Vatican report snag to Mexican ex-president’s marriage plans

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. (Photo: Vincente Fox and his wife Marta Sahagun, 26 Oct 2002/Claudia Daut)

According to confidential documents obtained by the Mexican online magazine Reporte Indigo, the Vatican last year annulled Fox’s first marriage of 20 years, but only because he is “self-obsessed and narcissistic and has a personality disorder.” That diagnosis by Vatican doctors means he is unfit to remarry in the Catholic church because he leads a double life, hiding his “hysteria” and his insincerity behind the politician’s mask, it says. The Vatican did not question his fitness for public office, however.

On Dec. 7, Fox confirmed to reporters the existence of the Vatican documents, said they should never have been made public and argued they had been misinterpreted following their publication. He declined to comment further, saying the process was confidential. “I love Marta and as soon as I can I am going to marry her. I am saving for the wedding, ” he added.

Fox stunned the country in 2002 when he knelt to kiss Pope John Paul II’s ring during the pontiff’s visit to Mexico.  The country has a long history of anti- clericalism and religious persecution. It only established diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1992. Given Fox’s support for it, the Catholic Church in Mexico may yet come to the rescue with some lobbying on his behalf. Mexican Archbishop Jose Guadalupe Martin, from the central city of Leon, says he sees no reason why Fox cannot marry in church.

Vatican’s Marcinkus can’t rest in peace

vaticancity.jpgUnless you’re a pope or a saint, it’s hard in Vatican City to make headlines years after your death. But not when you’re Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, the late former Vatican bank head whose name alone elicits controversy.

Marcinkus, whose tenure at the Vatican’s Institute for Religious Works was marred by financial scandal, was accused this week of ordering the killing of a 15-year-old girl in 1983.

Marcinkus died in 2006 and could not defend himself from the accusations, brought by a girlfriend of a slain mobster and given ample coverage in Italian newspapers — despite big questions about her credibility (See here and here).

Cardinal denies zucchetto thrown into papal succession ring

Book of interviews with Cardinal Rodriguez MaradiagaCardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga has denied throwing his red zucchetto (clerical skullcap) into the ring as a possible candidate to become the next pope. As we’ve already blogged here and here, the publication of a French book of interviews with the archbishop of Tegucigalpa last month has been interpreted by some Vatican watchers as subtle self-promotion — una autocandidatura, as they say in Rome. This was bolstered by unfounded speculation about Pope Benedict’s health, which seems quite good for a man of his age (81).

Now, in an interview with the Milan daily Il Giornale, Rodríguez Maradiaga has dismissed this speculation as a “mistaken interpretation” of his words. Most importantly, he said the interview in question took place in 2004, before the death of Pope John Paul II and simply expressed an obvious fact being discussed at the time. “Of course, the day will come for a pope from the South, as it came for one from the East,” he said. “At no time have I thought of myself as papabile (a possible pope). I have much to do in my beloved Honduras and I’ve never thought of putting my name forward.

Andrea Tornielli blog logoKudos to Il Giornale‘s Vatican correspondent Andrea Tornielli for tracking this down. The book in question, a collection of the cardinal’s interviews with a French journalist in Rome, states the conversations were held in 2006 or 2007. Soon after the speculation began in the French press, Tornielli challenged the date of these “recycled quotes” on his blog Sacri Palazzi. He later nailed down the date as 2004.

Can China and the Vatican make beautiful music together?

World Team Table Tennis Championships in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, 2 March 2008/Bobby YipRemember ping-pong diplomacy, the exchange of ping-pong players between the United States and communist China in the 1970s that was one of the first steps that led to a thaw in relations between the two countries? If the Vatican had a ping-pong team, perhaps China would have considered sending their squad to the walled city in Rome for a match.

But the Vatican does not have a ping-pong team, as far as we know. So, the next best thing appears to be music. This week, Vatican Radio made a surprise announcement on its daily 2 p.m. bulletin. The China Philharmonic Orchestra of Beijing and the Shanghai Opera House Chorus will perform Mozart’s Requiem for Pope Benedict on May 7 in the Vatican’s audience hall, adding a stop to its already scheduled European tour.

Pope Benedict at a recent concert in his honor in the Vatian audience hallAs one diplomat said, “this could not have happened without the Beijing government approving it.” Given the fact that relations between the Vatican and Beijing have been scratchy to say the least, one can only wonder if this is the start of a mating game. It could lead to diplomatic relations and China’s recognition of the pope as leader of all Catholics in the world, including Chinese Catholics, many of whom have been forced to join the state-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Speculation starts about pope’s health, possible successor

Pope Benedict at Yankee Stadium in New York, 20 April 2008/Mike SegarIt’s never too early to start speculating about the next pope. The Paris daily Le Figaro seems to be the first out of the starting blocks with an article on Friday saying that Pope Benedict appeared tired during his U.S. tour and has been delegating more and more of his duties. “Three years after the election of Benedict XVI, his succession is not yet a daily issue at the Vatican but the rumours are rife, Rome correspondent Hervé Yannou wrote. “It’s true that he celebrated his 81st birthday on April 16 and everybody knows his health is fragile. The sovereign pontiff still climbs the stairs and is mentally alert, but he’s as old as his years. And it’s no secret for anyone that the pope has a weak heart.”

Perhaps to calm any concern the article might stir up, Yannou promptly says Benedict still plans to visit France on September 12-15, where he will celebrate a large outdoor mass at Les Invalides in Paris and visit the sanctuary at Lourdes. After a bit more background, he returns to the succession issue and names Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (photo below left), 74, as the front-runner. If the cardinal electors lean towards a non-European, Yannou’s pick is Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio, 72, the Jesuit Archbishop of Buenos Aires who emerged as the main alternative to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now B16) at the 2005 conclave.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone at Havana’s Catholic cathedral, 22 Feb. 2008/Enrique de la OsaThe reason for this speculation may have less to do with Benedict’s health than the fact that another “papabile” (pope candidate) has all but thrown his hat into the papal succession ring. On April 14, the day before Benedict left for Washington, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, 65, published a book in France entitled De la difficulté d’évoquer Dieu dans un monde qui pense ne pas en avoir besoin (The difficulty of evoquing God in a world that thinks it doesn’t need him). In it, the archbishop of Tegucigalpa (photo below right), who was considered a long-shot papabile back in 2005, wrote about the possibility of a non-European pope. This pontiff should be a “man of the 21st century” who embodies both tradition and innovation and whose knowledge of the concerns of the Third World would mean he could influence North-South relations, he wrote in what sounded very much like a self-description and job description rolled into one. French reporters covering Benedict’s U.S. visit briefly discussed the book one day in the press centre, but it didn’t sound like the start of the succession speculation season.

Is the pope planning another trip to Germany?

Bild logoWhen journalists are all looking one way, a good reporter loves to find a scoop somewhere else. Most religion journalists (uncluding us) are naturally gearing up for the first papal visit to the United States, coming up April 15-20. The popular German daily Bild seems to have scooped us all with its report today that Pope Benedict is planning to visit his native Germany next year.

Pope John Paul II at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, 23 June 1996/Reinhard KrauseWe’ve asked at the Vatican and they said the pope’s 2009 travel schedule had not yet been worked out. They don’t usually confirm trips until a few months before them anyway, so it is unlikely we’ll hear anything firm from them anytime soon. Reuters wouldn’t put out a story on this without official confirmation, but we can tell you here about this report.

Bild, which is often very well informed, has quite a bit of detail, a telltale sign they probably got this from German officials involved in the planning. It says Benedict is due to visit Berlin and Erfurt in the ex-communist east on his third trip to Germany as pope (after the Cologne World Youth Day in 2005 and Bavaria in 2006). The Eichsfeld region near Erfurt is one of the few Catholic areas in eastern Germany.

Fact and fiction mix in Paris Pope John Paul II spectacular

If a novelist twists historical facts to fit a plot, we can accept it as poetic license. When Dan Brown has the dashing “symbologist” Robert Langdon race to the American Embassy in the wrong part of Paris, we might shrug and say it’s a mistake but The Da Vinci Code is a thriller anyway. But what should we say when a major theatre production mixes fact and fiction in the life of the late Pope John Paul II so much that it misrepresents history? Is that just a little white lie? Or maybe something more?

This has been on my mind since seeing “N’Ayez Pas Peur” (Be Not Afraid) a few days ago. This latest spectacular by the French impresario Robert Hossein is a theater version of the life of the Polish pope. It opened in late September in Paris and will run until early November. Spread out across the wide stage of the Palais des Sports, the play sweeps through the eventful life of Karol Wojtyla at a quick and entertaining pace. We see him as a forced labourer in Nazi-occupied Poland, a young priest out hiking with students, at his election as pope and then on his many journeys around the world.

Hossein is a veteran showman, with two shows on the life of Jesus and one each on Ben Hur and Charles de Gaulle to his credit. Some of the scenes are wonderful. There’s a re-enactment of the 1978 conclave where Hossein takes some liberties with the rituals. On the stage, some cardinals stand up and give speeches for Wojtyla, something that is strictly banned under Vatican rules. But Hossein makes up for it by using a huge reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel as the stage backdrop.