and its shorter version, the Compendium of the Catholic Church, is often heavily relied upon to effectively transmit the faith. “In this secular, materialist society filled with moral relativism, the CCC gives us a sure foundation upon which to build our parishes with the teachings of truth,” said Anna Maria Constant, director of religious education at Most Holy Trinity Church in New Orleans.

“It has been a vital instrument for evangelization, with its teachings on formation of conscience, respect for human life and the dignity of persons,” she added. “At the parish level as well as diocesan level, we need sure norms for handing on the faith.”

And yet, few dispute that the faithful have been poorly catechized over the past 40 or 50 years.

“There has been such a grave loss of integrity in catechesis over the past 40 years — we have lost generations,” Constant said. “Many of the catechetical textbooks are full of ‘warm fuzzies’ — ‘What do you think?’ and ‘How do you feel about it?’ — instead of stating clearly the beauties of what the Catholic Church actually teaches.”

“Catechesis prior to the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church seemed to focus on the discovering of self and feeling good about oneself as a Christian (some would refer to this as ‘burlap and butterfly catechesis’) rather than emphasizing learning divine Revelation and centering the heart of our catechesis on Christ and his Church,” said Bishop Nickless. “After the Catechism’s publication, I have seen catechesis stress placing the person being catechized in communion with Jesus Christ and his Church, and through this relationship, that particular person comes to an understanding of himself or herself as a human person created by God and how God wants us to live.” Others agree.

“There were a good couple of decades of do-it-yourself or experiential catechesis, void of consistent content,” said Drake McCalister, coordinator of catechetical practicum and special projects at Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. “One of the main blessings of the Catechism: providing an authoritative, unified doctrinal foundation through which catechetical materials can be updated. The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops’ conformity process — by which everything must be in conformity with the Catechism — doesn’t state whether a textbook is effective, engaging or exciting, but it does set a baseline that states that it will at least be orthodox in the contents of the faith. It lets the teacher know that the content of the book will not be problematic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has been the single greatest tool for transforming our teaching of catechesis and giving it the best chance to be faithful to the Church.”

Using It More

Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, said he had “always hoped” that the impact of the Catechism “would have gone better,” in terms of the large number of adults who have continued to be poorly catechized over the past 20 years.

Still, he added, “I think it’s made a very profound contribution in stabilizing the teaching, giving us content we can put in our religious-education programs.” The cardinal also praised the YouCat version of the Catechism, published in 2011 and aimed at youth, saying it has been “very useful.”

But, as with everything, there are fresh ways the Catechism might be utilized. Cardinal Arinze would like to see a special edition for children in which the teaching is explained in the form of a Q&A. He said he was aware of the Catechism for families, written in this format (, and so believes “it is possible.”

The only change Constant recommends would be to publicize the Catechism “from an apologetics point of view” — for example, listing “paragraphs one can turn to when attempting to defend particular topics of Catholic teaching,” maybe even “color-coding” them.

During this Year of Faith, Cardinal Arinze echoed Pope Benedict by calling on the faithful to spend time deeply reflecting on the teachings of the Catechism.

“What we should do is digest it,” he said, “and make it part of ourselves.”


In Paris, an Uplifting Show of Support for Marriage


french-flagIn this Jan. 21 article filed from Paris for the National Catholic Register, I report on an enormous march against same-sex marriage and adoption legislation being proposed by the government of Francois Hollande.


PARIS — A march in Paris Jan. 13 against proposed marriage and adoption legislation for same-sex couples was the largest public demonstration France has witnessed since then-President Francois Mitterand tried to make all schools public in 1984, observers say.

Estimates vary on the size of the crowd, with police saying 340,000 attended the march that ended at the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. The organizers, however, put the figure at over a million.
Gen. Bruno Dary, a former military governor of Paris with technical expertise in estimating crowd flows, took issue with the police estimate, saying about 800,000 demonstrators took part, according to Le Figaro newspaper.
The protesters, in what were effectively three separate marches in the city, included not only faith and pro-family groups and people of all ages and backgrounds, but also atheists and homosexuals.

The demonstration, called a “Demo for All,” was held to protest against a bill titled “Marriage for All,” which would allow same-sex “marriage” and adoption by homosexual couples, that is being tabled by the administration of President Francois Hollande. Media coverage of the march was extensive in France, with television news bulletins and the press giving it plenty of attention, although much of it was eclipsed by the French military intervention in Mali.

Some even saw the Mali operation as a cynical attempt by Hollande to take public attention away from the issue in a bid to smoothen its passage through the French parliament.

France’s Bishops Speak Out

“For many months, we have alerted the government and the public about the risk of a profound cleavage within French society posed by the bill allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples,” a Jan. 16 statement from the French bishops’ conference said. “This cleavage is even more unfortunate as our country is experiencing a period of severe economic and social problems which should, on the contrary, persuade political leaders to unite the country.”

The bishops, headed by the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, added that the “exceptional size of the manifestation [shows], if proof were needed, that this warning was well founded. In the three processions converging towards the Champ de Mars, people from all parts of France, young and old, families with children or alone, people of all opinions, of all religions or no religion marched with conviction, in good humor and were not aggressive towards anyone.”

A common feature, the bishops added, was the “recognition of the family, the children’s best interests and respect of parentage.”

The Catholic Church teaches that authentic marriage involves only one man and one woman. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution, despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures and spiritual attitudes” (1603).
In an address in June 2009, Pope Benedict XVI stated, “The different present forms of the dissolution of marriage, as well as free unions and ‘trial marriage,’ including the pseudo-marriage between persons of the same sex, are … contrary expressions of an anarchic freedom that appears erroneously as man’s authentic liberation.”

Eradicating ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’

The protesters were not all opposed to same-sex unions, however. “French people want homosexuals to be treated as equals, and most of us agree on that,” Berenice Girardeau, a Parisian resident, told the Register. “But if you want to give them the same rights, you have to modify the law, the Civil Code, and that’s what’s frightening people.”

Many French citizens, including homosexuals, are reluctant to have the terms “mother” and “father” eradicated from the statute books by the proposed legislation and have issues with same-sex adoption. They argue that artificial procreation and proxy parenting by same-sex couples is simply a way of treating children as consumer products.

“The rights of children trump the right to children,” said Jean Marc, a French mayor, who is also homosexual and lived with a man for 20 years. He said the homosexual-rights “LGBT” movement does not speak for him and that “as a society we should not be encouraging this; it’s not biologically natural.”

During a heated Jan. 16-17 debate in the National Assembly, the French parliament’s lower house, opponents of the bill pointed out that 150 references to “mother” and “father” in the Civil Code would have to be erased.  Philippe Gosselin of the center-right UMP party noted that, in personnel forms for SNCF, the state rail carrier, the terms “father” and “mother” had already been replaced by the label “Parents 1 and 2.”

“We want to stop this!” he declared.

Xavier Bongibault, a prominent atheist homosexual, is also opposed to the bill. “In France, marriage is not designed to protect the love between two people. French marriage is specifically designed to provide children with families,” he said in an interview, according to C-FAM. “[T]he most serious study done so far … demonstrates quite clearly that a child has trouble being raised by gay parents.”

Voice of Experience

Meanwhile, Jean-Dominique Bunel, a specialist in humanitarian law, told Le Figaro he “was raised by two women” and that he “suffered from the lack of a father, a daily presence, a character and a properly masculine example, some counterweight to the relationship of my mother to her lover. I was aware of it at a very early age. I lived that absence of a father, experienced it as an amputation.”

“As soon as I learned that the government was going to officialize marriage between two people of the same sex, I was thrown into disarray,” he explained. It would be “institutionalizing a situation that had scarred me considerably. In that there is an injustice that I can in no way allow.”

If the women who raised him had been married, Bunel added, “I would have jumped into the fray and would have brought a complaint before the French state and before the European Court of Human Rights for the violation of my right to a mom and a dad.”

One of the most prominent campaigners against the bill, who was also one of the chief organizers of the march, is “Frigide Barjot,” a famous Catholic comedian in France. “To make a child, you need a man and a woman,” Barjot said ahead of the march, adding that a same-sex couple becoming the legal parents of a child “is totally contrary to reality.”

But like many French citizens, she does not object to official status and legal protections for same-sex couples. “The problemis not homosexuality, but human filiation,” she argued, stressing children’s need to have legal affiliation and access to their biological parents.

Referendum Request

Barjot and many other French citizens would prefer to see a referendum on the issue.

“A referendum would be the easiest and most sensible thing to do,” said Girardeau. “Let’s see what people think — this is a huge issue for us.”

But, so far, the Elysee Palace has ruled that out. The march expressed “a sensibility that must be respected,” a government spokesman said, “but it does not change the government’s desire to have a debate in parliament to allow passage of the law.”

The bill will be presented to France’s National Assembly on Jan. 29.

The expectation is that homosexual marriage will be separated from same-sex adoptions and surrogacy parenting, with such issues dealt with individually, but that same-sex “marriage” will definitely be passed by the parliament. Many same-sex couples in France already go abroad to countries where such legislation already exists, such as Belgium or Spain.

Such an outcome would not be acceptable, France’s Catholic hierarchy has stressed. In their statement, the French bishops called on politicians to offer policy solutions and formulations during the parliamentary debate “that are respectful of the heterosexual nature of marriage, parentage and homosexuals.”


Nigeria and US Reluctant to Label Boko Haram a Terrorist Group


nigeriaMany viewed it as strange that the U.S. and Nigerian governments had refused to label the militant Jihadist group Boko Haram a terrorist organisation. In this Dec. 2012 analysis a U.S. website on national security, I explain that the situation is more complex than it appears.



Despite an organized campaign of violence directed against Nigeria’s Christians, the Obama administration and the Nigerian government refuse to formally declare the militant Islamist group Boko Haram a terrorist organization. While this makes little sense given the body count from Boko Haram’s attacks, other factors are at play, as LIGNET explains.

According to Human Rights Watch, about 3,000 people have been killed in the sectarian conflict between Boko Haram and security forces since 2010. Over 815 have been killed in this year alone. Most of the victims have been Muslims or government officials, but increasingly they are Christians, too.


Religious strife has long divided Nigeria, and was a problem even before the country achieved independence from Britain, which ruled the territory as a colony until 1960. The religious divisions in Nigeria as also geographic, with the northern part of the country predominantly Muslim and the Southern part predominantly Christian. Each religion accounts for roughly half of Nigeria’s 160 million population.

Founded in 2002 by Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf, Boko Haram’s goal is to transform Nigeria into an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. It claims that the country’s secular government is godless and therefore illegitimate, and that it has an obligation to convert all Nigerians to the Islamic faith.

Boko Haram is Hausa (a tribal language common in northern Nigeria) for “Western education is forbidden”—a branding that places it squarely opposed to values that proclaim individual rights and religious toleration for all. The group also goes by the Arabic name “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad,” which means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.”

Boko Haram’s militancy began in sporadic violence, mostly targeting the police and army. These attacks in turn led to reprisals against Boko Haram, which ratcheted the level of violence up even higher. While Islamist ideology has fueled the group’s violence, self-defense and revenge are explain its growing wrath, especially after 2005, when the Nigerian government cracked down on the group, and in many instances went outside the boundary of the law to do it.

Since then Boko Haram has expanded its target list, with brutal attacks against Christian civilians in the country’s north more common. In the latest savagery, a group of Islamist attackers went house to house in the predominantly Christian part of the village of Chibok on December 1, setting fires and slitting throats. Ten Christians were killed. Three militants likely affiliated with Boko Haram killed at least 19 Christians at a Bible study in central Nigeria on August 7. High profile Boko Harem attacks on Christians have grown over the last year and include horrific bombings of churches during Christmas and Easter Sunday services over the last year.

Informed observers in Nigeria have stressed to LIGNET that this is not a religious conflict as the media sometimes claims, but rather one fought along ethnic, political and regional lines and fueled by a desire to control the country’s oil (Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producer in the world). Oil “has everything to do with these attacks,” one source told LIGNET.

Before 1975, northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram operates, was very rich through agriculture, but oil brought instant wealth and investment in agriculture fell away. The country’s oil fields, all in the south, belong to the central government, so whoever is in charge has control over the nation’s oil and its distribution.

This has naturally led to power struggles and wealth disparities between the now impoverished north and the relatively prosperous south, further fanning the flames of conflict. Part of the problem also goes back to Nigeria’s colonial era when Britain paid little attention to the nation’s diversity, leading to a battle of internal integration and a civil war fought along predominantly ethnic and political lines in the 1960s. These were never religious conflicts, even though the north is mostly Muslim and the south Christian.

Despite Boko Haram’s increased use of violence in the last few years, the U.S. State Department has refused to add the Islamist militant group to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, even though it took a step in that direction in June when it named three of Boko Haram’s leaders “terrorists.” Nigeria’s government has also refused to label the group a terrorist organization.

Pressure, however, is mounting to change all of this. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and more than 20 American scholars urged earlier this year that Boko Haram be designated a terrorist outfit. And a new group has been formed called the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN) to raise awareness of what it calls the “pre-genocide” conditions in their ancestral homeland. CANAN has organized a petition to get 25,000 signatures by Dec. 29.

The campaign is said to have support from the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department, as well as several U.S. Congressmen who have recommended FTO designation. Pat Meehan, a Republican Congressman from Pennsylvania, has said that he would be tabling a draft bill in Congress that will compel the State Department to explain its reasons if it refuses to give Boko Haram the FTO label.


The reluctance of the U.S. government to label Boko Haram a terrorist organization appears to reflect concerns that sanctions against the group could be counterproductive and affect oil exports to the United States.

LIGNET, however, has and will continue to refer to Boko Haram as a terrorist organization due to its indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including church bombings and suicide bombers.

U.S. “Foreign Terrorist Organization” (FTO) designation comes with the threat of sanctions, and makes it illegal for individuals or organizations to give material support or resources to the group.

While this seems like a no-brainer, Nigeria is one of the biggest suppliers of crude oil to the U.S. Relations between the two countries are complicated by what could be called “energy politics,” with various interests reluctant to take a step that Nigeria’s government itself has not taken.

Proponents of a cautious approach to the issue believe Boko Haram is a symbol more than anything else, a manifestation of the fragile relationship between the different ethnic and political groups wishing to exercise control over Nigeria and its resources. Religion is merely the tool for this fight, they say, and the glue that holds together fanatic adherents of the Islamic religion.

Opponent of U.S. FTO status believe this label would be a misplaced because, although the Boko Haram has engaged in attacks that clearly appear to be terrorism, labeling it a foreign terrorist group would distort the real reasons driving the violence in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s government opposes FTO designation for Boko Haram. It fears the label would put Nigeria back on the U.S. terror watch list—a move that could make life hard for all Nigerians, including Christians. It also is worried that the designation would erect an obstacle that could prevent a future peace agreement with Boko Haram.

Opponents, both inside and outside of Nigeria, also believe the FTO label could backfire, pouring gasoline onto a fire as it were by giving the group an excuse to expand its operations beyond the north, and attack targets not only in southern Nigeria, but even outside of the country.

These misgivings were on display recently in comments made by the Catholic archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan. In an interview last month, he stressed the importance of having a balanced attitude towards Boko Haram. He noted dialogue was not realistic at this time, but said he did not agree with those who brand the group “assassins.”

“These people cannot be defeated with guns alone,” he said, adding it is certainly not up to the Catholic Church or to Christians to organize their own militias. “We need to make it clear that no claims [of injustice] can justify the murder of innocent people, especially when they are praying.”


Despite levels of violence that equal or surpass that of other terrorist groups in the world, Boko Haram continues to escape official designation as a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” by the U.S. government. This state of affairs will likely continue unless a clear link between al Qaeda and the group can be established or the group kills Americans.

Archbishop DiNoia, Ecclesia Dei and the Society of St. Pius X



In a bid to keep talks on course to a possible reconciliation, Pope Benedict XVI has appointed American Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia as vice president of the commission charged with helping to bring the Society of St. Pius X back into full communion with Rome.

The 68-year-old Dominican and Bronx, N.Y., native, until now secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, becomes vice president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. He spoke with Register correspondent Edward Pentin June 27 about his new position, some of the obstacles involved in bringing the society back into full communion, and his hopes for a successful resolution.

As Archbishop DiNoia had not yet begun work at the commission, he preferred not to comment on reports of a leaked letter from the SSPX that said the society found the doctrinal preamble “clearly unacceptable.” The document is supposed to form the basis for reconciliation with Rome.


What was your reaction when you were appointed? Did it come as a surprise?

It was a surprise, but, then, these things are always a surprise. Being appointed here [as secretary at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments] was a surprise.


What stage has the Vatican reached in its talks with the SSPX?

To be honest, I don’t know. I have a steep learning curve in terms of the issues as they have developed in the dialogue. When I came here, I studied the history of the reform and took a close look at the [Second Vatican] Council, so I’ve learned a lot about the objections that come from that world. I’ve read books by Romano Amerio and Roberto de Mattei on the Council, and, of course, I’ve been studying the Council for years; so, in that sense, I have a framework out of which I can talk with them about their problems.

Another factor of great importance, autobiographically for me, is that I had lived my entire religious life, until I came here to Rome, in a Dominican priory, mostly in Washington or in New Haven, Conn. In those places, the hermeneutic of continuity and reform, if I may put it that way, was lived. I never experienced the Council as a rupture. It’s interesting — only as I’ve begun to read this traditionalist literature and interpretation have I begun to understand that, in a certain sense, there are problems that are real. But if you cease to believe that the Holy Spirit is preserving the Church from error, you cut your moorings.

The councils cannot — whatever their interpretations may be by the left or right, or whatever the intentions of the authors were of the council documents — be led into error. All of the documents stand. Schism is not the answer. So I’m sympathetic to the society, but the solution is not breaking off from the Church.


That being the case, why do you think some Catholics have decided to stick to “frozen” tradition, as it were, rather than coming into full communion?

I don’t honestly know; I can only speculate. To say why people are traditionalist I’d have to say it depends on their experiences. The [reform of the] liturgy has been a factor; it was a terrible revolution and shock for people. Many of these people feel abandoned, like the Church left them at the dock with the ship. So the reasons are very complicated and vary from one type of traditionalism to another and from countries, cultures and contexts in which they have arisen.

Another issue is there’s a failure to recognize a simple fact of the history of the Church: that all theological disagreements need not be Church-dividing. So, for example, the Jesuits and Dominicans had a tremendous disagreement in the 16th century about the theology of grace. In the end, the Pope forbade them to call each other heretics, which they had been doing. The Pope said, “You may continue to hold your theological opinion,” but he refused to give a doctrinal determination, saying the Jesuits or Dominicans were right. Now, this is a very interesting example, because it shows that Catholicism is broad enough to include a tremendous amount of theological diversity and debate. Sometimes the Church will act, but only when it sees people slipping into heresy and therefore breaking off from communion.


You’ve worked closely with Pope Benedict XVI in the past. How important is this reconciliation for him?

The Pope hopes for reconciliation — that’s the Pope’s job. The ministry of Peter is above all to preserve the unity of the Church. So, apart from whatever personal interest Pope Benedict might have, he shares his concern with John Paul II. As you know, he has been involved in this from the beginning.

The Pope is bending over backwards to accommodate them, but he’s not going to give in on the issue of the authenticity of the teaching of Vatican II as a series of acts of the magisterium.


The Society of St. Pius X argues the Second Vatican Council promulgated no infallible and irreformable teaching. It was pastoral and not dogmatic. If that is so, why is it important that they agree with it?

There’s enough that’s dogmatic in it. The sacramentality of episcopal ordination, to take one example, is a development of the teaching of the episcopacy, so it is doctrinal.

Traditionally, the doctrines were stated as canons with anathemas. There aren’t any of those, but it’s certainly full of the ordinary magisterium and a restatement of it. It’s doctrinally rich. But did it seek to clarify what Trent left open or that Vatican I left open with regards to Scripture and Tradition?

There are doctrinal developments here and there. And the society thinks, of course, that the whole teaching on religious liberty is a departure from the Tradition. But some very smart people have tried to point out it’s a development that is consistent.

What I’ve tried to argue is that all they have to do is to say there’s nothing in the Council that is contrary to Tradition and that every text, or every part of it that is controversial, should be read in context of the Council — and read it in light of the Tradition. It seems to me, despite their difficulties, they should be able to do that.


What do you say to the argument that if the Council documents are neither infallible nor unchangeable then they are therefore not binding?

To say they are not binding is sophistry. The Council contains swathes of the ordinary magisterium, which is de fide divina [of divine faith].

Now, the pastoral constitution “On the Church in the Modern World” [Gaudium et Spes] makes comments about the nature of culture which, generally speaking, everyone now believes was overly optimistic. Well, that’s not de fide divina. It’s not precise; it’s very imprecise. But the Council’s full of the ordinary magisterium. When I worked at the [U.S.] bishops’ conference and I was discussing, say, Veritatis Splendor, people would ask me: “Is it infallible?” I would say, “The more important question is: Is it true?”

What I meant was: The overemphasis is on infallibility. This is why John Paul II and Benedict XVI decided not to define anything infallibly anymore because you see what happens is: People say: “I only have to believe what’s been infallibly defined.” Now, that is very little. So that’s why there’s a distinction between the ordinary and extraordinary magisterium. The extraordinary magisterium is what the Church defines, and it almost always involves settling disagreements that probably have been defined. The Church would perhaps have never said Mary was the Mother of God if Nestorius hadn’t denied it. But with the ordinary magisterium there’s huge amounts of what we believe that’s de fide divina that’s never been defined. That’s why people have talked about the ordinary magisterium, trying to get out of this reductionist reading that says you only have to believe what’s infallible. So, no, the Council does have binding teaching. The Fathers are writing as bishops of the Church in union with the Pope; that’s why the Council is so important.


Yet Cardinal Ratzinger stressed the Council should not be seen as a kind of “superdogma.”

It did not seek to define infallibly any doctrines; that’s what he’s saying, but he’s not saying it doesn’t contain great amounts of the ordinary magisterium.

If you take the dogmatic constitutions, they are called dogmatic constitutions — Divine Revelation [Dei Verbum], Lumen Gentium, those two surely, but other ones, too.


What would the Society of St. Pius X bring that would positively impact the Church if they reconcile?

The traditionalists that are now in the Church, such as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, have brought what the Pope has insisted upon: that in the solemnity of the way in which they celebrate the liturgy, especially in the area of the liturgy, they are a testimony to the continuing liveliness of liturgical tradition previous to the Council, which is the message ofSummorum Pontificum. The thing is: They can’t say that the Novus Ordo is invalid, but their celebration of the 1962 Missal is something that remains attractive and nourishes faith, even of those who have no experience of it. So that’s a very important factor.

I’ve tried to find an analogy for this. Let’s say the American Constitution can be read in at least two ways: Historians read it, and they are interested in historical context: in the framers, intentions of the framers, the backgrounds of framers and all of that historical work about the Constitution. So, you have a Constitution you can study historically and shed a great deal of light on the meaning of it.

However, when the Supreme Court uses the Constitution, when it’s read as an institutional living document upon which institutions of a country are based, it’s a different reading. So what the framers thought, including not only experts upon whom they’re dependent — they are parallel to the bishops, and the experts are parallel to the periti [theologians who serve participants at an ecumenical council].

Those documents have an independence from all of them. I often say that what Council Fathers intended doesn’t matter because it’s how you apply it today that matters. It’s a living document.


Yet it’s the way it has been applied that’s the problem.

What’s very important for theologians, people in charge to understand is that the Council has been interpreted in wildly destructive and discontinuous ways. I’m reading a book by Louis Bouyer, who wrote a book -– in 1968 — called The Decomposition of Catholicism. Then there’s Xavier Rynne, who shaped the Western world’s understanding of the Council by writing those articles in The New Yorker.

The Pope has written brilliantly about this many, many times, but, you see, in part, the traditionalists are reacting justly against the outlandish interpretations of the Council by the progressivists.


What else positive can they bring?

If they are accepted by the Church and restored to full communion, they will be a sort of living witness to the continuity. They can be perfectly happy being in the Catholic Church, so they would be a living testimony to show that the continuity before and after the Council is real.


But that’s only if they comply with the Vatican’s conditions?

It’s more than that. It’s not like an edict — stop on red; go on green — because membership and full communion involves faith that the Holy Spirit is preserving the Church from error and that communion with the See of Peter is part of the reality of being in full communion. It’s not accidental.

So, if they comply, it has to be with the necessary requirements of being fully Catholic, not simply what the Pope says or what I say. … They have to say: “Yes, I do believe the Church is preserved from error by the Holy Spirit.” Then I can say, “Okay, then; you’re a Catholic.”

The society has been fed by people who use the word “error.” “Error” is a vague word in the Catholic Tradition. There are many different levels of error. Sometimes it means you’ve fallen into heresy; sometimes it means that you are rash.


Your new position is as vice president of Ecclesia Dei, but it’s not clear who you are replacing.

There was a vice president for a while, Msgr. Camille Perl. However, what they’ve done is fill a position which I believe has been empty for three years. I’m not sure when Msgr. Perl went into pensione [retirement].


Some have argued that you have been brought in to help prepare a canonical structure for the SSPX should they reconcile. Is this based on the extensive work you did in helping to create the Anglican ordinariate?

I don’t know; the Pope didn’t tell me why he chose me. I was involved in the ordinariate from the beginning. I was under secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, involved in discussions that led to formation of the ordinariate, but I am not a canonist. I didn’t have a direct role in the composition of the constitution, but, yes, I have experience, perhaps of dialogue.

The Anglicans who came to Rome seeking full communion would often come and see me. So I guess I must have some kind of gift that attracts them to me [laughs].


How much is a perceived weakening of the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the Church) a major part of the problem, as some traditionalists assert? Has today’s understanding of the dogma contradicted its earlier teaching?

I don’t know if you can blame this on the Council so much as the emergence of a theological trend that emphasized the possibility of salvation of non-Christians. But the Church has always affirmed this, and it has never denied it. … [Karl] Rahner had a disastrous effect on this with his “anonymous Christianity.” But the Council does not alter the teaching of the Church.


And yet they argue it does?

This is a very good example of two of the things we’ve mentioned: the danger of reading this as it’s been read by Rahner, instead of in the light of the whole Tradition.


They claim that salvation is hardly proclaimed anymore.

Ralph Martin agrees with that. We do have a crisis, because the Church has been infected with the idea that we don’t have to worry or be anxious or we don’t sufficiently take the mandate to proclaim Christ seriously. But it’s not because of Vatican II, but bad theology. That’s why Dominus Iesus  was part of the response to all of that theology of religion. There is no question that the necessity of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus has a long history. But they were talking about heretics, not nonbelievers. That formula addresses the problems of heresies. It has its history.

The Council did say there are elements of grace in other religions, and I don’t think that should be retracted. I’ve seen them, I know them — I’ve met Lutherans and Anglicans who are saints.


Some traditionalists say secular humanism frequently wins over dogmatic assertions in the modern Church. To give an example: The Holy Father has said he wouldn’t have lifted the excommunication on Bishop [Richard] Williamson had he known about his anti-Semitism. But while anti-Semitism is heinous, traditionalists say that such views aren’t a dogmatic position. And yet Catholic politicians can freely speak against the dogma and remain in full communion with the Church. What do you say to such an argument?

That’s a trap. Edward Norman, in his very good book Secularization, says there’s no question that what he calls internal secularization, secular humanism, has definitely invaded parts of the Church. They [SSPX] are probably right about that, and I could give them a longer list of examples than they could probably make themselves.

However, to try and defend Williamson on this basis is disgusting and odious. Is a politician the same thing as a bishop? Give me a break. It’s garbage; it’s sophistry.

Do they want a blanket excommunication of everyone who’s pro-choice? And yet here is a person, a bishop, who openly proclaims a position which the Church is desperately trying to suppress in the Church itself, which is anti-Semitism.


In the CDF statement that accompanied your appointment, it said your experience “will facilitate the development of certain desired liturgical provisions” in the celebration of the 1962 Roman Missal, commonly known as the Tridentine rite. Could you explain this in more detail?

There are two things: In the calendar, there are a lot of saints they would like to add, but the Roman Missal is fixed. There’s got to be a dialogue between them and the Congregation for Divine Worship on how to incorporate elements of the Roman calendar and how it has developed over the last 50 years. And then the prefaces: The old Roman Missal of 1962 has a very limited number of prefaces, and they are also interested in incorporating some of the prefaces. But because it’s the 1962 edition, who can revise the 1962 edition of the Missal?

In effect the Novus Ordo, the current Roman Missal, is a revision of the 1962 Roman Missal. So the issue is: How can they do this? I don’t know, but the job has to be done. We already had two meetings, between representatives of the congregation and representatives of Ecclesia Dei, to discuss how that could be done.


Mention was made of your good relations with the Jewish community. How good are those relations?

I’ve had long and warm relationships with various Jewish leaders from the time I was in the United States, working at the bishops’ conference, which has continued all along. They have come to see me every year. I don’t know if they’ve said anything in public, but on the phone they’re very happy. They know I’m sensitive to their concerns.


Nostra Aetate (a document believed by many to have helped foster better Jewish-Catholic relations) is a problem for the SSPX.

Yes, but remember: If you take the constitution exactly, as a jurist, there’s the broad and the strict, and that’s a disagreement that can be held by two justices simultaneously. So again, if they want to take a stricter reading of those conciliar texts, they’re perfectly free to do so theologically. But it doesn’t mean they have to be outside the Church, and they should argue against people based on theology.

If they believe Nostra Aetate is being badly interpreted, then they have to get into the battle to correctly interpret it. Rather than walk away from the field, they have to play the game.


Could a reconciliation be timely, given the problems in the Church and culture?

It’s my instinct; remember that until Benedict said in December 2005 in his address to the Curia, in which he made his famous discourse about hermeneutic of continuity, you couldn’t even talk about these things. So Benedict has liberated us for the first time.

You can now criticize [theologians Cardinal Henri-Marie] De Lubac, [Cardinal Yves] Congar, [Father Marie-Dominique] Chenu. And many young people are writing dissertations and books that were somehow impossible before. So I would say that the dominant progressivist reading of the Council is in retreat. It’s never been in retreat before. But insistence on continuity — they have to embrace that too.

Traditionalists have to be converted from seeing the Council as rupture and discontinuity.

This is a distinction [historian Roberto] de Mattei makes. The Council was experienced as a rupture, but doctrinally and theologically it has to be read in continuity — otherwise you must just as well throw in the towel.


Do you think SSPX fears their concerns won’t be safeguarded if they reconcile?

How will they not be safeguarded? Who’s telling them what to do? The only thing I’m telling them is: Vatican II is not a departure from Tradition.


Are you optimistic or pessimistic about reconciliation?

I’m neither; I just don’t know. I think it will be an act of grace.

In fact, I’m going to ask the Dominicans to start praying. I hope it’ll happen. The Pope doesn’t want this to continue — another sect, another division.


Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent. He blogs at

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