Plan to Relocate U.S. Embassy to Vatican Follows Recent Trend


VATICAN CITY — Does the Obama administration’s plan to relocate the U.S. embassy to the Holy See within the grounds of the American embassy to Italy signify a downgrade in U.S.-Vatican ties?

According to the State Department, the answer is a predictable and emphatic “no.”

“Security is our top priority in making this move,” wrote Shawn Casey Nov. 27 on Dipnote, an official State Department site. The new premises, he argued, will be “safer, bigger, and architecturally more appealing. It also is slightly closer to Vatican City.”

With the shift slated for completion by January 2015, the administration is at pains to point out that it has no plans to close the Holy See embassy, as some reports have suggested.

“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” Casey insisted. “Not only does the United States continue to respect the Holy See as a crucial bilateral partner … but Secretary [John] Kerry, our first Catholic Secretary of State in more than thirty years, is personally inspired by the Church’s work on issues from peace to global poverty, issues at the heart of Catholic social teaching.”

Still, that is not how some previous ambassadors to the Holy See — both Republican and Democrat — are viewing it. Former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson said the embassy’s planned move to the grounds of the U.S. Embassy to Italy is “another manifestation of the antipathy of this administration both to Catholics and to the Vatican — and to Christians in the Middle East.”

“This is a key post for intermediation in so many sovereignties but particularly in the Middle East,” Nicholson told “This is anything but a good time to diminish the stature of this post. To diminish the stature of this post is to diminish its influence.”

Nicholson, who served as ambassador from 2001-2005 under President George W. Bush, said that the State Department has sought for years to relocate the embassy.

“It came up when I was an ambassador. I explained the folly of this and it went away. But now they seem determined to do this,” he said.

Raymond Flynn, who served as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the Holy See, saw the move as leading eventually to possible closure. “It’s not just those who bomb churches and kill Catholics in the Middle East who are our antagonists, but it’s also those who restrict our religious freedoms and want to close down our embassy to the Holy See,” he told the National Catholic Reporter.


Mixed Feelings

Members of Rome’s diplomatic community contacted by the Register have mixed feelings about the move. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one senior official said he felt the administration was making a mistake at a time when Pope Francis is so popular among electorates, and President Barack Obama is under fire domestically following the botched Obamacare rollout.

“I think the administration will back down,” he said. “The move looks weak at a time when Obama is weak.”

But another senior diplomat was more positive, seeing the move as a sensible policy when budgets are tight and security is paramount.

“Most of our work takes place at our residences anyway, and that isn’t affected by this,” he said, as the administration has committed to maintaining a separate residence for the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. “Their new offices will also be larger and better equipped, so I don’t see any problem.”

Indeed, he suggested much of the opposition to the move was being whipped up by Republicans as a stick with which to beat the Obama administration.

Vatican officials are publicly unconcerned by the plans even though only three of the diplomatic missions to the Holy See in Rome are on the same compound as their embassies to Italy. The rest of those in the city are separate, in order to respect the Vatican’s sovereignty.


The British Precedent

But the Obama administration’s plans are somewhat reminiscent of what happened to the British embassy to the Holy See in 2006.

Britain’s then-Labour government was also looking to cut costs and saw its embassy to the Holy See as a prime target. Officials in London were unable to understand its significance, not least its valuable role as a “listening post” with an extensive network of contacts around the world.

Were it not for parliamentary pressure and some clever resistance from its serving ambassador, the embassy could well have closed altogether, as happened with Ireland’s embassy to the Holy See a few years later.

Using the argument of “enhanced security,” the British Foreign Office did succeed in moving the premises of its embassy from the center of Rome — which admittedly was rather vulnerable — to converted old stables in the compound of Britain’s embassy to Italy.

But British officials wanted to go even further, and relocate the Holy See ambassador’s residence to an annex of the British ambassador to Italy’s residence, as well as starve the Vatican embassy of staff and resources. Those attempts failed, partly due to protests by the Vatican.

At the time, diplomats in Rome feared a precedent was being set, and that other embassies would follow suit in a bid to cut costs.

In 2006, only Israel had both embassies on the same grounds. After Britain’s move, the Netherlands did the same, and Ireland closed theirs altogether, ostensibly because of the fallout over the clerical abuse scandals in the country.


Canadian Vacancy

But the most serious controversy doesn’t currently concern the U.S. or these other embassies, but rather the Canadian one.

Canada’s embassy to the Holy See has been so downgraded recently that Ottawa is unable to find an ambassador willing to take up the position. One candidate was ready to take up the role but when he heard what the terms were, he was said to be shocked at how basic they were.

For the past year, the mission has been without a serving ambassador and is currently being run by a charge d’affaires out of Madrid.

Rome’s diplomatic community sees the cutbacks as bizarre, especially because in February the Canadian government opened an Office for Religious Freedom. “It’s simply scandalous and very difficult to understand,” said one senior diplomatic source, “but it says something about Canada’s approach to foreign affairs.”

He also fears such actions point to a growing trend. “The Holy See need to be careful this doesn’t catch on,” he said. “Some are predicting there won’t be any independent located embassies to the Holy See in ten years’ time.”

All of which may partly explain why, after a relative fall in the Holy See’s diplomatic standing in recent years, Pope Francis is filling so many senior Curial positions with well-seasoned Vatican diplomats.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Pope, Putin Summit to Benefit Christians


When Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Pope Francis on Nov. 25, persecuted Christians in the Middle East will be not only central to their discussions but also significant to bringing the Catholics and the Orthodox closer together.

The foreign interests of both the Moscow Patriarchate (the church of Russia) and the Kremlin are dedicated to helping persecuted Christians, and the Kremlin is increasingly disposed to being a mediator between East and West, especially when it comes to Syria.

The Russian government has long had a number of close allies in the region, in part due its wish to safeguard a strategic naval defence in the Mediterranean and energy routes. The region also appeals to Putin’s nationalist tendencies, presenting an opportunity to exert Russia’s status on the world stage. Furthermore, the Kremlin has an interest in stemming rising Islamism in Syria and beyond, particularly in the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus republics.

That Putin sees Christians as a key factor in maintaining regional stability is not lost on the local people. Last month, around 50,000 Syrian Christians applied for Russian citizenship and the Kremlin is seriously considering their request.

The letter of application had fulsome praise for Putin’s Russia, which they described as a “powerful factor for global peace and stability.” By contrast, they were critical of the West’s support for “terrorists,” whose aim, they wrote, is “to eliminate our presence in our homeland.”

A spokesman at the Moscow Patriarchate said the request was proof of the “great authority” Russia currently has in the Middle East, “particularly among the Christian minorities living in that area.”

Archpriest Nikolaj Balashov, No. 2 at the Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, pointed out that Russia’s support is not new in the region: For centuries, he said, “no other country would look after their interests in the same way Russia would.”

Both state and church have been increasingly vocal on behalf of Christians in the Middle East. Earlier this year, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill sent President Barack Obama a letter, asking him to listen to religious leaders who “unanimously” opposed military intervention against President Bashar al-Assad.

In an editorial in “The New York Times” on Sept. 11, Putin made a point of mentioning Pope Francis and his warnings against military strikes on Syria.

The article followed a letter from the Pope to Putin at the G-20 meeting in St. Petersburg in the same month which is said to have elicited a good reaction, especially among the Russian intelligentia.

The alliance between the Pope, Putin, and Patriarch Kirill over Syria, particularly the Pope’s peace vigil on Sept. 7, “was crucial for avoiding the start of a war in Syria whose consequences no one was able to foresee,” says Jesuit professor Germano Marani of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. “The Western press has likely not much appreciated that.”

Putin has also kept up his efforts on behalf of Christians. Last week, in his first telephone conversation with Assad in two years, the Russian leader urged the Syrian president to do all he could to alleviate the suffering of civilians and voiced concern over the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities by extremists in the country.

Just how important the Mediterranean region of Levant is to Russia, both on a church and state level, was underlined recently by the Russian Orthodox Church’s “foreign minister.”

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev told political and religious officials in Beirut earlier this month of Russia’s decision to effectively act as the protector of Christians in the Levant and as their defender and legal representative — perhaps, he said, the only real one they have on an international level.

The goals, principles, and interests of the Russian Federation are predicated on “the survival of Levantine Christians in their countries, and their peaceful coexistence with their Muslim compatriots, away from external attempts to destabilize those countries,” he added.

But what makes Russia’s interests in the region so potent is the alliance between the Kremlin and the Orthodox in support of Christians — which is stronger than at any time in the post-communist era.

The closer ties, though, with obvious associated problems, are nevertheless also strengthening Catholic and Orthodox relations.

A good deal of common ground exists when it comes to the Middle East and moral values, and a unified voice is helping to further the chances of the first, long hoped-for meeting between a Catholic Pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch since the East-West Schism of 1054, in which Chalcedonian Christianity broke into Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) divisions, which later became commonly known as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, respectively.

“Though many have doubted [Putin’s] intentions and continue to do so, at least there is a continual and repeated insistence on the ethical issues that are the order of the day,” says professor Marani. The Russian government, he adds, is one of the “few institutional voices” to raise such ethical questions at the international level.

This and other factors have led to “significant advances” in Catholic-Orthodox relations, the Jesuit says. “A certain attitude of distrust toward Catholics is gradually changing.”

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Sacrosanctum Concilium Turns 50


VATICAN CITY — Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, turns 50 on Dec. 4. The main aim of the document was to achieve greater lay participation in the Catholic Church’s liturgy.

In this exclusive interview with the Register, Archbishop Arthur Roche, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, discusses the significance of the constitution, its fruits after half a century and how to address some of the problems that followed its promulgation.


What did Sacrosanctum Concilium set out to achieve? Why was it needed?

Sacrosanctum Concilium was the first document promulgated by the Second Vatican Council on Dec. 4, 1963. It was the fruit of a long process of growing thought from the early 1800s which is generally known as the “Liturgical Movement.” This document, of course, calls upon sources further back than this. For more than 100 years prior to this moment, however, there was a desire to enrich people’s appreciation and experience of the liturgy of the Roman rite. Both St. Pope Pius X and Pope Pius XII played a great part in this. They sought to help people understand the liturgy and to participate in it better, so that the liturgy might bear even greater fruit in their souls.

In response to this growing movement, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy wanted, above all, to put the Church’s liturgy on solid theological foundations, based on the exercise of the priesthood of Christ in the mystical body, which is the Church.

The Council Fathers wished to deepen the Christian life of the faithful and to strengthen the ecclesiological significance of worship with the understanding that, in the words of the document itself, “the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 2).

In the liturgy, it is Christ himself who is at work. It is where he manifests, makes present and communicates his work of salvation. The renewal of the liturgy wanted, above all, to provide a fresh understanding of this — not least, the meaning of the rites, a deeper theological grasp of what the words and the signs mean, which ultimately is about what God does, what God accomplishes when the sacred liturgy is celebrated.

One particular phrase, which is often associated with this renewal, is that of “active participation.” In fact, this wasn’t something that was first expressed in this document. It had its origins in St. Pope Pius X’s teaching on the liturgy from 1903. This does not mean that everybody needs to be running around doing things.

No, participation happens, first of all, at a much deeper level, in the mind and the heart, and this is greatly assisted when a person understands what is happening in the sacred liturgy. Why was this needed?

Well, it is clear that not everyone understood what was going on when they went to church. Not everyone was aware of the part they were playing as a “priestly people.” That is not to say that they weren’t praying, but just that, in the main, they would have found it very difficult to pray along with the priest or to understand why various things were done in the liturgy.


What would you say have been the fruits of the constitution?

Sacrosanctum Concilium was the first document and, therefore, a highly significant signal to the Church and the world from the Second Vatican Council. It was a clear reminder that all things begin in and through the Lord in worship and in prayer. There is no substitute for this.

What God does in the liturgy is what we have to do in the world beyond it — the manifesting of the mystery of Christ to others. This is very succinctly expressed today when the deacon says at the dismissal at Mass, “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord!” It has to be said that, for many, the message of the Second Vatican Council is seen through the liturgical renewal that took place in the 1960s. Some say that the success of the liturgical reform is to be found in the fact that it has brought the liturgy closer to the people. Another way of perceiving that, however, is to understand that it was seeking to bring the people closer to the liturgy. I believe that it did.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church paints a wonderful picture of what happens when we celebrate the liturgy — and strikingly begins with the mystery of Pentecost, the significance of which should not be overlooked.

Pentecost is the culmination of Jesus’ paschal mystery, where the crucified and now risen and ascended Lord lavishes on the world the Spirit with which he himself was anointed. What Jesus did in one time and place, therefore, is extended to every time and place through his Holy Spirit.

Indeed, this extension is the Church, that is, the assembly of all whom Jesus draws to himself when he is lifted up. This understanding is greatly assisted by good catechesis at every level. Within the English-speaking world, for example, the recent publication of the third edition of the Roman Missal in English offered a great opportunity for dioceses to revisit this. Many catechetical resources were produced then which are excellent educational tools still. Much of the faith is communicated through the liturgy, so a deeper understanding of what is going on there is an enrichment of one’s faith.

The vast majority of practicing Catholics are very grateful to be able to pray the Mass in their own language, to understand easily what is said and to appreciate the gestures. There is no doubt that it has greatly assisted people’s growth in the spiritual life.

One of the great desires of the Council, for example, was to make the Scriptures more prominent in the life of the Church. Well, the concepts within the prayers of the Missal are taken from sacred Scripture. It could, therefore, be said that in teaching people to pray in this way, you are bringing them closer to the word of God. What an immense gift that is!

I also think that the liturgical reforms are of great assistance to people who are seeking faith. Many people are spiritually adrift and seeking something more in life. Having a liturgy that is sacred yet comprehensible helps them to find a home in the Catholic Church.

This will become increasingly more important in the future, especially if our culture in the West continues its move away from its Christian foundations.


Some argue that, although it has borne fruit, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy has been “instrumentalized and subjectified.” If this is true, why did this happen, and what is being done to restore the exact interpretation of this document and to advance the mission it set out to accomplish?

Pope Benedict XVI liked to point out that the liturgical reforms needed to be understood ever more deeply “on the basis of a greater awareness of the mystery being celebrated and its relation to daily life” (Sacrosanctum Caritatis, 52) .

The liturgy not only helps form Catholics in their prayer; it also imparts the faith, gives a deeper appreciation of the exercise of the priesthood of the baptized and helps to refocus the Church’s missionary outreach — all of which are themes central to the teaching of the Council.

It is true to say, however, that, in some places, due to a lack of understanding of what the Constitution of the Liturgy was really saying, that some unfortunate developments during these years have lead, in some instances, more to a spirit of entertaining people than leading them in prayer and a profound understanding of God’s salvific action in the liturgy.

The liturgy is more about what God does than what we do! We are taking part in something very sacred. However, in some places, changes to the celebration of the liturgy were made that were neither authorized by Sacrosanctum Concilium, nor by the pope, nor by the bishops. In that sense, therefore, one can see that the liturgy was, in certain parts of the world, “instrumentalized” and “subjectified,” in that some people took this moment of change as an opportunity to try and modify the liturgy into whatever they wanted it to be. That is not what liturgy is.

We must always remember the cautionary words of St. Paul to the Church in Corinth, whose liturgical practices had become utterly bizarre. He reminded them, when talking about the Eucharist, that what he had passed on to them in faithfulness had, in fact, been received by him directly from the Lord himself. It was not of his own making. It came directly from Christ.

The liturgy is not only a sacred, but also a Divine, institution — and something that is not fanciful or of our making or which suits our moods. Also, there is never a good reason for poor liturgy or liturgical performance. This is a moment of serious encounter with God, above all else.

C.S. Lewis once noted: “The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather, it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual.” As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of this document, I think it is true to say that there is a greater understanding today of what this constitution was all about. A new generation that did not live through the changes that immediately followed the Council has arrived, and there is much less interest in liturgical experimentation and novelty.

Given the difficulties of living the faith in modern times, I think many people are not interested in seeing the liturgy as entertainment or as something that needs to be constantly changed. They just want to draw close to God and to pray; they want to be nourished by the sacraments and to be strengthened, so that they can live their lives as faithful disciples of Jesus. This is a special moment that is bearing a rich harvest.


Is a further document needed to redress and remove the abuses that took place after the Council?

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in assisting the Holy Father and in cooperation with the world’s bishops, has a unique perspective on the celebration of the liturgy throughout the world. Sacrosanctun Concilium is a Council document, so will stand without alteration.

In recent years, however, and in response to questions and concerns, our congregation has already done a great deal to respond to evident abuses and to clarify certain issues. Two documents are particularly significant. First, the long-titled “Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of the Priest,” which was jointly issued by eight Vatican offices in 1997. And second, the instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, which was published by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2004.

These two documents clarify many aspects of the liturgical practice that the Church wishes to see adhered to, and they have played an important role in the modification of many eccentric liturgical practices. Of course, there are other documents too, regarding specific matters, but which are too long to list here.

It is often said that things move slowly in the Church, but as I meet bishops and groups from different parts of the world, I am becoming more aware that liturgical formation is improving greatly, not least in seminaries. I also detect that bishops have become more sensitive to the right of the faithful to be able to celebrate the liturgy in its integrity and that they are working to ensure that this is the case in practice.

In short, I would say that there is not a pressing need at the moment for a further document to address liturgical abuses. It is to be remembered that the local bishops are responsible for the moderation of the liturgy in their dioceses and ensuring that good catechetical programs for liturgical formation are available to priests and laity alike.


What are the Holy Father’s views on Sacrosanctum Concilium and his views on the liturgy in general?

It would be a little presumptuous of me to speak in terms of the Holy Father’s “views” regarding Sacrosanctum Concilium. What is incontrovertible is his adherence to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, of which the liturgy was a central factor.

From a practical point of view, the Pope keeps a close eye on the work of the Roman congregations, which includes the work that we are involved in. His first utterance on the liturgy since his election can be found in his address to the Bishops of ICEL [International Commission on English in the Liturgy], who met in Rome recently. I haven’t had the opportunity to read all that he has ever written or said on the matter. However, one only has to experience the dignity with which he celebrates Mass, both at the solemn occasions in St. Peter’s as well as in the privacy of his own chapel, to realize the deep reverence he has for the sacred liturgy and the prayerfulness with which he comports himself and inspires others who are present. He is a model for us all, bishops and priests alike.

What is also clear, in the overall view of things which he expresses, is his emphasis on the need for Christ’s followers to live their faith in a genuine way, and in so doing, to reach out to those who are in need and to help draw others into a friendship with Jesus.

As Sacrosanctum Concilium reminds us, the spring from which this flows is in the Eucharist, the source and the summit of the Church’s life and activity.

Edward Pentin is the register’s Rome correspondent.

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Russia’s Interest in Protecting Christians in the Middle East


(Rome/ – When Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Pope Francis on Nov. 25th, persecuted Christians in the Middle East will be central to the discussions, potentially acting as a catalyst towards warmer Catholic-Orthodox relations.

The foreign interests of both the Patriarchate of Moscow and the Kremlin are both dedicated to helping persecuted Christians, with the Kremlin increasingly disposed to being a mediator between East and West, especially when it comes to Syria.

The Russian government has long had a number of close allies in the region partly due its strategic naval defence location in the Mediterranean and the need to maintain energy exports. The region also offers Russia an opportunity to exert its status on the world stage while resistance to rising Islamism in Syria and the wider region is important to a Kremlin anxious about Muslim extremists in the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus republics.

Putin sees protecting Christians as a key factor in maintaining regional stability. Last month, around 50,000 Syrian Christians applied for Russian citizenship and the Kremlin is seriously considering the request. Their application, made in a letter, was full of praise for Putin’s Russia, which they described as a “powerful factor for global peace and stability”. By contrast, they were critical of the West for supporting terrorists whose aim is “to eliminate our presence in our homeland.”

A spokesman at the Patriarchate of Moscow said the request was proof of the “great authority” Russia currently has in the Middle East, “particularly among the Christian minorities living in that area.” Archpriest Nikolaj Balashov, number two at the Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, pointed out that Russia’s support is not new in the region: for centuries, he said, “no other country would look after their interests in the same way Russia would.”

Both state and church have been increasingly vocal on behalf of Christians in the Middle East. Earlier this year, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill sent President Barack Obama a letter, asking him to listen to religious leaders who “unanimously” opposed military intervention against Assad. In an editorial in the New York Times Sept. 11, Putin made a point of mentioning Pope Francis and his warnings against military strikes on Syria after the Pontiff mentioned his concerns in a letter to Putin at the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg in the same month.

Last week, in his first telephone conversation with President Assad in two years, Putin urged the Syrian leader to do all he could to alleviate the suffering of civilians and voiced concern over the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities by extremists in the country.

Just how important the Levant is to Russia, both on a church and state level, was underlined recently by the Russian Orthodox Church’s “foreign minister.”

Shortly before leaving for Rome earlier this month, Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Department of External Church Relations in the Russian Orthodox Church, met with a number of state, political and religious officials in Beirut.

In the closed door meeting he said he brought with him a number of messages, the most important of which was Russia’s decision to effectively act as the protector of Christians in the Levant and as their defender and legal representative – perhaps the only real one they have on an international level.

The goals, principles and interests of the Russian Federation are predicated on “the survival of Levantine Christians in their countries, and their peaceful coexistence with their Muslim compatriots, away from external attempts to destabilize those countries,” he said.

But what makes Russia’s interests in the region so potent is the alliance between the Kremlin and the Orthodox in support of Christians is stronger than at any time in the post-communist era.

And the alliance is strengthening Catholic and Orthodox dialogue. Although Church leaders have expressed some dissatisfaction with progress in dialogue on a theological level, a good deal of common ground exists when it comes to the Middle East and moral values.

This can only help to foster a closer alliance between the Catholic and Orthodox churches, further increasing the chances of the long hoped-for meeting between a Catholic pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch since the Great Schism of 1054.

It will also give Christians in the region timely, valuable and much needed support.

Archbishop Fisichella on Year of Faith: ‘A Very Evident Moment of Grace’


VATICAN CITY — The Year of Faith, which comes to an end on Nov. 24, the Solemnity of Christ the King, has been a “year of grace” characterized by “enthusiasm and dynamism” that has brought many Catholics back to the faith, says Archbishop Rino Fisichella.

As president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, he has led the Vatican department that has been the principal organizer of the year’s events. Archbishop Fisichella sat down with the Register Nov. 6 to share his reflections on the last 12 months, during which he discussed the challenges facing the New Evangelization and how Catholics need to radically change if it is to be effective.


Your Excellency, from your perspective, what have been the main achievements regarding the Year of Faith?

First of all, it was really a moment of grace — a very evident moment of grace. We cannot forget that. We started the Year of Faith with Pope Benedict, and we continued with another pope, Francis. Of course, this was a unique experience during the Year of Faith, and for many people, it was a concrete act of faith because we are not used to having a pope resign. Many people were probably touched by this experience.

And then there was the enthusiasm about the election of Pope Francis. This was another experience of faith: two different personalities but, in any case, continuity in the Catholic faith.

So this is, first of all, the experience that we have. But second, I would also say it underlined the enthusiasm and dynamism among our people. We’re used now to stressing that these times are a moment of crisis, but we [in this discastery] don’t think that.

Of course, there is currently a crisis of faith, and we are experiencing a global crisis during this peculiar moment of the world. But while we normally underline this aspect of crisis, we do see, with the same realism, that there is such a great dynamic of faith and enthusiasm for the faith that was experienced this year. Also, I would say we experienced unity in the Church through different experiences, initiatives and events.

Look at the bottle over there. In it is a model ship, the logo of the Year of Faith, and that was made by a man in jail in the Philippines. He sent it to me. So, also in jail in the Philippines, they experienced the Year of Faith. There was a young lady from Niger, a country where Catholics make up just 1% of the population, whose name was Marie Cecile. She said [to me]: “When I go back to my country I feel I will never be alone in my life because of the experience of living the faith together — it was something so profound and unique for me that, coming back, I know now the Church is together with me.”


How much effect do you think the Year will have had on lapsed Catholics? Do you think we will see many reversions from it?

I don’t know if it was the Year of Faith or the occasion of a new pope, but, certainly, we had, in these last months, a great experience of people coming back to the faith. We have many personal testimonies from priests around the world — in Italy, France and the U.S., too. That has really been the general reaction. Many people have come back and asked for the sacrament of penance. Especially during Easter time, we had a really great, great impact, with these people coming back after many years far away from the Church.


How much do you think this has to do with Pope Francis, who has emphasized many times the need to go out to the periphery?

The nature of the Church is to evangelize. At this dicastery, we underline daily that to evangelize doesn’t mean staying in our community, but going outside it. Pope Francis, from the beginning of his ministry as bishop of Rome and as the pope, has said we need to go to the peripheries of life. So I think this is a great help. Probably many people, in their own circumstances, have been waiting to hear this message and will be touched by its continued proclamation.


Looking back on the year, is there anything you might have done differently or any initiatives you wanted to do and might do in the future?

It was such a rich moment of faith, when you think of the young people receiving confirmation. It has been a great moment of happiness and enthusiasm, of such popular piety and confraternity, but also religious piety.

To take the event on Pentecost, when 200,000 people from movements, associations came to Rome, and then a meeting of seminarians, of families and of catechists and all of these meetings. It was so full of experiences: catechesis, pilgrimage to the tomb of Peter, confessions, adoration — moments that pilgrims lived in a very intense way. That was wonderful.

But if I can say one event was, for me, unique, and it was unique because it was the first time it had happened in the history of the Church: For one hour, around the whole world, we were in unity around the Eucharist. That was something unprecedented.

There was an attempt in the last century, but never this. It really was a moment of grace for me. Believe me, it was something great.

I remember the title of a very interesting book from Hans Urs von Balthasar — I am a disciple of his, and so I have studied him all of my life — called This Is the Heart of the World (Das Herz der Welt). During this hour, I said, ‘This moment Christ really is the heart of the world, because never have we had a moment like it.’ No words; just silence and the presence of Christ among us and within us. This was a real unique and enthusiastic moment for the Year of Faith.


Some argue that for the New Evangelization to be truly effective, it’s necessary to return to the Church’s Tradition and roots, and that without that consciousness of 2,000 years of the Church, the New Evangelization will be less effective, less potent. Do you agree with this?

No, I repeat that the nature of the Church is to evangelize. Without evangelization, there is no Church. That should be very clear. We are speaking of a New Evangelization, and this expression can be useful or useless; because the most important thing is to create, once again, among our people — Christians — the consciousness that they are called to be evangelizers. This is the New Evangelization.

It is necessary and urgent to understand that we are at a peculiar moment of our history, a peculiar moment of a real cultural change. To evangelize up until the last century was probably easier because there was a great sense of unity within the Church. Then you knew who was the enemy of your faith: atheism. But atheism in the past was just a theoretical and philosophical system. Today it’s different; the culture is different.

We are confronted with atheistic behavior, and people don’t know they are atheists because they are living in a very pagan way. For this reason, it is more difficult to evangelize.


Is it atheism or more of a prevailing, subconscious agnosticism, one which eventually leads to atheism?

In some ways, it can be this as well, in that they don’t care. But for me, the problem is not atheism or agnosticism. The problem is that people don’t feel any more the absence of God in their life as an absence. This is the problem for us today: the necessity of a relationship with God; that means a relationship with yourself.

If you don’t have a relationship with God, you cannot also have a relationship with yourself. So people today probably don’t understand that the absence of God is a confusion within your life, that you don’t understand any more who you are because there is no more relationship with the Transcendent. What is present is just material; you take what you want. So, in my humble opinion, the challenge today is not to do something. First of all, we should be aware of the necessity for a new spirit to evangelize. This is more important for me.


Looking at the recent history of conversions to the Church in England and Wales, numbers were rising to their highest levels in 1959 before plunging over the following 10 years and never really recovering. In light of this, what sort of new evangelical approach should the Church have? Should she look back to when there were such high numbers of conversions? Does it show the Church was doing something right then, but not now?

I won’t talk about a strategy. The New Evangelization is not about a strategy. It’s not a pastoral strategy in order to create new conversions. I think that the problem is our style of life. So I just have one question: What happened in Antioch when there was a group of 25 or 30 people — disciples who were, for the first time, called Christians? What happened in Antioch 20 centuries ago? Antioch was the New York, London or Rome today, because it was very interracial, multicultural. But this small group of people — 20-30 people, maybe 55 at most — were recognized by everybody as Christians. Today, we are 1.2 billion Catholics, and no one recognizes us. So this is the problem for me.

What has happened? My opinion is that our style of life as Catholics is pagan. It’s no longer recognized by others, so we live like others. In the second century, we had the Letter of Dionysus, and you can read that, at the beginning of the second century, Christians didn’t dress in a special way; they didn’t eat in a special way. They observed laws like everyone but — but — their style of life was so paradoxical that they were recognized by everyone.


What made them differentiate themselves from others exactly?

We no longer today have that Christian style of life. That’s very clear. And we justify everything. We probably don’t take seriously the radicality of our faith any more.

I don’t know the expression in English, but in Italian, we say that “we put water into the wine until the wine doesn’t taste like wine any more but as water.” We don’t have the radicality of our faith anymore, and that is the reason for conversion. If we as Christians baptize but in our lives we don’t show that we’ve encountered Christ, really in a concrete way, how can we proclaim it? How can we re-evangelize others? Our words are just empty words.


Has that desire to live the radicalness of the Gospel also been lost because we don’t preach any more the imperative of being in the Church to be saved?

My intervention at the Synod [on the New Evangelization in 2012] was very clear on that theme. I said it seems to me that our communities are now so bureaucratic that we don’t show our living community any more, our life of sharing with people, what we are.

There is a kind of bureaucratization in our relationship that is tremendous. So you go to church just because you need a paper or a service, because you need to receive something, but there isn’t a living community welcoming and accepting you and living with communion. Communion is one of the most important words for our life.


What about salvation?

Sure, we don’t speak about many topics any more, about salvation. Where in our homilies, teaching, catechesis do you hear the words salvation or redemption?


Do you feel that if it is not preached, people won’t feel compelled to come in?

You should not say something to people in order to come back to the Church. You should convey the necessity to give a sense of meaning to people’s lives, the sense that your life is Jesus Christ, who died and is risen for our salvation. This is the specificity of our faith. So what do I have original in my faith except that?

We are in the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. At the extraordinary synod of 1985, 20 years after the conclusion of the Council, John Paul II asked the bishops about they thought about actualization of the Council. The final conclusion was that “probably we gave attention to structures of Church, and we forget to preach Jesus Christ.” I think that, after 30 years, we should repeat the same. It’s sad, very sad for me, but probably we forget to preach the essential aspects and originality of our life, of our religion.


What will your department focus on now?

Once you find the essential, to focus on Jesus Christ, because this is what we are, and then you should find a common language, an experience for all the Church.

I think the New Evangelization should probably also be a necessity to make one common experience and to find one common language, one common context in our pastoral work: and then in our different Churches we can be in a different way with different methods. So the experience we had in preparation of the Jubilee for 2000, for one year all the Church was thinking, reflecting, praying — everything focusing on God the Father. Then the second year, the focus was on Jesus Christ, and the third year, the Spirit. And then today, we experience that with the Year of Faith. So I am convinced if we find — I don’t know how — a common pastoral understanding, a common pastoral approach and engagement in our pastoral work, probably we find again the way of announcing in a meaningful way Jesus Christ, the Gospel.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Read more:

Marco Roncalli on His Great-Uncle, Blessed John XXIII


Marco Roncalli is the great-nephew of soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Pope John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli.

He is also the author of Giovanni XXIII — Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli: Una Vita Nella Storia (John XXIII — Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli: A Life in History) and the editor of correspondence from 1933-1962 between John XXIII, Loris Francesco Capovilla, John XXXIII’s secretary, and Giuseppe De Luca, a close friend of the Pope.

Roncalli shared his views on the life and personality of John XXIII in this email interview with the Register, given in October. He has a new book on his great-uncle coming out next year in time for the April 27 canonization.

(An edited version of this interview appeared in the National Catholic Register, 8 Nov. 2013)


What was Angelo Roncalli really like? Was he a simple country priest or someone more complex ?

He has certainly been a complex figure, much more complex than the cliché of the “good pope”. His path in life was complex, rich and spiritual, like the example he gave through his Christian virtues, delineated in the history of mankind. His complexity was also reflected throughout his life because he was able to talk face to face with God in prayer but also to find Him in the work and affairs of mankind. And that complexity also derived from positive influences on him from important figures: I think of the ten years when he was secretary to a great bishop: Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi, as well as complex situations he experienced in Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, and France. Despite this, the complexity never undermined his genuine, authentic simplicity – that he was cloaked in humility, as one reads in his autobiography, “Journal of a Soul”, his spiritual notebook, and as he expressed in so many words, gestures and actions that shine like stars in his life.

How was his decision to call the Second Vatican Council consistent with his character ?

John XXIII knew the history of the Church. He had studied the Apostolic Visit of St. Charles [Borromeo] to Bergamo [in 1575], knew the synodal instruments and, during his time in the East, he became familiar with the history of the ecumenical councils, the first eight in particular – the five Lateran Councils and Trent. He knew above all that a council was the instrument for solving problems of which he was aware, as priest and pastor. This was emphasized by the pastoral intention of the council, delineated by three aspects: the opening of the Church to the modern world, the reconstruction of unity among Christians, and the theme of justice and peace. But the seeds of the council were inside him. His wish for a council was a personal decision, expressed immediately after the election his personal secretary, Monsignor Loris Capovilla, recalled the Pope had told him of the idea. “The first time was on October 30, 1958, forty-eight hours after his election.” It’s true that the idea had already been discussed among other churchmen, cardinals, and even popes. But the intention of Pope John was for another council. He wanted to rejuvenate the Church (to him, she was “not a museum but always a garden”), to be able to respond to the questions piling up on his desk, to start the restoration of Christian unity, to give voice to the universality of the Church, to shore up the exercise of episcopal collegiality, to discern the “signs of the times”. He didn’t have to invent anything revolutionary. As a student of history, he knew that the most suitable instrument is always present in the dynamics of the history of the Church.

Some have said that he had a low regard Pope St. Pius X, and alluded to this in an interview with Corriere della Sera in 1959, the first papal interview in a secular newspaper. How true is this ?

Pius X was the pope who had blessed him immediately after his ordination. Then, when Roncalli was Patriarch of Venice, he showed great affection to his predecessor [Pius X, formerly Giuseppe Sarto, was Patriarch of Venice 1893-1903]. He fought for his remains to be returned and put on display for the faithful on a pilgrimage. Some truth relates to the suffering placed on “his” bishop, Radini Tedeschi, during the pontificate of Giuseppe Sarto and in relation to the trend of modernism [Pius X demoted Radini Tedeschi to the diocese of Bergamo as he disagreed with his modernist tendencies; Roncalli later became Radini Tedeschi’s private secretary]. But one should immediately say clearly here that Roncalli went through the storm of modernism by developing a response that was faithful to the Church, different from his seminary companion and the then-standard-bearer of modernism, Ernesto Buonaiuti. In any case, I don’t recall almost anything to say that Angelo Roncalli was fascinated by [the] dialectic between scientific research and the choice of faith. For example, he studied and read the writings of Bishops John Ireland [Irish-America known for his progressive stance on education, immigration and relations between church and state, his opposition to political corruption, and as a promoter of the Americanization of Catholicism], John Spalding [American author, poet, co-founder of the Catholic University of America], Cardinal James Gibbons [one of the first American cardinals, he advocated protection of labor and played a key role in the granting of Papal permission for Catholics to join labor unions].

What are the key characteristics of Pope Francis that link him to Pope John XXIII?

I was in St. Peter’s Square when Jorge Bergoglio came out for the first time onto the loggia after the white smoke. And, after his unique blessing addressed to “all men and women of good will” , I immediately had the feeling that in his actions and in his words there was something to evoke the figure of John XXIII. After that first assurance that evening, in the embrace of the Colonnade, other comparisons would follow, always in greater numbers, including the pronunciations of distinguished cardinals that came thick and fast. There was Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of CEI [Italian bishops conference], who said he saw in Francis the “style , simplicity , goodness, but also the ability to govern of John XXIII.” There was African Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum: “Pope Francis is a good figure like Pope Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli.” There was Cardinal Joseph Zen of China and Hong Kong who said that “when people know Francis they will love him as they loved John XXIII.” Other cardinals have also agreed on the comparison such as the former secretary of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. And speaking of secretaries of popes, the key test came from Archbishop Capovilla: he has already been reported as saying several times that Francis reminds him a lot – even in his physical traits – of “his” John XXIII, who, almost at the same moment of the election, also took the key word “mercy” as his point of departure and immediately called his Petrine ministry a ‘service’ – the two emerging leitmotifs.

What are your views on John XXIII’s canonization? What examples or anecdotes best demonstrate his holiness?

Pope Francis, in his words and deeds, has so far revealed the most creative “reception” of the Council and not by chance “pro gratia ” did he make further investigation [into miracles] unnecessary, further unlocking a process that Wojtyla had already unlocked with [John XXIII’s] beatification. For millions of people the is “good news” , but for those who were close to Angelo Roncalli, or have known the family well, it was “confirmation” of what was seen over time: an everyday holiness lived in normality. If you reread a synthesis of the life of John XXIII, as you will see in my upcoming book that will be published in Italy next year by Edizioni San Paolo, one uncovers not only his experience of holiness, but also the universal virtues that he delineated. Throughout his whole life Roncalli tried to become a saint, the leitmotif he constantly returns to in his writings. Year after year, he discovers what matters is the substance needed to become a saint; it’s not about mimicking other figures, but achieving a degree that is possible for him. Also as Pope, he once wrote: “Since everyone calls me Holy Father, as if this was my first title, well, then I must and I want to be him for real.” I also believe that his was primarily a “public holiness”,  taking time to help make clear to people the real value of life, and what is conducive to their salvation. And this can also be seen in that the recognition bestowed on him by Pope Francis which serves not him [John XXIII], but is inviting us to follow “a shining light for the journey ahead of us”, to live with the goal of reachable holiness, also aware of another thing: that if the virtues are human exercises, the shaping of holiness, including that of Pope John, must be left to God.

Spying on the Pope


ZENIT – 31-10-13: The U.S. National Security Agency has denied it targeted the Vatican by tapping the phones of the Pope and senior Vatican officials, saying the allegations, published in the Italian magazine Panorama, were “not true.”

But notwithstanding the NSA’s statement, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that the Vatican has been a target of intercepts or espionage.

The Vatican has long been considered an ideal “listening post,” drawing on a vast network of priests, missionaries, religious, diplomats and laity.

And as recently as 2010, Benedict XVI’s calls were intercepted by the Italian police who admitted to tapping his telephone as part of their investigation into Guido Bertolaso, Italy’s civil protection chief, then accused of corruption.

Benedict XVI was not accused of any wrongdoing; he had simply made four telephone calls to Bertolaso who had led rescue efforts after a devastating earthquake in L’Aquila in 2009.

Vatican officials were said at the time to be furious about the intercepts.


Cardinal Agostino Casaroli

More recently, the Vatican itself carried out its own telephone surveillance. During the 2012 investigation into the leaking of confidential documents from the papal household, the Vatican admitted to authorising “some intercepts and checks” that involved the wiretapping of “two or three” telephone lines.

But none of these incidents comes close to the extent of phone tapping and spying on the Vatican that went on in the 20th century.

Long history

During the Cold War, numerous operatives were able to infiltrate the Vatican and send back valuable information to Moscow.

In his book, “Spies in the Vatican – The Soviet Union’s War Against the Catholic Church,” author John Koehler reveals how, for years, Soviet leaders enjoyed regular access to the inner deliberations of Vatican leaders, thanks to the work of several spy networks. He shows how Communist intelligence chiefs exploited the Vatican’s role as a forum for policy discussions, reporting back sensitive diplomatic strategies laid bare at the Holy See by American and European leaders.

Koehler says the KGB relied heavily upon “bugs” planted in key Vatican offices, and recounts one particularly odious incident when a housekeeper couple presented a ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary to Cardinal Agostino Casaroli. The cardinal was uncle of the housekeeper’s husband.

“What a betrayal by his own nephew!,” Koehler writes. “Inside the revered religious icon was a ‘bug,’ a tiny but powerful transmitter which was monitored from outside the building by the couples’ handler from the Soviet embassy in Rome.” He said another transmitter was hidden in an armoire in the cardinal’s dining room.

Koehler writes that much of the spying on the Vatican during the Cold War was carried out by agents from the East German security service, the Stasi, and Bulgarian and Polish secret services. Their information was quickly shared with the KGB.

How much involved bugs, spies within the Vatican, or phone tapping is not clear, but in 1970 the KGB had full access to a meeting between Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and the then Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Jean Villot, in 1970. The two discussed President Nixon’s intentions regarding Southeast Asia, Middle East tensions and SALT negotiations. Koehler says that Leonid Brezhnev would later receive a word-for-word account of the meeting.


During the Second World War, the Vatican was viewed by the allied powers to be “un covo di spie” – a nest of spies – partly because of the large number of Italian-born officials thought to have sympathies with Mussolini’s fascist regime, but also because of foreign diplomats who had sought refuge in the Vatican.

The extent of the spying is explained in some detail in Owen Chadwick’s “Britain and the Vatican During the Second World War” – an account that includes details of Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, and his time spent living inside the Vatican during the German occupation of Rome.

“No one, whether papal or diplomatic, could do anything without the Italian government knowing,” Chadwick writes, adding that what worried the Curia most was that spies would fabricate stories to prove the Vatican was an enemy of Italy and so force the expulsion of foreign diplomats such as Osborne.

He says that the Vatican police largely worked for the Fascists, and that Italians tapped Vatican phones and opened letters and telegrams destined for the Holy See (the Vatican, he adds, also tapped telephones in an attempt at counter-espionage).

The Vatican vigorously protested the interceptions at least five times, Chadwick says, mainly taking issue with tampered mail. The protests were always supported by Italy’s ambassador to the Holy See. But he says Italy’s Ministry of the Interior “was determined not to give way.” Their view, said to themselves but not to the Vatican, was that in a state of war and with the nation in crisis, the clauses of the Lateran Treaty must give way.

“Occasionally to satisfy the Vatican, they would dismiss an employee whose censoring methods were too patent or too clumsy,” Chadwick says. “But they had no intention of ceasing to check on Vatican mail, at least by spot checks. And they were quite successful. Files of ambassadors’ letters can still be found in the archives of the Italian government.”

Chadwick also reveals that the Gestapo had an agent inside the Secretariat of State as early as 1939-40. “The Pope was aware of his existence,” he writes, adding that senior Curial officials also knew of his assigned tasks (primarily to monitor the behaviour of the German bishops and their correspondence) and so he was “largely ineffective.”

The agent was “almost certainly” Alexander Kurtna, Chadwick says, an Estonian seminarian who, because he was found to have had no vocation, remained a layman and did translation work for various Vatican offices. He was found out when Italian intelligence arrested him in 1942 on suspicion of spying for the Russians, and later found “he was also, or instead, a spy for the Gestapo.”

But a more prominent spy was Virgilio Scattolini. Dismissed as a journalist with L’Osservatore Romano in 1939, he started selling information to the Germans in 1941. The material, Chadwick writes, “was sometimes quite lurid, and sometimes had a slim foundation in Vatican gossip.”

Other infiltrators were sought out on the orders of the head of the German Sicherheitsdienst, Reinhard Heydrich. One of the chief architects of the Holocaust, Heydrich wanted to place trustworthy informers into the Vatican system and among German theological students studying in Rome.


Spying was also a feature of World War I. A serious breach occurred when a Bavarian Monsignor, Rudolph Gerlach, “chamberlain and confident” to Pope Benedict XV – probably the closest equivalent to Archbishop Georg Gaenswein today – was discovered to be a spy for the Germans. But Benedict XV was merciful to his long-serving aid, and personally arranged his safe passage to Switzerland in 1917.  His fate after his return, however, is unknown.

No doubt a counter-espionage force would have been helpful during both world wars. The Vatican once had one, but it ceased operating decades before. In his book “Spies In The Vatican:  Espionage & Intrigue From Napoleon to the Holocaust,” David Alvarez explains that efforts to subvert the Vatican’s secular power in the 19thcentury were so prevalent that an unofficial Vatican security service was formed. It was cutback after 1870 when the papacy was forced to give up its territories, and the Vatican relied instead on clergy to solve problems of confidential communications and information gathering.

The Vatican aside, spying on popes is nothing new, also in recent times. Blessed John Paul II was continually monitored by the Communists, both before and after his election. Before he was elected, Benedict XVI was also the focus of surveillance by the East German Stasi, details of which we documented here.

The Vatican is, therefore, no stranger to espionage. Were the allegations of NSA phone tapping true, the U.S. would have joined a list of rogue nations who have been historically hostile to the Catholic Church, something the Obama administration would no doubt have wished to avoid.

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