WHO'S IN CONTROL of the Pope? He is.

An astounding revelation recently on Cathnews. Cathnews carried a story sourced from UCANews, sourced from SperoNews, about comments which appeared in the Turkish political journal Yeni Asya by Jesuit Father Tom Michel. Fr Michel served on the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue from 1981 to 1994, and it is said that at that time he was the Vatican’s “top expert”(?) on Islam.

Apparently, Fr Michel opined that in the old days the Pope would not have been allowed to say what what said in Regensburg. Back then, the PCID “look[ed] over the late Pope John Paul II’s speeches to Muslims to see if there was anything that might be considered offensive in them, and if there was something of that nature, to propose changes for the Pope.”

Then comes the clanger. Michel is reported to have said:

“Had the Pope’s talk been reviewed and controlled by any competent staff person, they would immediately have told the Pope that the citation of Manuel II Paleologus, which was in fact marginal to the Pope’s main point, should not be included in the speech.”

Yes, I am sure that they would have. But would Papa Benny have taken any notice? No doubt there would have been some wisdom in having someone else look over the papal ponderings. And perhaps such a “looker-overer” might suggest that such a comment may not be best in the context. But “controlled”? Does the Holy Father strike you as a person who would submit his theology and writing to be “reviewed and controlled”?

Our new Archbishop in Canberra, Mark Coleridge, has opined that every word of the Regensburg speech was Benedict’s own. And I for one believe him. It was pure Ratzinger. And if there is one thing that this man will not allow his pontificate to be, it is “controlled”. Perhaps the great sadness of JPII’s reign as supreme pontiff is that it was ultimately the Curia that reigned supreme, not the Bishop of Rome.

Great theology, like great poetry, is never written by a committee. Good leadership never comes from a committee either. Viva la Papa. I support the Pope.

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6 Responses to WHO'S IN CONTROL of the Pope? He is.

  1. Peregrinus says:

    “Controlled” may not have been the happiest word. Perhaps it was intended in the the (technical, scientific) sense of testing or verifying; run this text past somebody who understands the Islamic mind to find out whether he thinks it will be received in the sense in which the Pope intends it.

    By all accounts, Pope Benedict is a famously good listener. I can’t suppose that he acquires a reputation like that simply by sitting quietly and looking intense while others are speaking; he reacts to what they say, shows that he has grasped whatw they are trying to say, and moderates his own statements in response, either by taking on board what has been said to him, refuting what has been said to him, or distinguishing what he is saying from what has been said to him.

    I would have thought its par for the course for signficant papal texts to be developed in consultation with a number of people. Given the sensitivities here this particular text should certainly have been run past somebody with the media savvy to know how it would be presented in the press – Pope Benedict’s texts aren’t the easiest thing to encapsulate in two paragraphs and a sound bite, but the reality is that that is what will happen to them – and also past somebody with the experience to know how the text, and its media-distorted presentation, would be received by Muslims.

    If that had happened, everything I read about Pope Benedict suggests that he would have been the man to understand the issue, and to take it on board in settling his text. I wouldn’t myself call that ‘controlling’ his text, or telling the Pope what he thinks.

  2. Schütz says:

    Yes, I agree with most of what you say, Perigrinus, but I still find myself siding with those who believe that what the Holy Father said he said deliberately. I have yet to read the reports of yesterday’s meeting with the Muslim ambassador’s to the Holy See, so I will have to moderate my opinion with respect to any new developments. But I have to say, it was curious that this happened just as the change over between the two secretaries of state took place, and after all the “experts” were safely out of town. One wonders if it were not a case of “The Cat’s away and the Mice will play”.

  3. Peregrinus says:

    Oh, I’ve no doubt he said it deliberately. He’s not the man to say such a thing – to say anything, in fact – by accident.

    The thing is, I’m not sure that it had quite the effect or reception that he intended. Finding it necessary or advisable to issue clarifications or apologies after the event is generally a sign that Something Has Gone Wrong. So while he was probably intending to send a signal to the Islamic world, I suspect that the signal might have been more carefully targetted or more easily read than was in fact the case, and this is where the advice of others would have proved useful.

    I suppose – I’m speculating wildly here – that Benedict might not have full confidence in the Secretariat of State/Interrreligious Dialogue establishment. He might feel that their input into his speech would attempt to project the stance they thought the Church should project towards Islam rather than the stance he wants the Church to project, so he minimised or excluded their input. And – speculating even more wildly – it’s even possible that the reported response of Fr Michel illustrates a case of sour grapes (“Ha! See what happens when you try to freeze us out!”)

    If so, Fr Michel’s point has a certain validity. What’s the purpose of having a Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue if the Pontiff is going to engage in interreligious dialogue without reference to it? If I were Grand Pooh-Bah of the PCID and neither I nor my colleagues had been consulted in relation to this, I think I’d be “considering my position”.

    Rather than all this wild speculating, however, I might do better to actually sit down and read what the Pope said, in its context. The Tablet with the full text of the address arrived this morning, so I’ll give it a go.

  4. Schütz says:

    Yes, the full text merits close reading. Many are comparing it in significance to his encyclical. Whereas the latter said “God is love”, this one is asserting equally that “God is Reason/Logos”. Taken together, they are like two book ends on Benedict’s entire theology.

    And I also agree about the PCID and its place in the Curia at this time. In a way, I think that is a very big shame, since a lot of good work was being done there. At the same time, it could also be a case of them forgetting what the actual meaning of the word “Pontifical” was in their departmental title. Are they there to establish Curial policy re the other religions or to enact the policy of the Pope? Or something in between?

  5. Peregrinus says:

    Read it last night, and it’s a fascinating document. Manuel II is quoted because of what he said about Christianity, not what he said about Islam, and his comments on Christianity are the springboard for the rest of the paper, which is very solid stuff. It has more to do with the relationship between Christianity and the modern world than between Christianity and Islam, and I think if we want to read it in the light of any controversy current in the media, we should choose, say, Intelligent Design rather than the War on Terror.

    Having read the paper, I think it’s an even greater pity that the comments about Islam were included, because they really have little to do with the Pope’s themes and nothing to do with his argument, and the resulting (predictable) furore can only distract attention from what he was actually saying. Oh, well.

    As for the PCID, it strikes me that (along with Christian Unity) its role really is pontifical in the orginal sense of ‘bridge-building’. Your comment suggests that there may be a distinction to be made between ‘curial policy’ and ‘papal policy’ on this (and other) matters; say it ain’t so!

    It certainly shouldn’t be so, but if Benedict maintains a PCID but acts without reference to it, that’s pretty much a recipe for ensuring that it will be so. He should either abolish the PCID or take it seriously – meaning, give it whatever attention and leadership it needs so that it can support him in the formation and implementation of his policy on interreligious dialogue. Giving it what amounts to a part-time head, reducing its staff and otherwise ignoring it is neither one thing nor the other.

    (I don’t know if you’ve seen last week’s Tablet? Arising out of this kefuffle there are several very good articles – anyway, I though they were good – touching on interreligious dialogue, esp. with Islam.)

  6. Schütz says:

    First: I don’t subscribe to the Tablet–I read it when I can find someone’s copy lying about. I find it is light on in many regards, especially the latest news (which is usually stale). I do subscribe to The Tablet’s US counterpart, National Catholic Reporter.

    Second: Of course there is a distinction between Papal policy and Curial policy. Always has been, always will be. It is, as I understand it, of the “esse” of Vatican politics. Cf. the Bertone appointment for a case in point. Sometimes one gets the impression, both from current news and from history, that what goes on in the offices of the Holy See is not a whole lot different from what goes on in episodes of “Yes, Minister”.

    Third: re whether what B16 said should have been said or not, who can tell? One benefit is that a lot more people read the text than would have had he not said this controversial stuff. There are ways and ways of getting your stuff noticed.

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