A funny thing has happened as the story of a recent Vatican crackdown on a legendary monastery in Rome has made its way into the English-language press. I mean that literally -- the story has been turned into a joke, thereby obscuring its real significance.
All Things Catholic
On a per capita basis, Italy probably churns out more books on the Catholic church each year than anyplace else on earth. Given the boost created by the May 1 beatification of Pope John Paul II, this spring has been an especially busy period for the Italian market, generating several titles that will likely make their way into translations and shape Catholic conversation around the world.
This week, I’ll offer brief sketches of four such titles to emerge from the recent bumper crop.
Three Vatican stories which unfolded during the past week, taken together, form a sort of triptych. They’re like three scenes in a single work of art, illustrating different features of the same subject.
Those stories were:
- A shake-up in the Roman Curia
- A May 7-8 papal trip to Venice
- A May 7 retrospective on John Paul II in Spoleto
In Rome and in Catholic circles around the world, a question is quietly circulating which only Pope Benedict XVI can answer: What to do about Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Pope John Paul II's former Secretary of State, who still holds the post of Dean of the College of Cardinals?
Were Benedict to die today, it would be Sodano, 83, who presides over the daily General Congregation meetings of the cardinals, which shape the discussions leading into the election of the next pope. It would also be Sodano who would preside over the funeral Mass for the deceased pope, and who would celebrate the Mass Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice, the "Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff," which is the final public act before the conclave.
This morning, what one Roman priest has defined as the “spiritual marathon” surrounding John Paul II’s beatification began. The opening act, so to speak, came with the removal of the late pope’s casket from its tomb, in preparation for its eventual placement in the chapel of St. Sebastian in the heart of St. Peter’s Basilica.
On any list of storylines the Vatican would not have wanted to see in the run-up to Easter, not to mention the looming beatification of John Paul II on May 1, the case of Belgian Bishop Roger Vangheluwe would have to finish pretty much at the top. Just when you think the sexual abuse crisis can’t become any more appalling, or surreal, along comes Vangheluwe to prove that it can.
Tensions surrounding Catholic identity are very much in the air these days, and when they erupt they’re always a prescription for heartburn. People who regard themselves as authentically Catholic rarely enjoy being told they’re not, or that they’re only selectively so. Likewise, people who believe the faith they treasure is being misrepresented, or distorted, or eviscerated from within, typically get their Irish up.
Dublin, Ireland -- Although the sexual abuse crisis has been devastating for the Catholic church everywhere it’s erupted, the meltdown in Ireland is fairly unique in scope and scale. Catholicism was effectively the state church, running the country’s schools, hospitals and orphanages. As a result, when the church served people well, it had a massively positive social impact -- and when the church failed and abused people, the damage was correspondingly immense.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: There’s a pariah state someplace known for brutalizing its people and destabilizing its region. As cracks start to appear, the West turns up the heat in favor of regime change. Fairly quickly, talk of negotiations, sanctions, and international pressure gives way to armed force.
When I was in grad school, a professor once had my class on ancient Rome read a letter from a young nobleman to his parents, in which he breathlessly described the connections he was making in high society and his ambitions for a senatorial career. The catch was that the letter was dated 476 A.D., the same year which historians now regard as marking the fall of Rome, when the last Western emperor was deposed by a Germanic chieftain.