Pope Benedict has denounced power-seeking bishops. But which ones did he have in mind?
Monday 14 September 2009 08.08 BST
It is not that often that a general publicly rebukes his brigade and battalion commanders. And it is equally rare for a pope to reprove his bishops.
But at a very high-profile service in St. Peter's on Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI did just that. At the consecration of five new pastors, he said: "We know how things in society, and not infrequently in the Church too, suffer because of the fact that many of those to whom a responsibility has been entrusted, work for themselves and not the community – the common good."
In another passage of his sermon which, according to Corriere della Sera, Benedict spent an entire day finessing, he declared: "Let us not bind men to us; let us not seek power, prestige and esteem for ourselves."
In general terms, it is clear that this was a warning – and a pretty frank one by the standards of pontifical utterances – addressed to bishops. But which ones? The answer is not obvious.
Corriere thought his coded message was directed at his pastors in Italy. Earlier this month, an attack by the Berlusconi family newspaper on the editor of the bishop's daily Avvenire brought into the open a rift between the Vatican secretariat of state and the Italian bishops' conference over how to deal with Silvio Berlusconi and his scandalous private life. The Vatican is all for brushing the affair under the carpet so as not to upset a conservative leader who has it in his power to deliver the Church legislation in line with its beliefs. The bishops, by contrast, are under immense pressure from ordinary Italian worshippers to speak out in defence of traditional Catholic morality. The division is made worse by personal differences between some of the bishops and Benedict's secretary of state – the bluff, less than tactful Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Bertone has also run into pretty determined resistance in the Roman Curia, the central administration of the Catholic church, and in the Secretariat of State itself. One reason for Saturday's ceremony, indeed, was to make up to bishop a couple of senior officials in Bertone's department who are being dispatched abroad as nuncios to give the cardinal a freer hand.
It was very much a Curial affair. So might the pope's message, then, have been that from now on we should all row in the same direction? Maybe.
But the much-respected Catholic author, Vittorio Messori, interviewed in La Stampa, had an entirely different idea: that the pope's rebuke was aimed, not at any church leader in Europe let alone the Vatican, but at bishops with sharp elbows and rather too high self-esteem in the developing world "above all [in] Africa and Latin America where the status of priest, and especially of bishop, is a dream for many poor, young local men who, for that reason, crowd into the seminaries."
So there is the puzzle. Answers, please, below in the space for comments – or on a postcard to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Palace, St Peter's Square ... etc.
Pope to renegades: Respect Judaism, other religions
September 14, 2009 ROME (JTA) -- Respect for Judaism and other religions is mandatory for readmission into the mainstream Catholic fold, Pope Benedict XVI will tell a renegade traditionalist Catholic group.
In a weekend interview with a newspaper in Passau, Germany, Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn said doctrinal talks between the Vatican and the traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X would begin soon.
"The SSPX will be told very clearly what is not negotiable for the Holy See," Schoenborn said. "This includes such fundamental conclusions of the Second Vatican Council as its positions on Judaism, other non-Christian religions, other Christian churches and on religious freedom as a basic human right."
Led by its founder Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, the SSPX broke with the Vatican over the reforms of the Vatican II conference, which among other things lifted anti-Jewish dogma and opened the way to Catholic-Jewish dialogue.
Lefebvre and his followers were excommunicated in 1988.
Pope Benedict wants to bring them back into the fold of the mainstream church. He sparked controversy in January by revoking the excommunication order against four SSPX bishops, including British-born Richard Williamson, who had made statements denying the extent of the Holocaust.