Sunday, May 11, 2014

"SAINTS, SINNERS AND REFORMERS" BY JOHN COONEY

 Just as happens in movie films, canonisations produce a word picture of a new
 saint with a slogan worthy of Hollywood. In his homily on Sunday April 27 at
 the twin ceremony canonising Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, Pope Francis I
 described them, respectively, as 'the pope of exquisite openness¹ and 'the
 pope of the family.¹ The common bond shared by the rugged peasant-diplomat
 from Bergamo, Angelo Roncalli, and the ubiquitous Slav crowd-puller from
 Poland, Karol Wojtyla, was how as towering figures of the twentieth century
they addressed 'courageously¹ the issues  of the day which confronted their
 pontificates.
 This double-billing, however, could not conceal the political dimension that
 united them in acclaimed sanctity. ­John XXIII, the Pope who opened the
 windows of Tridentine Catholicism to change and reform, and John Paul II who
 with authoritarian firmness pursued a restoration policy which was continued
 by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, who as pope emeritus had a place of
 honour at the unique ceremony of the four popes.
 Recognised already as a super-star of the contemporary world, the first
 Argentine to occupy the petrine throne enhanced his phenomenal personal
 popularity since his election almost 14 months ago by signalling to the
world's 1.2 billion Catholics that the broad church which he envisions has an
 inclusive place for two such contrasting leaders. Their joint canonisation was
 a significant expression of synthesis representing how Francis sees in the
 different roles of both men a fundamental unity of purpose and shared values
 consistent with his own calls for a transparent church embracing simplicity,
 poverty and evangelical missionary fervour.
 'They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century,¹ Francis told the
 estimated 800,000 pilgrims mostly from Poland as well as the many more viewers
who watched the proceedings on television. 'They lived through the tragic
 events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God
 was more powerful; faith was more powerful.'
 Journalist Jim Yardley, In the International Herald Tribune, noted that the
 canonisation ceremony offered Francis  'a stage to underscore his world agenda
 of trying to bring together different Catholic factions as he prepares for two
major meetings in which prelates are expected to address some of the most
 contentious social issues facing the church.¹ This was a reference to next
 October's Extraordinary Synod on the family which aims to reach conclusions at
 a second assembly next year, and the Council of Eight Cardinals charged with
 reform of the Roman Curia. 1. John Cooney, Francis¹s Ecumenical Project ­
 collegial papal reform, Doctrine and Life, May-June, 2013.
 In the days leading up to the ceremony Vatican officials sought to supercede
 the political sub-text with a religious message, namely, that by canonising
 the pope of change and the pope of restoration together the liberal and
conservative constituencies within the church would work together more
 harmoniously in future.  This is a goal easier expounded than achieved, as I
 observed at the Friday April 24 midday press briefing in the Salla Stampa on
 the Via della Concilizione, where Fathers Federico Lombardi, Francis Rostica
 and Manuel Dorantes beamed like anchor men on a celebrity television show at
 which the guest speaker, Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the former Vatican
 spokesman and member of Opus Dei, regaled journalists at length with fond,
 sometimes funny and insightful stories of what it was like working with JP2.
 It took almost an hour and a half of beatific memories before journalists were
 invited to ask questions. This brought the conference back to earth as several
 relevant ones were fired about the tardiness of Pope John Paul II in tackling
 the clerical paedophile scandals and his personal patronage and protection of
 the disgraced late Fr Marcial Maciel, the Mexican founder of the Legionaries
of Christ.  In unison the Vatican apologists insisted that Pope John Paul, by
 then struggling with the infirmities of age, authorised the inquiry which
 under Pope Benedict led to Maciel's being disgraced and confined to a
 monastery.  Navarro-Valls revealed how he raised the question of Maciel¹s
 standing with Pope Benedict on his first day as pope and of how the former
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who had led the investigation as Prefect of the
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had decided to handle the matter
 head on. Just as it seemed that the earlier jollity might vanish in further
questioning about the untimeliness of canonising John Paul, a reliable Italian
 journalist prompted Navarro-Valls to recall at what moment did he realise he
> was working for a saint!
> While recognising the santo subito acclaim of the crowd when John Paul died in
 April 2005 ­ and of how Francis decided on his own authority as current pope to canonise John XXIII on the basis of one miracle only ­I found myself less
engaged in the canonisation process than I had been at the conclave of March
 2013 which elected Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires. 2. Doctrine and
 Life, April 2013.
Our contemporary understanding of a saint is that of a person whose lifestyle
 is inspired by a lifetime of virtue, ethics, compassion, solidarity and
 community. In spite of the jubilant wandering  gruppo after gruppo of Poles
 who took over Rome¹s shrines, streets and trattoria, I felt strong
 reservations about Wojtyla¹s canonisation. A church historian told me of how
 as late as 2003 he attended a meeting of newly ordained priests at which John

 Paul specifically urged them to model their priesthood on Maciel.  An Anglican theologian who is 'an honorary Jesuit, Noel Coghlan, contends that JP2's confrontations with those whose views he
 found difficult to accept ­ such as Hans Kung, Edward Schillebeeckx and the
 Jesuits under Pedro Arrupe  - raises grave questions about his role as a model
 of a way of life.
 During my six day stay in Rome I re-read an interview which I did back in 1992
 with Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, then 87, at his convent retirement home in
 the Brussels suburb of Stuyvenburgh ahead of the English language publication
 by Veritas of his book, Memories and Hopes. Referring to a book, Making
 Saints, by Kenneth L. Woodward  which highlighted John Paul's 'factory¹
 approach to canonisations, Suenens said that in in his own lifetime he had met
 six or seven persons who everyone knew were saints. He mentioned Mother Teresa
 of Calcutta, Archbishop Dom Helder Camara of Recife and the Founder of the
 Legion of Mary, Frank Duff. It remains a matter of curiosity to me that the
 Belgian primate did not include his hero John XXIII and that a precondition of
 the interview was that I 'leave alone¹ matters of controversy surrounding John
 Paul¹s pontificate.  3. John Cooney, Cardinal Suenens Remembers, Doctrine and
 Life, April 1992.
 Said Cardinal Suenens: 'But I say to everyone: "Be a saint but do not try to
 be canonised." We should revise completely the procedures for canonisation.¹
 Despite these niggling doubts that Francis was making his first mistake with
the twin canonisation, and recalling the many extraordinary people including my
parents May Clark and Francis Cooney who are among Cardinal Suenens¹s uncanonised saints,  I nonetheless felt an exhilaration that I was attending the church's solemn conferral of
 sainthood on two popes I had seen ­ John XXIII in audience in 1962 ahead of
 the opening of the Second Vatican Council and being introduced to John Paul by
 the late Cardinal Tomas O'Fiaich and Jim Cantwell at the Pontifical Irish
 College in January 1980 just months after his visit to Ireland.
 Such was were the numbers of pious Poles in Rome that on the big day I could
 not get through the barriers closing off St Peter¹s Square and had to find a
 spot in a ristorante on the Piazza Risorgimento where for a five euro café
 Americano (double the usual price) I was able to follow the ceremony on
television. While I might have watched the ceremony more
comfortably and concisely on SKY television at home in Dublin, I had come to
 Rome with the added intention of gauging the reformist mood in Rome in the
 run-up to October's Synod. In the days after the canonisations, there were
 meetings of three important bodies established by Pope Francis: the Council of
 Cardinals (plus Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin) which is mapping
 out an overhaul of the Roman Curia  under the chairmanship of Cardinal Oscar
 Rodriguez Madriaga, who appeared to be enjoying his new found celebrity satus
 and was to be seen conversing with well wishers without his canonical gear in
 the Borgo Pio; the Council for the Economy which under Australian Cardinal
George Pell is mandated by Francis to come up with economic policies that will
 introduce best financial practices for the Holy See; and, particularly the> Commission for the Protection of Minors chaired by Boston Cardinal Sean
O'Malley, on which Irish woman Marie Collins serves.
At the end of the commission's initial three day meeting, Cardinal O'Malley
said it would recommend the adoption by Francis of concrete rules to hold
 bishops accountable if they fail to report suspected cases of child abuse. Some new names will be to the commission which will be addressed by Francis at its next meeting.
Despite O'Malley's bravado which runs contrary to the declared position of the Italian ERpiscopal Conference, I detected a lot of uncertainty in the Vatican corridors of power about what new dispensation might emerge from all the groups.   > That Francis will have to move quickly and resolutely was hinted at by
 Archbishop George Ganswein, now head of the papal household and former
 personal secretary to Pope Benedict, who recently told German television that
 Francis is 'not everyone¹s darling¹. 4. The Tablet, p. 33, April 20, 2014.
 As if on cue to remind liberati that the old guard has not gone away, Cardinal
 Mueller, the German head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was
 still bent on correcting 'radical feminist¹ tendancies among American nuns.
 (Mueller¹s scolding tone belies hopes of a more humane treatment by the
 doctrinal congregation with the welcome news of the lifting of sanctions on
silenced Irish Marist priest, Fr Sean Fagan.)
 Speaking to Religion News Service, Cardinal Walter Kasper, 'the pope¹s
 theologian¹ sidestepped Mueller by observing that fresh criticism of American
 nuns was typical of 'the narrower¹ view that of officials of the Roman Curia
tend to take. More scathingly on her website the County Laois-born Bishop
 Bridget Mary Meehan of the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement, cited the
 old Irish song,  'Will they ever learn, no they will never learn... ' adding:
Cardinal Mueller is taking the Leadership Conference of Women Religious
 to task for failing to get permission from the Vatican for their  speakers and awards. They
 decided to give Sister Elizabeth Johnson, a prominent feminist theologian, the 2014 Outstanding
 Leadership Award. Imagine, that in this day and age, nuns do not want to ask Vatican permission
 to run their own agenda. Father, may we please, pretty please invite ---------
 as a speaker?¹  5.`Bridget Mary's Blog, May 5, 2014.
 This kind of crude censorship recalls for me how back in 1967 as secretary of the
 Catholic  Society at Glasgow University I was required by Archbishop James
 Donald Scanlan to submit for his approval a draft list of prospective
 speakers, a practice which was ended in 1968, the year of student revolutions
 throughout Europe.
 According to the Archbishop of Dublin and former Vatican diplomat, Diarmuid Martin, the ordination of women is 'not on the table at the moment¹, though he noted that Brazilian
 Bishop Erwin Krautler  has been reported as saying that Francis is open to
 ordaining married male men, viri probati. 6. The Tablet, Martin open to
 married priests, April 26, 2014. And in their response to a Vatican survey ahead of the October Synod, Archbishop Martin and the Irish Episcopal Conference have acknowledged that the church¹s teaching on marriage and family life is disconnected from the real life experience of many Irish
 Catholics. Many respondents expressed 'particular difficulties¹ with the
 teachings on extra-marital sex and cohabitation by unmarried couples, divorce
 and remarriage, family planning, assisted human reproduction and
 homosexuality. 7. Sarah MacDonald, Church teaching out of sync with Irish
 life, survey finds, The Tablet, March 22, 2014.
Furthermore, Ireland's Prime Minister, Enda Kenny,who attended the canonisation ceremony and issued Francis with an invitation to visit Ireland, went out of his way to heal recent rows with the Holy See by asserting that with the advent of Francis a situation now existed where the Irish church
wants to deal with the scandals of the past 'in an upfront and open way¹. ­The
 the Irish embassy to the Holy See is reopening under diplomat Emma Madigan ­
 8. Paddy Agnew and Patsy McGarry, Church-State bond stronger, says Kenny, The
 Irish Times, Monday April 28, 2014.
In spite of these optimistic noises from the upper echelons of church and state in Ireland, the reality is that for at least the past two decades opinion polls have shown consistently that the majority of Irish Catholics want women priests. 
The time has arrived for a full public to ensure that women are not the losers in future reforms in Ireland and they are admitted to the altars and pulpits as priests.

John Cooney is a former Religious Affairs Correspondent of the Irish Times
 and the Irish Independent. He is the biographer of John Charles McQuaid, Ruler of Catholic Ireland. 

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