The pope of the divided heart: Brazilian cardinal reflects on his relationship with John Paul II.
The cardinal said he has talked with the pope about retirement but doubts John Paul II will go.
"I spoke to him about this with all simplicity," Arns said. "Indirectly, I asked him if it weren't too much for him. This was his answer: 'Paulo, from here to here [pointing to his chest and to his head] I feel time. I am the same person I was when I was elected to the papacy. I do not see any reason to resign because my head, my heart and my organs are all doing well.'"
This meeting, Arns said, was about five or six years ago, when he still went to Rome regularly. "The pope had some difficulty walking, but we did walk up and down in the corridor," Arns said. "We were speaking in German. He speaks German clearly, and I do too since it was my second language at home."
Speaking with the insight of a contemporary of the pope and a friendship forged over three decades, Arns explained that John Paul is acutely conscious of his responsibility as pope. "This consciousness has to do with the spirit of faith, of intelligence and of the things that are going on around us," Arns said.
"If he thinks that all is not in order, then it is probable that he will continue to wait until the name of a new pope begins to germinate in the hearts of the cardinals."
Arns, the retired archbishop of Sao Paulo, Brazil, spoke with journalist Laura Greenhalgh Feb. 10. In an interview that appeared in the Sunday, Feb. 12, edition of the Portuguese language daily O Estado de Sao Paulo, Arns answered Greenhalgh's questions about the health of the current pope, Arn's scrapes with Vatican bureaucracy and his ministry in one of the largest and poorest archdioceses in the world.
In her introduction to the piece, Greenhalgh wrote that Arns told her "that he had always been completely frank with the pope and he repeated with emphasis: Always!" Arns had much to be frank about.
Arns took vows as a Franciscan in 1943 and was ordained a priest in 1945. He became an auxiliary bishop of Sao Paulo in 1966 and archbishop in 1970. Pope Paul VI made him a cardinal in 1973. With his fellow Brazilian, Archbishop Helder Camara, he is known as a champion of Brazil's poor, often at odds with Brazil's government and military, and a pioneer of Latin America's liberation theology.
Arns said that with these pressures, he sometimes looked to the Vatican with apprehension. "On certain occasions I left Brazil [for Rome], thinking that the pope must not be too pleased with me at that moment," Arns said.
"But every time I arrived, John Paul II had three questions for me: Are you taking care of the poor? That was the first one. The second was: Are you taking care of the workers? And the third: Are you taking care of the youth?
"With these three questions he touched on all the essential points in the archdiocese."
Arns knew that he caused ire among officials inside and outside Brazil; a nuncio was particularly perturbed by his criticisms of the government. But, he said, he also knew he had the support of the pope.
"He [John Paul] never gave any sign that he did not approve of what I was doing in Sao Paulo," Arns said. "I could have been admonished for accepting the books on liberation theology, for example. But he never mentioned this to me, even when we were alone, face-to-face.
"Once I was with him and other cardinals around the table and again, he never mentioned anything that displeased him."
Arns continued, "He used to compare the situations that I told him about in Brazil with his knowledge of Poland and Russia, countries that had also known totalitarian governments. We shared experiences."
Yet, Arns said, John Paul sees the world very differently from how he, a Latin American sees it. "We in Latin America saw the poor as evangelizers, but he did not see it in exactly the same way.
"He always saw evil as penetrating the world through poverty," and something to be battled. "The pope has done much for Africans and for peace in that continent," Arns said. "He worked for peace in the former communist countries. He did not only think about these problems but acted with great energy. He helped to build a world in which the rich countries should help the poor ones in a more just distribution of the world's wealth. This is the concept he has of the world.
"What is dear to his heart is the unity of the church in the face of evil," Arns said.
The interviewer pressed Arns on this point, reminding him that the Vatican had come down hard on liberation theologians.
Arns replied: "Yes, but the pope himself wrote a letter that was read in one of the yearly meetings of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops. He said in this letter that liberation theology was not only opportune but necessary to the theological evolution of the church. This document was brought to Brazil by the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops in Rome and was read to the assembly by Archbishop Ivo Lorscheiter. It is a personal letter of John Paul II and was never published in Rome."
The interviewer asked, "Did the pope change his mind about liberation theology?" Arns replied: "John Paul II was always a man with a divided heart. As we all are in one way or another. I love the poor and at the same time I respect those who know how to accumulate wealth through their own initiatives. Each person exists before God and has the right to live with dignity."
The downfall of liberation theology came, Arns said, "due to the position of the Roman curia and the progressive promotion of Latin Americans who were contrary to liberation theology." Because of these interventions, liberation theology in Latin America lost some of its best proponents, Arns said, "but it flourishes in India, in Africa and in other parts of the Orient. It is a seed that Latin America planted, and others are collecting the fruits."
At this point in the interview, Arns shifts gears. "Let me tell you a story," he said.
"The last time I visited John Paul II, when I was leaving as archbishop of Sao Paulo [in 1998], I stood up to take leave of him and he said: 'Just a minute, Paulo, I have a letter for you ... They gave me the text and I only have to sign it.'
"I suggested to him that we read it together. It was a three-page memorandum with different topics, written in Portuguese, and very critical of me. I started to read it to him, translating it into German.
"When we got to the third paragraph, the pope became indignant and said: 'I am not going to sign this! I never said this about you, Paulo, and neither do I want it stated in a document.' He threw the paper on the floor. I picked it up. Then he decided that I should write two lines saying that I had answered all the questions satisfactorily. He signed it and it must be filed somewhere."
The document, Arns explained, "had to be written by someone who wanted me leave the archdiocese as a failure or as a bishop who did not have a good relationship with the pope.... [The plan was] this document, full of rebukes and signed by the pope, would be divulged to the four corners of the church. But the plan did not work.
"When I handed over my office to Archbishop Claudio Hummes, in a beautiful ceremony in the cathedral, they read a letter written by John Paul II. In it he praised me and asked the new archbishop to carry on my work."
According to Arns, the story is indicative of the current papacy. The pope speaks with a strong voice, but it is not the sole voice heard from the Vatican.
"I said to him once: 'You travel so much that you abandon the Roman curia.' He answered back: 'Not at all, the Roman curia is I!' My comment was: 'Holy Father, not even my little curia in Sao Paulo is I!'
"When the pope is absent, the curia decides," Arns said. "If the image of the pope-pilgrim has done much good for the church, it also is true that many internal matters may have been left aside.
"This has happened everywhere and in every type of situation and in relation to any subject," Arns said. "John Paul II has left his mark, especially in his earliest documents. Today it is Cardinal [Joseph] Ratzinger, president of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who leaves his mark."
Arns offered one last example: "In 1983 and for the next eight years, I was the secretary of the Synod of the Bishops in Rome. It was my responsibility to write down the conclusions of one synod and to draft the documents in preparation for the next synod.
"Nothing of what we prepared was ever taken into consideration. Very competent people carried out the whole process, but the texts were never used. At that time, the pope, or whoever he delegated, drafted the conclusions of the synod.
"The conclusions were formulated in such a way that they no longer reflected what had been said in the discussions," he said.
"The pope is a man who wants authority to be respected. I always respected him and, at the time, never made public this fact," Arns said.
This helps explain why Arns thinks the pope should resign. Looking back on his years of trouble with the Roman curia, he said, "As they took on more important roles and began to surround a weakened head of the church, their influence became tremendous.... If he ever misjudged, it was because of those around him."
Arns on Paul VI
"We spoke together as two friends and he never mentioned that he was thinking of resigning.... I will tell you something that I have never told before. I went to see him before my last trip to the Holy Land [late 1970s]. I was in Rome for a few days and I asked the head of his residence if I could visit His Holiness. He told me I could, but only for five minutes.... So I went in, spoke with him for five minutes and said: 'Holy Father, the five minutes are up that they gave me to spend with you.' He said: 'What?! Who is in charge in the Vatican? You and I who are having such a good conversation, we are in charge.'
"Right after that, the head of the household came to the door and gestured to me that I should leave. Paul VI determined that we would continue. When the man left, the pope said: 'Let's go to the back of the room, behind the books, so that if he knocks again on the door we won't even hear him. And there we stayed for 55 minutes, talking about the Holy Land that he loved so much. The region was beginning to face the difficulties that we know so well today.
"At the end of the visit I told him that there were seven graduate students [priests of the archdiocese] accompanying me who had never had the chance of meeting him. I asked if they could enter and he immediately agreed. They came in, spoke to him and took pictures. Paul VI was a father and a brother. For me a very happy memory."
Arns on John Paul I
"I visited his hometown, Forno di Canalle, in Belluno, Italy, and entered the room where he was born and visited the parishes where he had ministered. He said to me: 'I did not know you were [an investigative] reporter.' Just before he was elected pope in August of 1978, he had been in Brazil at the invitation of Archbishop Ivo Lorscheiter. We became friends even though we met very few times. By the way, we were nominated cardinals at the same time, 31 years ago."
Arns' disagreement with the pope
"I am in favor of the promotion of women and always defended their ordination by the Catholic church. My mother raised 21 children, 13 of her own and eight by adoption, and all of them accomplished what they set out to do. How can I accept that women be treated as less than men? I have immense respect for my mother and all my sisters."
[The interview with Arns was translated for NCR by Ana Flora, an American professor of the New Testament who has lived in Sao Paulo for more than 40 years.]
The complete translation of the interview with Arns is in the Special Documents section on NCRonline.org.
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|Title Annotation:||World; Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of Brazil|
|Publication:||National Catholic Reporter|
|Date:||Mar 4, 2005|
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