Bringing the Liturgy Back to the Real Vatican II


The abuses of the sacred liturgy that followed the reforms of the Second Vatican Council are “strictly correlated” with a great deal of moral corruption that exists in the world today, says Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke.

In an exclusive interview with ZENIT on the sidelines of Sacra Liturgia 2013, a major international conference on the liturgy held in Rome at the end of June, the Vatican’s most senior American says poor liturgies have also led to “a levity in catechesis” that has been “shocking” and left generations of Catholics ill prepared to deal with today’s challenges.

BurkeIn a wide-ranging discussion, Cardinal Burke, who serves as Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, also explains the importance of liturgical law, Pope Francis’ approach to the liturgy, and why the sacred liturgy is vital to the New Evangelization.

ZENIT: Your Eminence, what were your hopes for this conference?

Cardinal Burke: My hope for the conference was a return to the teaching of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on the sacred liturgy. Indeed, [I was hoping for] a deepening and appreciation of the continuity of the teaching practised with regard to the sacred liturgy throughout the Church’s history, and which is also reflected in the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council – something that was obscured after the Council. I believe in large part that has been achieved.

ZENIT: Are we coming out of that period now?

Cardinal Burke: Yes, already Pope Paul VI after the Council in a very intense way, and then John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, laboured diligently to restore the true nature of the sacred liturgy as the gift of worship given to us by God and which we owe to God in the very way He teaches us how to worship. So it’s not man’s invention, it’s God’s gift to us.

ZENIT: How important is a sound understanding of the liturgy in today’s Church. How can it help evangelization?

Cardinal Burke: To me, it’s fundamental. It’s the most important area of catechesis: to understand the worship accorded to God. The first three commandments of the Ten Commandments are to do with this right relationship to God, especially with regards to worship. It’s only when we understand our relationship with God in offering worship that we also understand the right order of all the other relationships we have. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his wonderful magisterium on the sacred liturgy, and which he expressed so often, [it consists of] this connection between worship and right conduct, worship and law, worship and discipline.

ZENIT: Some argue the liturgy is mostly about aesthetics, and not as important as, say, good works done in faith. What is your view of this argument that one often hears?

Cardinal Burke: It’s a common misconception. First of all, the liturgy is about Christ. It’s Christ alive in his Church, the glorious Christ coming into our midst and acting on our behalf through sacramental signs to give us the gift of eternal life to save us. It is the source of any truly charitable works we do, any good works we do. So the person whose heart is filled with charity wants to do good works will, like Mother Teresa, give his first intention to the worship of God so that when he goes to offer charity to a poor person or someone in need, it would be at the level of God Himself, and not some human level.

ZENIT: Some also say that to be concerned with liturgical law is being unduly legalistic, that it’s a stifling of the spirit. How should one respond to that? Why should we be concerned about liturgical law?

Cardinal Burke: Liturgical law disciplines us so that we have the freedom to worship God, otherwise we’re captured – we’re the victims or slaves either of our own individual ideas, relative ideas of this or that, or of the community or whatever else. But the liturgical law safeguards the objectivity of sacred worship and opens up that space within us, that freedom to offer worship to God as He desires, so we can be sure we’re not worshipping ourselves or, at the same time, as Aquinas says, some kind of falsification of divine worship.

ZENIT: It offers a kind of template?

Cardinal Burke: Exactly, it’s what discipline does in every aspect of our lives. Unless we’re disciplined, then we’re not free.

ZENIT: As a diocesan bishop in the United States, how did you find the state of the liturgy in the parishes you’ve been in charge of? What, in your view, are the priorities for liturgical renewal in diocesan life today?

Cardinal Burke: I found, of course, many wonderful aspects – in both dioceses in which I’ve served – a strong sense of participation on the part of the faithful. What I also found were some of the shadows as Pope John Paul II called them, a loss of Eucharistic faith, a loss of Eucharistic devotion and certain liturgical abuses. And as a diocesan bishop I needed to address them and I tried as best I could. But in addressing them you always try to help both the priest and the faithful to understand the deep reasons for the Church’s discipline, the reasons why a certain abuse is not only unhelpful for sacred worship but is in fact blocking it or corrupting it.

ZENIT: It’s said love for the sacred liturgy and being pro-life go together, that those who worship correctly are more likely to want to bring children into the world. Could you explain why this is so?

Cardinal Burke: It’s in the sacred liturgy above all, and particularly in the Holy Eucharist, that we look upon the love which God has for every human life without exception, without boundary, beginning from the very first moment of conception, because Christ poured out his life as he said for all men. And remember he teaches us that whatever we do for the least of our brethren, we do directly for Him. In other words, he identifies himself in the Eucharistic sacrifice with every human life. So on the one hand, the Eucharist inspires a great reverence for human life, respect and care for human life, and at the same time it inspires a joy among those who are married to procreate, to cooperate with God in bringing new human life into this world.

ZENIT: Sacra Liturgia has been about liturgical celebration but also formation. What basis of liturgical formation do we need in our parishes, dioceses and particularly in our seminaries?

Cardinal Burke: The first important lesson that has to be taught is that the sacred liturgy is an expression of God’s right to receive from us the worship that is due to Him, and that flows from who we are. We are God’s creatures and so divine worship, in a very particular way, expresses at the same time the infinite majesty of God and also our dignity as the only earthly creature that can offer him worship, in other words that we can lift up our hearts and minds to him in praise and worship. So that would be the first lesson. Then to study carefully how the liturgical rites have developed down the centuries and not to see the history of the Church as somehow a corruption of those liturgical rites. In the true sense, the Church over time has come to an ever deeper understanding of the sacred liturgy and has expressed that in several ways, whether it be through sacred vestments, sacred vessels, through sacred architecture – even the care for sacred linens which are used in the Holy Mass. All of these are expressions of the liturgical reality and so those things have to be carefully studied, and of course then to study the relationship of liturgy with the other aspects of our lives.

ZENIT: You’re known for celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Why did Pope Benedict make this freely available and what role does it have to play in the Church of the 21st century?

Cardinal Burke: What Pope Benedict XVI saw and experienced, also through those who came to him, who were very attached what we now call the Extraordinary Form – the Traditional Mass – was that in the reforms as they were introduced after the Council, a fundamental misunderstanding took place. Namely, this was that the reforms were undertaken with the idea there had been a rupture, that the way in which the Mass had been celebrated up until the time of the Council was somehow radically defective and there had to be what was really violent change, a reduction of the liturgical rites and even the language used, in every respect. So in order to restore the continuity, the Holy Father gave wide possibility for the celebration of the sacred rites as they were celebrated up until 1962, and then expressed the hope that through these two forms of the same rite – it’s all the same Roman rite, it can’t be different, it’s the same Mass, same Sacrament of Penance and so forth –there would be a mutual enrichment. And that continuity would be more perfectly expressed in what some have called the “reform of the reform”.

ZENIT: Pope Francis is a different person to Benedict XVI in many ways, but it’s hard to believe there are substantial differences between them on the importance of the sacred liturgy. Are there any differences?

Cardinal Burke: I don’t see it at all. The Holy Father clearly hasn’t had the opportunity to teach in a kind of authoritative way about the sacred liturgy, but in the things he has said about the sacred liturgy I see a perfect continuity with Pope Benedict XVI. I see in the Holy Father, too, a great concern for respecting the magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI and his discipline, and that is what Pope Francis is doing.

ZENIT: This conference is reflecting on the 50 years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and 50 years ago this December its constitution on the sacred liturgy was promulgated. You’ve already mentioned how liturgical renewal was not as the Council desired, but how do you see things progressing in the future? What do you envision, especially among young people?

Cardinal Burke: Young people are going back now and studying both the texts of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council with its serious texts on liturgical theology which remain valid also today. They’re studying the rites as they were celebrated, striving to understand the meaning and various elements of the rite and there’s a great enthusiasm for that and a great interest in it. All of it, I believe, is directed to a more intense experience of God’s presence with us through the sacred liturgy. That transcendent element was most sadly lost when the reform after the Council was, so to speak, side-tracked and manipulated for other purposes – that sense of transcendence of Christ’s action through the sacraments.

ZENIT: Does this mirror the loss of the sacred in society as a whole?

Cardinal Burke: It does indeed. There’s no question in my mind that the abuses in the sacred liturgy, reduction of the sacred liturgy to some kind of human activity, is strictly correlated with a lot of moral corruption and with a levity in catechesis that has been shocking and has left generations of Catholics ill prepared to deal with the challenges of our time by addressing the Catholic faith to those challenges. You can see it in the whole gamut of Church life.

ZENIT: Pope Benedict said once that the crises we see in society today can be linked to problems of the liturgy.

Cardinal Burke: Yes he was convinced of that and I would say, so am I. It was, of course, more important that he was convinced of it, but I believe that he was absolutely correct.

(July 25, 2013) © Innovative Media Inc.

Pope Francis Will Complete Benedict XVI’s Encyclical on Faith


Pope6VATICAN CITY —  Pope Francis is completing an encyclical on faith begun by Pope Benedict XVI, but the pope emeritus is not contributing further to the document, the Vatican has said.

Speaking to reporters May 24, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi denied earlier reports claiming that Benedict XVI was continuing to write the encyclical that would then be signed by Pope Francis.

“As is known, at the time of his resignation, Benedict XVI left the encyclical project that had already been started,” Father Lombardi said, adding that it “now appears his successor is completing it, even if I couldn’t predict the time necessary for its publication.”

Earlier reports given by an Italian bishop claimed that Benedict XVI was concluding his work on the encyclical and that Pope Francis would be writing an encyclical on poverty.

Bishop Luigi Martella of the Diocese of Molfetta-Ruvo-Giovinazzo-Terlizzi wrote May 23 on his diocesan website that, after the encyclical on faith, Pope Francis was planning to prepare his first encyclical on the poor: Beati Paupers (Blessed Are the Poor).

The Italian bishop added that it is to be about poverty “understood not in an ideological and political sense, but in the sense of the Gospel.” He said Pope Francis revealed this when he and his fellow bishops met the Holy Father on their ad limina visit May 13-16.

Father Lombardi said the news about Benedict XVI “finishing off the text is completely unfounded,” but he didn’t rule out a future encyclical dedicated to the poor.

“Let’s take one encyclical at a time,” the Vatican spokesman said.

It would not be unprecedented for a pope to complete an encyclical begun by his predecessor. Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), contained a large section that had been written during the final months of Blessed John Paul II’s pontificate.


Benedict’s Objective

Benedict XVI wanted to use the encyclical on faith to share his reflections on what it means to be a Christian today and the role of faith in the life of man and society, especially in this Year of Faith.

In October, Vatican Insider claimed the incomplete passages had been getting “rave reviews” from those who had already seen drafts.

“The text of the Pope is beautiful,” a senior bishop in the Curia is reported to have said. “With his simple language, Benedict XVI manages to express even the most complex and very deep truths using simple language, which has a widespread reach that goes beyond all imagination.”

Many in the Church would welcome papal teaching on the faith at a time when, especially in many Western societies, the faith is in crisis.

Dominican Father Paul Murray, professor of literature of the mystical tradition at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, said that in an “age of great bewilderment, of a dictatorship of relativism,” doubts are being sown among ordinary believers “in a way they weren’t 20 years ago.”

But quoting Benedict XVI, he stressed the “simplicity of the faith,” saying, “It’s not that complicated; it’s not just for intellectuals.”

He believes such an encyclical is also needed at a time when there is a tendency to succumb to fundamentalism. “In an age of bewilderment, people panic and look for clear and distinct ideas; there’s a refusal to live with the complexity and mystery,” Father Murray said.

Living with that mystery is “part of the faith process,” he said, but stressed it is “not an ambiguity that renders everything relative.” Rather, communion with God makes you “automatically humbled,” he said.

“You can be very confident about the truths of the faith, but that confidence is not a fundamentalist confidence; there’s a humble joy that automatically comes from contact with God.”

“I suspect that will be very important for us to be reminded of,” he said.


‘Wonderful’ Collaboration

Father Murray said that to have two popes contributing to an encyclical on faith is “wonderful and beautiful.”

“The genius of Benedict was just marvelous, but the genius of Francis is that he just talks over all our professional Christians and Catholics and speaks to the world,” he said. “He speaks in a very direct, humble, Gospel way, and I hope the encyclical will have some of that, as well as all the great theological profundity of Benedict.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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Round Up of Pope’s Early Morning Homilies (May 20th-25th)


Among the themes covered in his early morning homilies this week, Pope Francis preached about the importance of praying courageously, of doing good to all, and how to guard against losing the spiritual salt of one’s faith.

On Monday, he underlined the importance of praying with courage, faith and from the heart. Miracles occur even today, he said, but in order to obtain them, they require “strong prayer” that “wrestles with God” and does not end with a one-time “courtesy” supplication.

He was reflecting on the day’s Gospel reading in which Jesus heals a boy with an evil spirit, and tells the disciples that strong prayer is necessary (interestingly, Pope Francis had appeared to do the same the day before, when he prayed over a seemingly possessed boy in St. Peter’s Square).

He recalled an episode in his native Argentina Pope1when a father prayed to the Madonna all night to save his daughter from a life-threatening illness; the next day, the daughter’s fever had gone. Such prayer must “gush from the heart – a courageous prayer that fights for a miracle – not the courtesy prayers, “Oh I’ll pray for you an Our Father, a Hail Mary and then I forget,”” he said. Everyone has a “bit of disbelief” he observed, so we need to pray: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

For a Christian, true progress lies in humbling himself as Jesus did, Pope Francis said in his Tuesday homily. He also reiterated a common theme: that true power is in service and there is no room for power struggles within the Church.

Reflecting on the day’s Gospel in which the disciples argue who is the greatest among them, the Pope pointed out that power struggles have always existed in the Church, but Jesus taught “by his example [the] power of service.” He came not to be served but to serve, humbling Himself unto death “on a cross for us, to serve us, to save us.”

The world sees someone who has been given a superior job as “promotion”. But Jesus, he said, was promoted to the Cross, to humiliation. “That is true promotion [advancement],” he said, “that which makes us more like Jesus!”

On Wednesday, Pope Francis reminded the faithful present that “doing good to all” is a principle that unites humanity no matter what the differences are, and helps create a friendly encounter which is the basis of peace. The Gospel that day was about the disciples who impeded an outsider and believed he could not do any good outside of their group. Jesus, however, tells them not to stop him but allow him to do good as well.

The disciples are a little intolerant, the Pope said, thinking they alone possessed the truth, and all those who did not could not do any good. But he said this was wrong, and Jesus widens the horizons. The roots of doing good are in all of us, he explained, adding that a closed mind is a wall that leads to war and killing in the name of God. He said the Lord redeemed everyone, including atheists, and that by doing good, atheists and Christians can promote peace and meet together in harmony (he meant on earth and not in heaven as some reports claimed).

On Thursday, the Holy Father called on the faithful to spread the spiritual salt of faith, hope and charity given by the Lord. He warned not to let that salt lose its flavour, and must be given away in order to “spice things up.”

He noted that when salt is used well, one doesn’t notice its taste, but rather an improved flavour of the food. In the Christian life, he said, spiritual salt requires two elements to preserve it: preaching and worship. When preaching the faith with this salt, he said, each person receives it differently, bringing “Christian originality”, in accordance with their own personality and culture, which is not uniformity. But the salt of Christians also needs prayer and adoration if it is to keep its flavour.

“If we do not do this, however – these two things, these two transcendences to give the salt – the salt will remain in the bottle, and we will become ‘museum-piece Christians’,” Francis said.

On Friday, the Pope called on the faithful to pray for two graces: “to endure with patience, and to overcome with love.” Regarding the former, he said the Christian has the strength to suffer and not give up. It’s not easy, he said, but it is “a grace to suffer”, and in times of hardship, “we must ask for [this grace].”

Concerning the latter, he said it is also not easy to overcome with love, when enemies cause us suffering, which is why it is important to believe in Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who cause us suffering.

“Defeated Christians,” he said, are those who “don’t forgive their enemies or pray for them”, and so don’t have the grace of “enduring with patience and overcoming with love.” But the many who do “have a patient heart, a heart filled with love” which shows in their “beautiful countenance” and “serene happiness.”

In his homily on Saturday, the Pope said those who draw near to the Church should find the doors open, and not find those who want to control the faith. The day’s Gospel was about Jesus rebuking the disciples who try to remove children being brought to him by others to bless. Francis praised the simple faith of the People of God, saying if you want to know who Mary is, go to a theologian, but to know how to love Mary, go to the People of God “who teach it better.”

He warned against being “controllers of faith”, but instead of becoming “facilitators of the faith of the people.” And to give a hypothetical example, he spoke about a single mother who asks to have her child baptized but is refused because she is not married.

“A closed door! This is not zeal! It is far from the Lord! It does not open doors!,” the Pope said.  “Jesus is indignant when he sees these things”, the Pope continued, because those who suffer are “his faithful people, the people that he loves so much.”

So many Christians of goodwill are wrong in this regard, he said, and instead of opening a door, close it of goodwill. “So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open,” the Pope concluded, “open to meet this love of Jesus. We ask this grace. “

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Pope Francis: A Welcome Surprise to the Faithful


Photo taken of Cardinal Bergoglio a number of years ago.

VATICAN CITY — Uncertainty quickly gave way to elation among the faithful that thronged St. Peter’s Square as the name of Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was announced from the loggia of the basilica.

Few of the 100,000-strong crowd who had gathered to welcome the successor to Benedict XVI were expecting the 76-year-old Argentine cardinal to become Pope in this election. Delight seemed initially to mix with some bewilderment as people took in the name. But quickly shouts of “Fran-ce-sco” from the Roman-heavy international crowd signaled the Italians had already taken him to their hearts, helped by the fact that he has Italian ancestry.

Many Vatican watchers were predicting a younger candidate than  Cardinal Bergoglio, who is 76 and lives with one lung (although it’s a condition he has had for many years). It was reported the Argentine cardinal allegedly came in second in the conclave of 2005 that elevated Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy. But the history of the popes is rife with vital elder statesmen. Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, was elected right before he turned 76 and Benedict XVI was elected at 78.

One of those surprised by the result was the Vatican’s Jesuit spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, who knows Pope Francis, though not well. “I’m in shock,” he told reporters shortly after the election. “I’m shocked that he [the new Pope] is from Latin America, and by his name.”

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit to be elected Pope in the order’s history, the first Pope from the Americas, and the first ever pontiff to take the name Francis. Members of the Society of Jesus are called to be servants of the servants of the Church, but until now not to be in such authoritative positions. For this reason, Father Lombardi said he found it “a little strange to have a Jesuit as Pope,” but he was clearly moved and delighted by the news.

He also thought the name appropriate — after St. Francis of Assisi. “The choice of the name Francis is very meaningful,” he said. “It is a name that has never been chosen before and evokes simplicity and an evangelical witness.”

Father Lombardi also noted it was “beautiful that he asked the people to pray for him and bowed to receive their blessing before blessing them.”


‘Extraordinary Election’

“This is an extraordinary election,” said Alejandro Bermudez, editor in chief of Latin America’s largest online Catholic news service ACI Prensa, and founder of the U.S.-based Catholic News Agency. “He is absolutely comfortable in his own skin.  He’s incredibly minimalistic. He showed up without the mozetta (when he appeared at the loggia). He came out wearing plain white.  And his choice of the name Francis is completely humble.”

Pope Francis telephoned Benedict XVI this evening and will visit him soon. The new Pope will celebrate the Angelus on Sunday, and will have an audience with journalists at the Vatican on Saturday morning. Tomorrow he will celebrate his first Mass with cardinals, and his inauguration Mass is expected to take place on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, in St. Peter’s.

A man of deep simplicity and humility, Pope Francis used to cook for himself, ride buses to work, and cared for a disabled priest in addition to all his other duties as archbishop of Buenos Aires. But he also made a point of never wanting to live in the Vatican and resisted invitations from John Paul II to work in the Curia, saying he would “die there” if he was sent to Rome.

“He’s incredibly learned and a serious theologian,” said Bermudez.  “He’s known for being critical of the Curia.”

“If we thought Benedict was an introvert, we all need to be prepared for the real thing now,” said Roger McCaffrey, an American Catholic publisher who was familiar with the Holy Father when he served as a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. But as head of the Jesuit province in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, he acquired a reputation for being a tough administrator and for “cleaning house” — something the cardinal electors are likely to have noted in their deliberations in light of the need to reform the Roman Curia.

Speaking to the Register in St. Peter’s Square just after the white smoke appeared, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, one of the three cardinals to head the commission of enquiry into Vatileaks, made the point that it is Christ who ultimately guides the Church, but it was his “great hope” that the new Vicar of Christ will set about reforming the Curia.


Pro-Life, Pro-Family and Pro-Poor

Cardinal Bergoglio was known to be vibrantly pro-life, describing the pro-abortion movement as a “culture of death,” using the term coined by the man who made him a cardinal in 2001, Pope John Paul II. He opposed the free distribution of contraceptives in Argentina, staunchly defended the rights of the poor and chastised material inequality — he would frequently visit the slums in Buenos Aires —  and spoke out strongly against same-sex “marriage.”

In 2010, he firmly opposed a bill giving same-sex couples the opportunity to marry and adopt children, saying it will “seriously damage the family” should it be approved. He made the statement in a letter addressed to each of the four monasteries in Argentina, asking the contemplatives to pray “fervently” that legislators be strengthened to do the right thing.

“At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children,” he wrote. “At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

The new Pope will face many competing concerns when he takes up residence in the Apostolic Palace, not least increasing secularism. He will also have to confront the sexual abuse crisis, and the possibility that more cases will come to light in countries that have so far escaped notice.


Other Challenges

Pope Francis will also have to face a host of other challenges, such as protecting and promoting religious freedom in the Middle East, India and China, not to mention conscience rights in the United States and Europe.

In his own Latin America, he will have to contend with the loss of Church members to Pentecostal sects. In Africa and Asia, where the Church is expanding rapidly, he will face the challenges of the effects of poverty, globalization and inculturation.

On the ecumenical front, the new Pope can be expected to continue work on improving relations with the Orthodox, Anglicans and Jews, while continuing Benedict XVI’s work in interreligious dialogue, particularly with Islam, all the while bolstered by prayers of hundreds of millions of the faithful.

Given all the challenges that lay ahead, it is perhaps fitting he chose the name of the saint whom Christ urged, “Rebuild my Church.”


Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Italian Cardinal Scola Once Again Emerging as Papal Favorite


I don’t think Cardinal Scola would make the best pope but I believe he has the best chance of winning, especially in the early voting. My profile of him for


An Italian cardinal close to Benedict XVI is emerging as the front-runner in early voting to elect a new Pope, Vatican observers say.

After a week of deliberations, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, is coming to the fore and could win the support of as many as 40 out of the 77 needed to be elected Pope in the first round of voting in the conclave, which begins Tuesday.

For a number of years, Scola has been the bookies’ favorite, but in recent months other cardinals have usurped his pole position on lists of “papabili,” or leading contenders for the papacy. Now he appears to be making a late resurgence, backed by American cardinals and a wide number of Europeans.

So who is he, and what really are his chances? A man of humble roots – his father was a truck driver, his mother a homemaker – Angelo Scola was born in Malgrate, a village close to Milan, in 1941 and grew up in a small apartment on a farm on the edge of some woods. He has been a priest for more than 42 years, holds doctorates in theology and philosophy, and was actively involved in “Communion and Liberation” – a lay movement aimed at evangelization.

After teaching in various academic institutions, he was consecrated a bishop in 1991, then served as rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, and headed the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in 1995.

But most crucially, Scola went on to lead two major Sees in Italy, often seen as stepping stones to the papacy. In 2002, John Paul II appointed him Patriarch of Venice, where he also served as head of the bishops in the region. Nine years later, Benedict XVI appointed him Archbishop of Milan – Italy’s largest and arguably most prestigious archdiocese.

Benedict respects and admires Scola and the two have been close friends for many years: Both are of the same mind in terms of theology, and come out of the “Communio” theological school co-founded by Joseph Ratzinger soon after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Both admire the 20th century theologians Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar – proponents of Church reform but in continuity with tradition.

Scola’s influence in the previous pontificate was already felt: It was he, insiders say, who gave Benedict XVI the idea to create a new Vatican department geared toward the “New Evangelization” – an effort to re-evangelize once-Christian but increasingly secular Western societies. Moreover, Benedict has closely confided in Scola: The last conversation he had as Pope was reputedly a lengthy telephone call with the Italian cardinal shortly before he left the Vatican on Feb. 28.

On appointing him Archbishop of Milan, Benedict XVI soon after bestowed the pallium (an important vestment symbolizing the jurisdiction given to a bishop by the Holy See) on him at a separate private ceremony – a move some read as the “anointing of a successor.”

In 2005, the German pontiff had already shown his esteem for Scola by appointing him the head of synod on the Eucharist; such an appointment is often taken to mean that the Pope sees a particular cardinal as going places and, invariably, as a potential successor.

But will the other cardinals look upon him in a similar fashion? The Italian cardinal’s closeness to the Communion and Liberation (CL) movement may work against him. The group, which has a popular following in Italy and is well regarded for its educational outreach, has also been tarnished by associations with corrupt Italian politicians.

But Scola has sought to distance himself from the movement and was applauded for not bringing in friends from it to serve in Milan’s curia, instead filling positions also with members of Catholic Action, another Church movement — but one which has had public disputes with CL.

Indeed, the way he has handled management of the diocesan curia is proof he can govern, his supporters say – a key skill cardinals are said to be looking for in the next Pope. Also, being an Italian but outside the Roman Curia, Scola is believed to be in an ideal position to reform it of malpractice and corruption. However, apart from his Oasis initiative, many say his record in Venice was nondescript.

Scola has long been concerned with the nature and mission of the Church in the world. His world view comes across as more positive and optimistic than those of his predecessor: He is skeptical of descriptions of a “Church in crisis,” and he doesn’t like the expression “the crisis of the family.”

Rather, he believes there still is a big zest for family life and “we are just living through the period of big choices.” The problem, according to Scola, is not that today’s men and women don’t consider families important, but they don’t know how to preserve them.

Scola’s ability to remain in the top ranks of leading papal candidates is a testament to his suitability. But although he has the common touch and is generally good with the media, he is not the best communicator (his addresses can be long-winded and overly intellectual), his English is faltering, and at 71, he may be considered too old. It’s also said an insufficient number of Italian cardinals – the largest national block – are likely to rally around him.

If an alternative candidate emerges, offering a more dynamic possibility to that of continuity with the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, support for Scola is likely to fall.

At the moment, however, the Italian cardinal still leads the pack.

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Papal Conclave 101: The Mechanics of Electing a New Pope


VATICAN CITY — By the time all 115 grand electors travel the short distance from their Vatican City residence to the Apostolic Palace at 3:45pm on Tuesday, many will have clear favorite candidates in mind.

Their discernment process over the past few weeks appears to have been conclusive: The cardinals’ “unanimous” decision last Friday to begin the conclave March 12 suggests quite a few minds are made up. The consensus, therefore, is that this conclave could be relatively brief and may well be over by Friday.

There’s “no reason to believe it will take long,” Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told journalists Saturday. The average length of a conclave over the past century has been three days.
Shortly before 4:30pm in the Pauline Chapel, a magnificent 16th-century place of worship containing the last two paintings of Michelangelo, the cardinals will participate in a short ceremony, over which the senior cardinal in the hierarchy — Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re — will preside. After proclaiming the words, “May the Lord, who guides our hearts in the love and patience of Christ, be with you all,” Cardinal Re will invite his confreres to process towards the Sistine Chapel.

As he does so, he prays words that include: “May the Lord direct our steps along the path of truth, so that, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles Peter and Paul, and all the saints, we may always do that which is pleasing to him.”

During the procession into the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals will sing the Litany of the Saints, followed by Veni Creator Spiritus, the Latin hymn invoking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. A few names in the litany have been introduced but are not customarily recited. These include the patriarchs and prophets Abraham, Moses and Elijah, St. Gregory the Illuminator of Armenia, St. Patrick of Ireland and some popes, including St. Pius X.

As they enter the site of the conclave — swept of bugging devices and complete with specially furnished chairs, tables and an elevated floor — the magnitude and weight of their responsibility will be all too real as Michelangelo’s Last Judgment towers above them.

With the electors having taken their places, Cardinal Re will administer an oath to them by reading aloud a Latin text that promises to “observe faithfully and scrupulously the prescriptions” contained in Universi Dominici Gregis, the apostolic constitution on the papal elections.
The cardinal electors, Cardinal Re will say, must “promise, pledge and swear” that whoever is elected “will commit himself faithfully to carrying out” the Petrine ministry and “not fail to affirm and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and liberty of the Holy See.” The oath also reminds them to observe rules governing secrecy and to “never lend support or favor” to any outside interference or intervention.

Total Confidentiality

Total confidentiality regarding what transpires during the election, and any violation of that confidentiality, is taken extremely seriously. During the course of the conclave, the camerlengo, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and three assistants act as vigilanti.

They are also assisted by trustworthy technicians who will have ensured that all of the off-limits area is free of surreptitiously installed devices, concealed with the intent of recording or transmitting what takes place. Intentional use of such instruments “is absolutely forbidden,” as is any communication or conversation with persons outside. The cardinals are also not allowed to receive messages, newspapers or publications of any kind, nor follow news bulletins via audio or video transmissions.

In his recent motu proprio Norma Nonnullas, Benedict XVI introduced the penalty of automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See for anyone violating this norm of confidentiality.

After Cardinal Re has administered the oath, the electors will then individually swear upon it. While placing their hands on the page of sacred Scripture, they will each say: “And I, X Cardinal X, do so promise, pledge and swear. So help me God and these holy Gospels, which I touch with my hand.”

When the last of the electors has sworn this oath, the master of papal liturgical celebrations, Msgr. Guido Marini, gives the order extra omnes, ordering all those not taking a direct part in the election to leave the Sistine Chapel immediately.

At this juncture, one of two commissioned conclave preachers, Cardinal Prospero Grech, will share a meditation, directing the minds of the grand electors to the grave task before them, on the need to act with right intention for the good of the universal Church — solum Deum prae oculis habentes (having only God before their eyes).

The 87-year-old Maltese cardinal and Msgr. Marini will then leave the Sistine Chapel, and the cardinal electors are now completely alone with God.

Cardinal Re will then ask those present whether the election may begin or if there are still points requiring clarification. If the majority agrees that there is nothing to prevent the process from beginning, it starts immediately.

Voting Commences

The papal election consists of four “scrutinies” (votes) a day, two in the morning and two in the afternoon, except on Tuesday, when there will be only one vote. But the first scrutiny has three phases to get the ball rolling. The first phase — called the pre-scrutiny phase — comprises the preparation and distribution of the ballot papers by the masters of ceremonies, who will have been readmitted into the chapel. At least two or three ballot papers are given to each cardinal elector.
During the second phase, the junior cardinal deacon will draw by lot three cardinal electors to be scrutineers, another three to be infirmarii to collect the votes of any sick electors and three more to be revisers, double-checking the vote counts. The final phase is the actual voting: Anyone who is not an elector must again leave the chapel, and the compilation of the ballot papers begins.
Voting is done in secret, each elector writing legibly the name of the person of his choice, if possible in handwriting not easily identifiable as his, in a manner that the completed paper can be folded lengthwise. Up until the conclave of 1958, cardinal electors could sign their names on the papers; now it is totally anonymous.

Each cardinal elector, holding his completed and folded ballot aloft between thumb and forefinger, and in view of all the others, then processes with it to the large chalice-like urn placed in front of the scrutineers. There he stops and declares aloud: “I call as my witness Christ the Lord, who will be my judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.” After placing his ballot in the urn, he then bows in reverence and returns to his place.

Counting the Ballots

Once all 115 have voted, the scrutineers, seated at a table in front of the altar, add up all the votes that each individual has received. This process, too, is full of ritual.

The first scrutineer takes a ballot, unfolds it and notes the name of the person for whom the vote was cast. He passes it in silence to the second scrutineer, who likewise notes the name written on the ballot before passing it to the third scrutineer, who reads it out in a clear voice, audible to all the cardinal electors present so that they can hear and record the vote. He himself writes down the name he has just read aloud and then inserts a needle through the word Eligo (I elect …) on each ballot, drawing a thread through to be knotted securely at both ends, so that they’re not misplaced.

The sum of votes obtained by different papabili (cardinals believed capable of becoming pope) is calculated and recorded on a separate sheet of paper. This concludes the second phase of the election by scrutiny.

If anyone has obtained two-thirds of the votes cast plus one (in this election, 77 votes), then he has been canonically and validly elected pope. Otherwise, another scrutiny is held. Either way, “revisers” must check the ballots and notes taken by the scrutineers to make sure that the scrutiny has been conducted faithfully.

From Wednesday onwards, if a second ballot needs to take place, it will be held immediately. All ballot papers will be burned at the end of the morning or afternoon session, including any personal notes the electors may have made in the course of the voting. The results of the vote, however, are placed in a sealed envelope and kept in a specially designated archive.

The Vatican stressed last week that if no pope is elected in the first four days of voting that the cardinals will take a pause on the fifth day (Saturday, March 16) in order to “pray, speak freely among themselves and listen to a brief exhortation given by the senior cardinal in the Order of Deacons.”

The voting will then resume with two days of voting and a pause for prayer on the third day, until the 34th vote on the afternoon of the 11th day. In balloting thereafter, only the two names that received the greatest number of votes in the previous scrutiny will be voted upon. Again, one of these two candidates must receive at least two-thirds of the votes (Benedict XVI changed it from a simple majority in 2007) if they are to be elected, and these two candidates cannot vote.

Gauging Support

The first vote is significant, as it will allow the cardinal electors to get the “lay of the land” in a concrete way. As Jimmy Akin explains here, up until now, the electors have a vague idea of support for various candidates; now, they will be able to factor in that real backing in the next ballot.

Some candidates will gain support; others will lose it. And if the leading candidates in the first vote fail to win a two-thirds majority after several ballots, support will be transferred to someone else.
John XXIII once noted how candidates bob up and down during votes “like peas in a pot of boiling water.” A cardinal may keep climbing up until he is near the two-thirds majority, but then fade, as people conclude he hasn’t the numbers and switch to someone else. He may then later re-emerge when other candidates similarly lose favor.

Italian Vatican observers are predicting that Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, is likely to do well in the first ballot, possibly acquiring between 30 and 40 votes.
But American cardinals Sean O’Malley and Timothy Dolan, Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet and Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer are also expected to poll well in early voting, possibly acquiring anywhere from 12 to 20 or more votes.

Other cardinals to receive a scattering of votes in the first scrutiny could be Cardinals Turkson, Tagle and Erdo, according to some Vaticanists, but this is all mere speculation.
The Holy Spirit will be at work, and he is known for springing surprises.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

An American Pope?


In this article which appears today in the National Catholic Register, I analyse whether the papal shoes would fit an American. Naturally, the Holy Spirit is the cardinals’ ultimate guide, but factors such as these Flag-Pins-USA-Vatican-Citywill play a role in their decision.


VATICAN CITY — There’s increasing chatter in Rome that an American cardinal could become the next pope, but would such a choice be prudent, given the nation’s superpower status?

Ever since the French Pope Clement V became a tool of the monarchy of France, then the world’s most powerful nation, and transferred the entire papacy to Avignon in 1309, the Church has been reluctant to elect a pope from a ruling superpower.

This conventional wisdom has become embedded in the Church’s thinking; even U.S. Cardinal Donald Wuerl recently argued against having an American pope on the grounds that it might present a “conflicting spiritual challenge.”

“A pope from a superpower would probably have a lot going against him when he’s trying to present a spiritual message to the rest of the world,” the archbishop of Washington told ABC News Feb. 27.

“The pope has to be able at times to speak a spiritual challenge, even to the United States,” he added. “So I’m not sure that it would be the wisest thing to have an American pope.”

Furthermore, some wonder whether an American pope would be able to keep a separate position from the United States government over such issues as relations with the Muslim world, China, Iran and the Holy Land. Would he truly be able to represent the interests of the Church in the realm of international affairs?

Many Catholics feel that the United States as a superpower already exerts more than enough worldly influence on the Church in the field of culture, politics and economics. An American as the successor of Peter, they say, risks simply magnifying that influence further.

Moreover, such observers feel a pope from across the Atlantic would bring plenty of baggage — most notably the extent of clerical sex abuse in the U.S. Church and the deficiencies of its bishops in addressing the issue prior to 2002 — as well as culture clashes with a Europe that leans even more towards socialism than does the Obama administration.

And the Roman Curia, despite concerted efforts by Blessed Pope John Paul II and to some extent Benedict XVI to internationalize the Vatican, remains largely Eurocentric and therefore resistant to a non-European leader who could introduce a completely different culture and ethic to centuries-old practices.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that only relatively recently, in 1984, did the Holy See establish diplomatic relations with the United States; and even now, it views the American Church as sometimes reflecting Protestant and Calvinistic tendencies.

Cardinals are also said to struggle with the perception that an American pope wouldn’t be sophisticated enough to lead the 2,000-year-old Church. The United States is still considered by some to be too young, both in its history and in its culture, and therefore unsuited to running such an ancient institution. The American Church, a few observers will point out, was still being formed by missionaries right up to the beginning of the last century.


The Case for an American

And yet many of these arguments against an American pope can in fact be turned on their head.

As differences between the Obama administration and the Church widen, so it becomes increasing unlikely there will be split loyalties and conflicting spiritual challenges between Church and state. On the contrary, as an increasingly secular state emerges in a countrythat  influences so much of the world, it can be reasonably argued that there is the need for a more vocal Church, one that would be helped by being led by an American pope who already has experience in standing firm in the face of aggressive U.S. secularism.

Also, the United States is, in the words of Cardinal Wuerl, “a grand and glorious and great country” that has retained many Christian values. It remains a country of faith, something that an American pope could help export, especially to an “old Europe” suffering from what John Paul II called a “silent apostasy.”

A U.S. supreme pontiff could also bring a number of other advantages, generated by a more modern style of governance that could inject greater efficiency into the Curia and finally reform its structure in a way no other pope has been able to do. An American pope would be better able, some argue, to root out some of the Vatican’s turf wars and replace dated management methods, which together have cramped the Church’s efforts to evangelize.

And as the regular briefings by American cardinals during this interregnum also indicated, an American pope would likely be someone well versed in handling the media. He’d probably come across as confident, enthusiastic, convey a sense of strength and purpose and thereby bring some much-needed media savvy to the Vatican.

A further and by no means minor advantage is that he would speak English, the modern world’s lingua franca, and so potentially would be able to improve the Holy See’s communications in an unprecedented way.

Moreover, if someone such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York were elected, he would bring much needed dynamism to the role — the “vigor of both body and mind,” which Benedict XVI “recognized he had lost and defined as necessary for his successor,” as veteran Vatican watcher Sandro Magister recently pointed out.

Since Benedict XVI’s abdication, which broke with a 600-year tradition in the Church, overcoming the “superpower conventional wisdom” suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched. And, of course, it wasn’t the first such long tradition to come to an end relatively recently — the last two popes have been anomalies, men of the Church who, for the first time in over 400 years, have hailed from beyond Italy.

That’s a reality not lost on Cardinal Dolan.

“With the election of John Paul, with the election of Benedict,” he told SiriusXM radio recently, “one wonders if the former boundaries seem not to have any more credibility.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent

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Cardinals Gather in St. Peter’s to Pray for the Conclave


One by one the cardinals arrived in St. Peter’s basilica for this evening’s prayers for the conclave, braving a gale of strong winds and heavy rain that has been buffeting Rome all day.

A number of them chose to arrive on foot through the main entrance, just like ordinary members of the public, but any attempt to enter unnoticed would be thwarted as their scarlet fascia and zucchetti would attract passers-by and well-wishers.


Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Archbishop of Toronto, was one of those who came through the main entrance. Asked if he would comment on the conclave, he very graciously said he would have to decline as he and all his confreres have now been sworn to secrecy.

By 5pm, all the cardinals were seated – a dramatic image of a sea of scarlet in front of the cordoned-off Altar of the Cathedra in the apse of the basilica. Very symbolically, Bernini’s Baroque stained-glass window, with its central dove and rays of sun denoting the Holy Spirit, towered above them.

Around 500 faithful including a significant number of religious were allowed to join the cardinals in prayer, and stretched back to the baldacchino.

The celebration began with the recitation of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary in Italian and Latin, followed by Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. After 15 minutes or so of adoration, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica, presided over a simple recitation of Vespers  in Latin. The rite concluded with Eucharistic Benediction.

No words were spoken; this was simply a chance for the cardinals and faithful present to recollect and pray for the upcoming conclave. And many found the ceremony deeply moving – an opportunity to join in prayer with the cardinal electors and the many faithful around the world during this momentous time for the Church. It also didn’t escape those present that the next Successor of Peter will most likely have been among those also praying for the best outcome of this conclave this evening, at the apse of the basilica, just a few yards away from St. Peter’s tomb.


At today’s daily Vatican press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi made the following points about the general congregations and interregnum:

no date for the conclave was decided upon during the fourth General Congregation his morning. Fr. Lombardi said it still wasn’t known when an announcement would be made but that the delay was due to a willingness not to rush the proceedings. However, the congregations will now be taking place in the morning and afternoon to “intensify” the discussions.

“The College has a great spirit of preparation that is serious, profound, and unhurried,” Fr. Lombardi said. “Perhaps that is why it still did not seem opportune to take a vote on the date of the Conclave, which a large part of the College could sense as something forced in the dynamic of reflection. It also needs to be kept in mind that some cardinals are still arriving and it would be a sign of respect for them to wait until the College is complete.”

* 153 cardinals were present, including 113 cardinal electors. Two electors were still absent: Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz of Warsaw (he arrived this evening) and Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Phạm Minh Mẫn or Thanh-Pho-Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, who arrives tomorrow.

* This morning 18 cardinals addressed the gathering during which the following themes were discussed: the Church in the world, the New Evangelization, the Holy See, its Dicasteries and relations with bishops. A third theme was a profile of expectations for the next pope in view of the good government of the Church. Fr. Lombardi said a clearer picture was “emerging” of the kind of expectations the cardinals have of the next pope.

* There have been 51 speeches since the beginning of the Congregations on Monday, but given the large number of cardinals wishing to address the gathering, a five minute time limit was established but is not strictly enforced.

* A question was raised concerning the cancellation this morning of scheduled press conferences with American cardinals after the general congregations. Fr. Lombardi observed that “the Congregations are not a synod or a congress in which we try to report the most information possible, but a path toward arriving at the decision of electing the Roman Pontiff. In this sense, the tradition of this path is one of reservation in order to safeguard the freedom of reflection on the part of each of the members of the College of Cardinals who has to make such an important decision. It does not surprise me, therefore, that along this path there were, at the beginning, moments of openness and communication and that afterwards, in harmony with the rest of the College, it has been established whether and how to communicate.”

About the same time Fr. Lombardi was making those comments, the U.S. Bishops Conference issued the following statement:

“U.S. cardinals are committed to transparency and have been pleased to share a process-related overview of their work with members of the media and with the public, in order to inform while ensuring the confidentiality of the General Congregations. Due to concerns over accounts being reported in the Italian press, which breached confidentiality, the College of Cardinals has agreed not to give interviews.”

(Sister Mary Ann Walsh, media relations director at the USCCB, shares her perspective on the decision here).

The American cardinals were the only ones offering briefings during the general congregations, but even though it gave them a chance to correct some of the misleading reports, they weren’t able to share much information once the congregations had begun.

Indeed some were surprised the briefings were taking place at all, given that each cardinal had sworn, on the first day of the general congregations, to “maintain rigorous secrecy with regard to all matters in any way related to the election of the Roman Pontiff or those which, by their very nature, during the vacancy of the Apostolic See, call for the same secrecy.”

But the willingness to speak as freely as possible with the media did denote one thing: an American Pope would bring much needed media savvy to the See of Peter.

* Fr. Lombardi reported that Cardinal Dean Angelo Sodano wished a happy birthday to Cardinal Walter Kasper (who turned 80 yesterday), Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio (who turns 75 today), and Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval, C.SS.R., (who turns 77 tomorrow). Cardinal Kasper continues to be a Cardinal elector—he will be the oldest to cast his vote in this Conclave—because the Apostolic Constitution regulating the procedure for electing the pontiff establishes the age limit for cardinals entering the Conclave to be determined from the beginning of the period of the Sede Vacante.

*The Vatican also confirmed that “the Fisherman’s Ring has been scratched over,” that is, rendered unusable – a tradition going back to when the ring was used as papal seal.

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The Pope as Diplomat


My take on Benedict XVI’s legacy in foreign relations in the journal Foreign Affairs.


February 27, 2013

faAs Pope Benedict XVI abdicates the papacy, retiring to a life of prayer and study, he leaves behind an admirable, if somewhat chequered, record in international relations.

His influence in foreign affairs — like that of all popes — has been considerable. As a truly global body with over a billion members, the world’s oldest diplomatic service, and a worldwide network of humanitarian aid organizations, the Catholic Church is arguably able to frame foreign policy in a way no other institution can.

That was perhaps most clearly evident during Pope John Paul II’s tenure, when the Vatican sided with the West in its struggle to topple Soviet communism. But the pope and the Holy See are not foreign policymakers as such — they can only guide world powers toward a particular vision of justice and peace.

To understand Benedict XVI’s approach to foreign affairs, it’s important to note his background as a professor. More at home with books than with the diplomatic corps (many of his recent predecessors had been trained statesmen), he primarily sought to bring the teachings of the Catholic Church to the world stage, rather than dwell on practicalities. It was an approach that in many ways proved to be an advantage: Unconstrained by the protocols of diplomacy, he could more forthrightly proclaim the Christian message to a global audience — and it bore fruit, although not without a cost.

Pentin_PopeAsDiplo_411His pronouncements, which often went right to the core of an issue, were regularly regarded as diplomatic gaffes. The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg. In his speech, Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who implied that Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. Although the lecture was primarily meant to show that contemporary militant Western liberalism and contemporary militant Islam share the same erroneous approach to truth, his quotation set off a firestorm, testing the Holy See’s relations with Islam-majority nations and forcing the pope to issue an apology for the reaction it caused.

And yet his comments struck a chord with many who began to debate in their own minds the problem of violence among certain Islamic groups, even if they were unwilling to articulate the issue publicly. His comments initiated deeper reflection among Muslim scholars on what it means to love God and love one’s neighbour, and they gave urgency to an ongoing Catholic-Muslim dialogue: No longer was it about mere niceties but more about genuine encounter. Specifically, it led Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to make an historic visit to the Vatican in 2007 and launch his own foundation aimed at improving interreligious understanding last year.

At the same time, Benedict worked hard to help foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Although he supported the recent UN General Assembly vote recognizing the state of Palestine, he was simultaneously able to improve relations between the Church and Israel by patiently persevering with bilateral discussions on settling the Fundamental Agreement — an incomplete 1993 accord that formed the basis of Holy See–Israel diplomatic relations — and by visiting the Holy Land in 2009. Israeli President Shimon Peres recently described Vatican-Israeli relations as “the best they have ever been.” Israeli and Jewish leaders would frequently remark that it was easier to deal with Benedict because “you knew where you stood with him.”

Under Benedict’s watch, the Holy See also established full diplomatic relations with Russia, Botswana, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Montenegro, and most recently, South Sudan — bringing the total of countries with formal ties to the Vatican to 180.

That is not to say that the Pope was able to accomplish all of his core goals — namely, to establish formal diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam.

Apart from the visit by Abdullah, there has been little progress in achieving religious freedom in the Arab kingdom, where churches are forbidden and priests must minister in secret, although the king has lightened the hand of the country’s dreaded religious police.

In China, the pope tried hard to improve the lives of Catholics. (Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome are forced to worship underground, and only the state church, the Patriotic Association, is officially recognized.) The pope, who made clear his desire to visit the communist nation, took the unusual step of writing a letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007 in which he urged Church unity and suggested ways to achieve it. Although the statement was received with enthusiasm by the nation’s faithful, it caused embarrassment to the Chinese authorities. Nearly six years on, diplomatic relations are little closer to being restored. Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome are still imprisoned and persecuted, and the Patriotic Church continues to consecrate “bishops” without Rome’s permission.

In Vietnam, where Catholics have long been persecuted by the communist regime, the pope has had more success. The Holy See recognized that the regime was amenable to reform, and thanks to extensive diplomatic efforts by the Holy See and the establishment of a joint working group in 2007, the communist nation has been more cooperative. It has allowed the Church to appoint bishops, and in 2011 the Vatican appointed its first envoy to the country — a step toward establishing full diplomatic relations.

Such successes, however, have not prevented criticisms of Holy See diplomacy, which, some say, has suffered in recent years. A number of Rome diplomats believe the Vatican is not as “focused” as it was just ten years ago and complain about poor lines of communication. Due to poor governance at the Vatican, they argue, the Church fails to transmit a unified international agenda. That is why, they say, many perceive the Catholic Church to be losing influence. “Either the pope is unaware of this and cannot get a hold of it, or he is aware and doesn’t care — and both are unacceptable,” a senior diplomat in Rome told me a couple of years ago.

And yet on a personal level, Benedict would consistently look for opportunities to voice his concerns on the international scene, always reminding a country’s citizens to make space for God and resist a growing tide of secularism. He surprised many by traveling far more than people expected, in the end making 24 trips outside Italy, including visits to Cameroon, the Holy Land, Lebanon, Turkey, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He viewed each papal trip as a pilgrimage, an opportunity to proclaim the faith and bolster the local churches. In turn, he strengthened relations between those countries and the Holy See.

That is just one approach to foreign relations that John Paul II and Benedict XVI held in common. “The two pontificates were marked by a striking continuity,” says George Weigel, a papal biographer, and the author of Evangelical Catholicism. “Both men had an acute sense of the discontents of twenty-first-century democracy and tried hard to shore up its crumbling moral-cultural foundations.”

According to Weigel, Benedict’s four September addresses — the speeches he delivered in Regensburg, Germany; Paris; New York; and Berlin — “rank with John Paul II’s two UN addresses as among the most important papal statements on contemporary world affairs.”

In light of the pope’s decision to step down, he clearly was aware of perceptions that the Church was drifting and did care enough to renounce the papacy and entrust it to someone younger and more able to govern. Besides, more than any particular diplomatic triumph, Benedict’s real legacy will be that he never missed an opportunity to teach the world lessons on how to achieve peace — and he did so with startling simplicity and clarity.

“Peace,” he told diplomats earlier this year, “is not simply the fruit of human effort but a participation in the very love of God. It is precisely man’s forgetfulness of God, and his failure to give him glory, which gives rise to violence.”

In the world of international diplomacy, it is teachings such as these that make the difference.

Pentin: Benedict XVI May Be Remembered as one of Greatest Popes


Edward Pentin reporting from Rome (Newsmax 28th Feb 2013) — Unlike Blessed Pope John Paul II, who will forever be remembered for visible triumphs such as helping to bring down Communism in the former Eastern bloc, Pope Benedict XVI’s leaves behind a legacy that lacks his predecessor’s conspicuousness but is no less profound.

Over his eight-year pontificate, the Pope produced three encyclicals, completed his trilogy on Jesus of Nazareth and wrote thousands of addresses, papal documents and catecheses. Indeed, one might argue that everything about his papacy has been about teaching, including his actions, right up to his shocking resignation.

In his many addresses, he strove to remind the world that God in the person of Jesus Christ is an ever present reality, that he loves every person as the Gospel teaches, and that rejection of him can only lead to catastrophe. Benedict gave careful critiques of the secularism that afflicts so much of the Western world today, warning that societies risk becoming trapped in a “dictatorship of relativism” where there is no such thing as truth, everything is allowed and nothing has any meaning. In this sense, Benedict’s teaching was a continuation of his predecessor’s with whom he had worked so closely.

But as a theology professor regarded as one of the Church’s most brilliant theologians, Benedict XVI had a way of teaching that made him better understood than his more philosophical and poetical predecessor. Benedict’s “September Addresses,” given at Regensburg, Germany, the United Nations in New York, Westminster Hall in London, the Collège des Bernardins in Paris, and the Bundestag in Berlin will probably be remembered as the hallmarks of his papacy.

They helped unravel prevailing problems confronting society and invariably centered around the Pope’s key theme: that faith needs reason, and reason needs faith. Without this balance and reference to the natural law inscribed on each person’s heart, he would often stress, justice is violated and human dignity is undermined.

The Pope’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” — God is Love — was considered a masterpiece in explaining the various themes of love and how they relate to God. It also took everyone by surprise, especially those used to believing the inaccurate media image of Benedict as a negative, authoritarian moralist. The joy of human love (eros or erotic love) leads us to a deeper, sacrificial love (agape), the Pope explained, that finds its true fulfilment in the love of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

In other words, the human and the divine are one and not in opposition.

His other two encyclicals were also well received and, rare for a Pope, Benedict weaved in references from secular writers and thinkers including Lenin, Dostoevsky and Adorno — often contrasting their views with his to help explain Christian thought. In his second encyclical “Spe Salvi,” Saved in Hope, he characteristically explained with simplicity how the Christian concept of hope is what makes man fully human.

“The capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity,” he wrote. “Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon.” The saints, he pointed out, were able to make “the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.”

And in his final encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” Charity in Truth, the Pope reminded the world that both are essential for integral human development on an individual and national level. An awareness of God’s love, he wrote, “gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all.”

Within the Church, one of the Pope’s main legacies will probably be his efforts to bring unity, most notably by reaching out to the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist breakaway group that cannot accept certain teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Although unity still hasn’t been achieved, he managed to bring the society closer than it has ever been to possible reconciliation with Rome.

And he helped bolster his firm belief that the council’s reforms, which sought to open the Church up to the modern world, were in continuity with tradition rather than a rupture with it.

With Anglicans, too, Benedict sought to foster unity by creating an ordinariate — a canonical structure through which disaffected Anglicans, many of whom have felt abandoned by their own liberal-leaning hierarchies, could become Catholic while retaining their own patrimony and liturgies. Although it initially caused some concern within the Anglican Communion, it’s now generally accepted.

Benedict XVI will also be remembered for advances in relations with the Orthodox Church, and with Islam and Judaism, though not without some serious clashes.

The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg when Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who said Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. His quotation, although aimed at showing how militant Western liberalism and Islamic fundamentalism have erroneous approaches to truth that set them on a collision course, set off a firestorm in the Islamic world.

And yet his comments struck a chord with many who were debating the problem of violence in Islam, but who were unwilling to articulate the issue publicly. It would initiate a deeper reflection among Muslim scholars on what it means to love God and love one’s neighbor, and it gave added urgency to Catholic-Muslim dialogue: No longer was it about mere niceties but more about genuine encounter.

Specifically, it led Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to make an historic visit to the Vatican in 2007 and launch his own foundation aimed at improving interreligious understanding last year.

At the same time, Benedict will be remembered for that rare thing: securing the support of both Israelis and Palestinians. His visit to the Holy Land in 2009 and good diplomatic relations with Israel led Israeli President Shimon Peres to recently describe Vatican-Israeli relations as “the best they have ever been,” while the Pope’s support for UN recognition of a Palestinian state and frequent calls for a two-state solution won him friends among the Palestinians.

Again, his success there can be attributed to his teaching prowess, built on the strength of his convictions. Middle East leaders would frequently remark that it was easier to deal with Benedict because “you knew where you stood with him.”

Under Benedict’s watch, the Holy See also established full diplomatic relations with Russia, Botswana, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Montenegro, and most recently, South Sudan — bringing the total of countries with formal ties to the Vatican to 180.

But Benedict XVI won’t be remembered for any major diplomatic triumphs such as winning religious freedom for persecuted and oppressed Christians in China or Saudi Arabia. Nor are Church historians likely to give him high marks for his governance of the Roman Curia after the Vatileaks scandal and the series of communication gaffes that littered his pontificate.

His teaching, however, is different. Not only did he channel it through his writings, but also by means of his very actions and character. Benedict’s widely recognized humility, kindness, courage and even innocence — not often accurately conveyed in the mainstream media — tended to point others not to himself but to the truth of Christ, as did many of his actions.

His 24 trips outside Italy were a testimony to this — no matter what the threatened opposition, he placated many of his enemies by placing Christ at the center rather than himself. Many believe he also achieved this through his surprise resignation — deemed by some as “revolutionary” on account of it demystifying the papacy by eliminating the “personality cult” that had grown up around it.

Ultimately, however, it’ll be for history to decide whether Benedict XVI’s greatest legacy — his skill as a consummate teacher and brilliant theologian — will endure, possibly making him one of the Church’s greatest popes

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