Reuters blog archive
from Thinking Global:
I have covered far happier times for the Vatican. I reported on John Paul II’s pilgrimage through his native Poland some three decades ago, and I have been thinking about this while watching the Catholic Church’s 115 cardinal electors pray for divine inspiration on this historic day in Rome’s Sistine Chapel.
The cardinals will need every ounce of God’s help to determine who among them has the leadership and managerial wherewithal to both fix their scandal-ridden church and inspire a needy world. They can take some solace from the 1978 papal conclave held after John Paul I’s sudden death following just 33 days in office.
Electors then took eight ballots and two days to select Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, then the archbishop of Krakow, as the first non-Italian pope since 1523 and a man who over time would become one of the great leaders of the 20th century. John Paul II was beatified in 2011, in no small part for the role he played in liberating his homeland and ending Communist rule over most of Eastern Europe.
No elector then could have known the chain of events he had set in motion. Consider, I filed the dispatch below to my editors at the Wall Street Journal from Czestochowa, Poland, where the pope had come to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the icon of the Black Madonna. The Black Madonna had been acclaimed for everything from stopping Swedish invaders to healing the disabled, and John Paul II credited her with saving his life after he took an assassin’s bullet two years earlier. I wrote:
from Photographers Blog:
I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church - which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.
Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.
There was something missing from our post yesterday entitled Pope John Paul remains touchstone for Poland’s Catholic Church -- a link to the story Reuters published based on the interview that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz gave to Gabriela Baczynska and me. Since it hasn't been posted separately on the web, here's the story:
KRAKOW, Poland, Dec 16 (Reuters) - The Roman Catholic Church should use the EU's new Lisbon Treaty to make its voice heard on moral issues in a Europe that has lost its Christian moorings, a leading Polish churchman said.
On the international Godbeat, it's never too early to start speculating about who will become the next pope. The current head of the world's largest church, Pope Benedict, is admirably fit at 82, but facts like that never discourage avid Vatican watchers. "Vaticanistas" look beyond the present pope to find who else stands out in the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Who's on his way up? Who's taking on important jobs? Who's out there publishing books or giving lectures or visiting other cardinals or doing anything else that looks like -- perish the thought! -- a subtle campaign in an unofficial race whose candidates never throw their birettas into the ring.
One passage in Pope Benedict's letter today about the Williamson affair particularly stood out -- the part where he confessed to almost complete ignorance of the Internet. There can't be many other world leaders who could write the following lines without blushing: "I have been told that consulting the information available on the internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on. I have learned the lesson that in the future in the Holy See we will have to pay greater attention to that source of news." This made it look as if the world's largest church was ignorant of the world's liveliest communications network.
That's not the case, of course. The Vatican runs a very full website of its own, www.vatican.va, as do Vatican Radio (in 38 languages), Catholic bishops conferences, dioceses and parishes as well as Catholic publications all around the world.
The uproar over traditionalist Bishop Richard Williamson and his denial of the Holocaust highlights an open secret here in Rome: Vatican departments don't talk to each much, or at least as much as they should. The pope appears to have decided to lift the 1988 excommunication of four schismatic bishops of the SSPX (including Williamson) without the wide consultation that it may have merited. The Christian Unity department, which also oversees relations with Jews, was apparently kept out of the loop. The head of the office, Cardinal Walter Kasper, told The New York Times it was the pope's decision. Kasper's office and the Vatican press office, headed by Father Federico Lombardi, were clearly not prepared for the media onslaught that followed the discovery of Williamson's views denying the Holocaust. (Photo: Bishop Richard Williamson, 28 Feb 2007/Jens Falk)
Pope Benedict's lifting of the ban and Williamson's comments about the Holocaust are unrelated as far as Church law is concerned. The excommunications lifted last Saturday were imposed because the four were ordained without Vatican permission. As Father Thomas Resse, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, told me: "The Holocaust is a matter of history, not faith. Being a Holocaust denier is stupid but not against the faith. Being anti-Semitic, however, is a sin." This is an important distinction, but not one the Vatican seems to be able to get across.
Someone pretending to be Pope Benedict's personal secretary Monsignor Georg Gänswein, a German priest whose good looks have made him a celebrity in his own right, has set up a false Facebook account in his name. Several journalists in Rome have received an invitation from someone claiming to be him and asking them to be his Facebook friend.
But the journalists noted something strange in the dialogue with the purported monsignor. He sprinkles his Italian with German words like gut (good) -- something the real one doesn't do since he speaks perfect Italian. The bogus monsignor also posted a video clip of the real Gänswein walking with the pope during the Benedict's summer holidays last year in the northern Italian mountains. The video -- shot by Vatican television -- is readily available.
Cardinal Renato Martino, the papal aide who angered Israel and Jews by comparing Gaza to a "big concentration camp" is no novice at being outspoken or controversial. The southern Italian cardinal speaks his mind, loves to talk and sometimes has had to pay the price. Martino, head of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (effectively its justice minister), has a laundry list of people and governments with whom he has clashed. But that hasn't stopped him. (Photo: Cardinal Martino at the Vatican, 12 April 2005/Tony Gentile)
Perhaps his most famous remark came in December, 2003 when, shortly after U.S. troops captured former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Martino told a news conference at the Vatican that U.S. military were wrong to show video footage of Saddam. "I felt pity to see this man destroyed, (the military) looking at his teeth as if he were a cow. They could have spared us these pictures," he said at the time.
Is the pope's fan club thinning? The number of faithful at his weekly general audience, held on Wednesdays, is certainly trending downward.
Data out this week shows that 534,500 people attended his 42 general audiences in 2008 -- or about 12,726 people each audience. That compares to 729,100 people at his 44 audiences in 2007 -- or about 16,570 people per audience.
Mexicans have long suspected their former President Vicente Fox was a little barmy. The tall, mustached one-time Coca-Cola executive is known for his racial gaffes, a very public falling out with Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2002 and clumsily flaunting his wealth in glossy magazines in impoverished Mexico. Now -- in a painful snub for a president who broke with decades of repression of the Catholic Church in Mexico by openly practicing his Catholic faith and even attending a papal Mass -- the Vatican has decided that Fox has a personality disorder and may not be fit to remarry with the Church's blessing.
Fox, a conservative who ended 71 years of one-party rule in 2000, wants a church wedding for his second wife and former press secretary, Marta Sahagun. The couple wed in a surprise civil ceremony in 2001 and planned to tie the knot before a Catholic priest in Asturias, Spain next year. Sahagun has already bought her wedding gown, Mexican media say.