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The Vatican flops in Latin America.

On October 16, 1978, when Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, the 58-year-old Archbishop of Krakow, stood on the balcony above the crwoded piazza of St. Peter's Basilica for the first time as Pope John Paul II, the assembled throng might have hailed, "The past is dead, long live the past!" Some of the church hierarchs who had just elected him were already saying as much amid sighs of relief. Six years later they are still saying it, but now they know that it is indeed more easily said than done.

The past that John Paul II and his supporters would like to erase is represented by the changes that took place within the church during the pontificates of John XXII and Paul VI, in the twenty years from 1958 to 1978. His immediate predecessor, John Paul I, reigned for only thirty-four days, not long enough to make his mark, though some in the Vatican say he had suggested privately that he intended to rescind the church's longstanding proscription of artificial birth-control techniques. It is significant that John Paul II rarely refers to John XXII or Paul VI in his public statements. As for birth control, he condemns it ad nauseam.

The past the Pope would like to bring back is one with which he identifies, a preindustrial time in which religion and an authoritarian, paternalistic church flourished, as in Poland today. That past is exemplified by the policies of Pius X, who reigned from 1903 to 1914 and who is still workshiped by ultraconservatives for combating the plague of modernism. He is the only Pope of modern times to be canonized--not surprisingly, by the conservative Pius XII, in 1954.

A half-century after Pius X's death, reforms were institutionalized in the church by the Second Vatican Council, initiated by John XXIII in 1962. Today the Pope is finding it difficult to undo the reforms the council set in train. Not the least of them was the establishment of a more democratic relationship between the national episcopates and Rome. Another was the official acceptance of the principle of separation of church and state.

One of the most historically significant documents issued by Pope John XXIII was his 1963 encyclical Pacem in terris, which questioned the concept of a "just war," which had been part of the Christian world view since the fifth century. Wars or crusades, even those intended to rectify violations of a people's rights, were described as "against reason." War, in and of itself, was branded "a crime against God and man."

In no way has John Paul II rejected that doctrine, and he has repeatedly warned against the dangers of nuclear war. Nevertheless, his personal style, confrontational and in the militant tradition, gives comfort to those who act as if crusades were still the political order of the day, even without the excuse of violated rights.

The suspicion with which the Pope and his closest collaborators regard the years of aggiornamento--revisionism--are not very different from the feelings that the Reaganauts have about roughly the same period in the United States. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, close associate of the Pope and head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which serves as the guardian of theological orthodoxy, could have been speaking for both groups when he said: "It is my impression that the damages suffered by the Church in these twenty years came--more than from the Council--from a release of latent forces [in society], aggressiveness, polemics . . . irresponsibility."

Both Rome and Washington shudder over the growth of the liberation theology movement, for different, though related, reasons. Both equate it with class struggle and therefore with Marxism. For Rome it threatens right-wing elements that have traditionally supported church authority. For Washington those same groups are considered indispensable, primarily because of their economic views. Since those rationales are parallel but not identical, the Pope's views sometimes sound like Washington's. His public statements add to the confusion because, unlike the usual Vatican ambiguities, they are blunt. He is impatient with the secular world, especially with what he sees as the "consumerist" society of the West. His speeches also reflect his parochial view of the world and, it is said in Rome, of the Vatican as well. But such criticisms do not bother him. He is a self-confident religious militant who believes that you have only to plant the cross in the village square, so to say, and everyone will rally round it. And if they do not? Well, never mind, later on they will.

Consider the Pope's decision to launch a nine-year religious revivalist campaign in Latin America. He announced it last October while in the Dominican REpublic to celebrate the Christianization of the continent, which began on that island 490 years ago, when Christopher Columbus, on his second trip, brought the first missionaries to the New World. The Pope envisions the campaign as a way to strengthen the church and counter the spread of secular evils of all kinds, some of which he associates with liberation theology. This month and next he will visit Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. (If the airplane had been available in Pius X's day, he would have flown to France, Spain and Portugal to put down the "plague of modernism.")

Another facet of the Pope's crusading zeal was evinced during his trip to Canada last September. On a gray, windy day in Moncton, New Brunswick, he delivered an impassioned speech to French-speaking Catholics in which he reminded them of the bloody persecution of the first French Catholic settlers there 200 years ago by the British general Sir Robert Monckton, after whom the town is named. The Pope never misses an opportunity to encourage the amalgamation of nationalism, ethnic consciousness and Christianity characteristic of his homeland, if he feels it will Strengthen the church.

During the same trip the Pope was asked by a West German radio correspondent whether the Vatican's Ostpolitik, the policy of maintaining nonconfrontational diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and other Marxist governments, developed under John XXIII and Paul VI, had been damaged as a result of the Vatican's Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation." That acrimonious critique by Cardinal Ratzinger characterizes Communist governments as the "shame of our time" and as "regimes . . . unworthy of mankind."

"Is there anything in that document against Marxist governments?" the Pope asked. "Nothing is said against Marxist governments in that document."

Those remarks, spoken in German and recorded on tape, were broadcast in the Federal Republic and drew widespread comment. Correspondents who were on hand during the interview asked Vatican officials how the Pope could have said such a thing. Hadn't he read the instruction? It is not unusual, they were told, for the Pope to clear or even to sign papers without reading them closely. That is consistent with what the Pope later declared to the press: "I must admit, I don't read newspapers."

A comment frequently heard around the Vatican is that the church's once efficient and highly coordinated administrative apparatus has become chaotic, that one hand does not know what the other is doing and that key people do not bother keeping one another informed. That atmosphere encourages various lobbies or interst groups to vie with one another far more than they did in the past. A group especially close to the Pope is Opus Dei, an ultraconservative, predominantly lay religious society that originated in Spain but now has an international membership. The disorganized condition of the Vatican bureaucracy reflects John Paul II's personal style. It also results from the changed position of Agostino Cardinal Casaroli. Under Paul VI, an experienced Curia man and a stickler for tight administrative control, Casaroli was not only responsible for directing the Ostpolitik but became the unofficial coordinator of the Curia Romana's various sacred congregations, which correspond to governmental ministries. With the election of John Paul II, Ostpolitik remained official policy but, inevitably, acquired the stamp of the Pope's personality and Polish heritage. Within six months Monsignor Casaroli was elevated to Cardinal and made Secretary of State, the number-two position in the Vatican. In effect, he was also relieved of his influential position as chief coordinator of the Curia. There are profound differences between the two men's views of the world. Casaroli is much more pragmatic, flexible and broad-minded than the Pope.

Last September the Cardinal gave a rare signal that he was unhappy with the direction in which the Pope has been taking the church. At a ceremony for the unveiling of a monument to Paul VI in the northern Italian industrial city of Brescia, he said, "For Paul VI dialogue was not purely a dialectical expedient, or a matter of didactic skill. It was the expression of an evangelical spirit that tried to come close to everyone, to understand and to be understood by everyone."

Coming on the heels of the instruction on liberation theology, Casaroli's statement was aimed at hard-nosed reactionaries such as Ratzinger, who was trying to discipline two leading members of the liberation theology movement, the Revs. Leonardo Boff of Brazil and Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru. The attempts have proved embarrasing to the Vatican. The move against Father Boff failed because two of Brazil's leading churchmen, Aloisio Cardinal Lorscheider and Paolo Cardinal Arns (who, like Boff, are Franciscans), rallied to his support.

In the case of Guitierrez the Vatican took the unprecedented action of summoning the entire Peruvian episcopate to Rome to meet with the Pope and Cardinal Ratzinger separately, after which it was invited to discuss with the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith a document that questioned two of Father Gutierrez's theological works. The Peruvians argued at length against the criticisms and refused to approve the document. They were offered a toned-down version, which they also rejected. After further meetings, they approved a third draft, which they had helped write and which contained no criticism of their country's leading theologian. During those meetings the fifty-three bishops who make up the Peruvian episcopate were divided eighteen for and eighteen against Gutierrez, with seventeen abstaining. Most of those opposed to his views are members of Opus Dei.

The Vatican's effort to force its will on two Latin American churches appears to have ehnanced their sense of national identity and exacerbated their differences with Rome. Those were certainly not the intended results, but the Vatican had ample warnings that there would be trouble if it persisted in its condemnation of the two clerics.

Another example of the Vatican's confrontational approach to Latin America is its move to discipline four priests for serving in the Nicaraguan government: Miguel D'Escoto, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Ernesto Cardenal, Minister of Culture; his brother, Fernando Cardenal, Minister of Education; and Edgar Parrales, Ambassador to the Organization of American States in Washington.

Although church law specifically prohibits priests from holding government office, church policy has been flexible. The Rev. John Momis, for example, represents the Melanesian Alliance Party in the Papua New Guinea parliament and helped write the country's Constitution. In Rome, the Rev. Olindo Del Donno has for years represented the Italian Social Movement, the neo-Fascist party, in the Italian Chamber of Deputies.

Ironically, Archbishop Andrea di Montezemolo, Papal Nuncio to Managua, who has the task of persuading his fellow priests to observe canon law and desert their country in its hour of need, was once relegated to the post of Vatican representative of Papua New Guinea because he was considered too liberal by the hierarchy when he headed Justice and Peace, the pontifical commission that deals with social, economic and political questions, including human rights, particularly in Third World countries.

In August, after repeated orders from Rome that they resign from their positions, the four priests formally refused. A month later, a high-level Sandinista delegation had talks at the Vatican which produced a subtle but significant change in Rome's attitude toward Nicaragua and in its tacit support of U.S. involvement there. Previously the Sandinistas had argued that the Vatican was unfair to demand the resignation of four priests whose services were crucial to the country's survival. The Sandinista leaders had suspected that the church was cooperating with U.S. efforts to destabilize Nicaragua, but in Rome they abandoned that line. The Vatican could do as it pleased, they said; the priests would remain in the government.

Second, the Sandinistas said, since the Vatican insists that the four priests obey the letter of the law, it should uphold the principle on which the law is based--that priests should not engage in political activities--and should order Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo of Managua to cease his support for the contras waging war on the country.

The Vatican responded by dropping its deadline for the four priests' resignation and instructing the Archbishop to avoid public confrontations with the government. For the Vatican to have reacted otherwise on the eve of the Nicaraguan elections would have caused more trouble for itself than for the Sandinistas. It would have widened the rift between the majority of Nicaraguans, who support the government and the four priests, and the official church.

During the campaign preceding the elections, Rome took a neutral position; when the Sandinistas won overwhelmingly, it made no comment. But on December 10, the Jesuit order announced that it had dismissed Father Fernando Cardenal for his refusal to leave the government. After John Paul II came to power, the Vatican had pressured Jesuit leaders to purge the order's more liberal-minded priests. They resisted but in the past eighteen months those leaders have been replaced by people who share the Vatican's views. The sacking of Father Cardenal from his order--but not from the priesthood--gave the impression that Rome was hanging tough in regard to Nicaragua. However, as both the Sandinistas and the Nicaraguan bishops who oppose them know, the Jesuit order is not the Vatican.

Evidence that Ostpolitik is still in force with regard to Managua appeared after Father Cardenal's expulsion. On December 26, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, Nicaragua's newly elected President, announced that reconciliation meetings had begun between him and the hierarchy of the Nicaraguan church. The first three-hour session had been held on Christmas Day. "This dialogue," he said, "reflects the desire of our government and the members of the Conference of Bishops to find peace in Nicaragua." The talks are an outgrowth of the earlier ones at the Vatican and, according to Ortega, were focusing on "a series of points of conflict that will be overcome."

None of this means that the Vatican likes or approves of the Sandinistas. Rather, it signals a return to Rome's traditional pragmatism. The Vatican has positioned itself eventually to have normal relations with Nicaragua if the Sandinistas stay in power. Casaroli, the pragmatic Ostpolitician, won a point. There is no cause for cheering, however. The mood in the Vatican is essentially as authoritarian and reactionary as Pope John Paul II himself.
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Title Annotation:Pope John Paul's confrontational approach
Author:Pasca, T.M.
Publication:The Nation
Date:Jan 26, 1985
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