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Cardinal Arns says pope gives his curia free rein: the pope replies, 'You are mistaken. The curia is the pope.' (Paulo Evaristo Arns of Sao Paulo, Brazil)

Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of Sao Paolo, Brazil, approaching retirement, broke his public silence and spoke out against the way Pope John Paul II is running the church. In particular, he cited disproportionate power of the Roman curia.

Until recent weeks, it has been highly unusual, at least in modern times, for bishops to openly criticize one another or the pope.

Arns' views, previously expressed only privately, were published Sept. 4 in an article by Roldao O. Arruda in Estado de Sao Paulo, a daily newspaper. His opinions echoed those stated recently by Archbishop John R. Quinn who, after retiring as archbishop of San Francisco, criticized the pope's leadership style in a speech at Oxford University in June. Quinn called for broad reforms in the way authority is exercised in the church and denounced curial power.

Under John Paul II, curial officials--the Vatican's administrative network of cardinals and bishops who oversee church affairs worldwide--have been criticized as fiercely traditionalist and territorial as they implement the apparent wishes of the pope.

In recent years, Vatican officials have silenced or restricted numerous theologians around the world and keep close watch on bishops and priests. Quinn described the bureaucracy as "a power inserted between pope and bishops" rather than the supportive organization, the "body in service of the bishops," called for by the Second Vatican Council.

Arns said the pope appears to have placed the destiny of the church with the curia. "My impression is that the curia is governing the church," Arns said in the interview.

Arns, a strong defender of rights of the South American poor, turned 75 on Sept. 14 and, as required by church law, asked the pope to allow him to retire from his post. So far, no replacement has been named.

Arns described publicly for the first time a conversation he had with John Paul II in which he told the pope "I like you very much as a person" but added that he thought he gave the curia "too free a rein."

Arns said the pope had replied, "You are mistaken. The curia is the pope." Arns told the pope he strongly disagreed.

"With Paul VI it was different," he said. "He actually governed through the curia. He has his ear to the ground, was constantly briefed by his staff and was truly in control of events. This was made possible because he had been part of the curia for a long time, had grown up within it and knew everything concerning it. The present pope is much more interested in traveling, preaching, being a missionary, than watching over the curia He leaves everything to them, with the result that they now enjoy an incomparably greater autonomy than they had under Paul VI."

It is widely agreed that the progressive Arns, who has headed the archdiocese since 1970, was humiliated by the curia. In 1989 Arns' power was sharply curtailed. His single archdiocese was divided into five dioceses, and conservative bishops were put in charge of more than half of Arns' former territory. His loss included poor areas on the outskirts of Sao Paulo where for more than two decades Arns had devoted enthusiasm and energy to forming small communities.

To obtain funds for that project, Arns had sold the palace that had formerly served as the cardinal's official residence and moved to a more modest home.

The division of Arns' archdiocese devastated a pastoral plan for restructuring that he had been working on with Pope Paul VI. Under that plan, his archdiocese would have been divided among independent bishops who would follow a common pastoral plan and share resources, including money and institutions.

Instead, Arns said, "everything I asked for was disregarded and the traditionalist line prevailed. It was our wish that a different way of dealing with pastoral activities in the metropolitian regions be adopted, but the Roman curia, treating this just as any other matter, paid no heed for it.

"Because of the way it was done, the church in Sao Paulo is spending 10 times. more in order to produce results which are 10 times smaller," he said. "More equipment has had to be bought, the work and the energies of the priests are wasted."

Arns said he hoped to be relieved of his duties as soon as possible and if a conservative bishop is appointed to succeed him, as in the case of another progressive Brazilian bishop, he didn't want to stay around. Sao Paulo has had progressive church leadership for more than 25 years.

Arns was referring to the Brazilian diocese of Olinda and Recife where Dom Helder Camara, a renowned and beloved progressive was succeed by a conservative bishop, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, who set about dismantling Camara's work. The transition left deep divisions in the region's clergy.

Arns said he had not been consulted about a successor for himself. But, he said, "If he is a traditionalist bishop, I shall only stay on here for as long as is needed to settle him in and then move away. I would suffer greatly to see the destruction of everything I had worked for alongside the people and priests of the archdiocese."
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Author:Schaeffer, Pamela
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 11, 1996
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