Short Papacy? Consider the Precedent

Francis in KoreaOn his recent flight back to Rome from Korea, Pope Francis chatted for about an hour with the reporters traveling with him.  In response to a question about his popularity, he mentioned that he kept things in perspective by remembering that he would probably be around only for two or three more years.  As he put it, “I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father,” and in response to an earlier question he suggested that he might follow the example of Pope Emeritus Benedict and retire at some point.  You can read the full text of the press conference here.

As I read the interview, especially about the pope’s thoughts about his own future “on the job”, so to speak, I was reminded of St. John XXIII, whose own reign was less than five years in length.  He once remarked about his relationship with the Roman Curia that, because of his advanced age, no one expected him to live very long.  He continued that were certainly right about that, but their mistake was that they thought he wouldn’t do anything while he was there!

John and CuriaDespite his short papacy, St. John inaugurated a sea change both within the Church as well as how the Church relates to the world.  Not only did he convoke the Second Vatican Council, he also initiated the process of a complete revision of the Code of Canon Law.  Some popes with much longer reigns accomplished far less!

Let’s see what Pope Francis has in mind. . . .

A Voice from Vatican II: “The Switches are Thrown!”

There is so much barbarism and tragedy in the world today.  Why, then, am I blogging again on the Second Vatican Council?  Simple.  Others far more competent and knowledgeable than I are already offering their own insights.  I also believe that the Council, fifty years on, continues to offer us a point of view — a hermeneutic, if you will — through which to confront today’s pastoral challenges.

br051205Konig_1With that in mind, I recently came across an interview given fifty years ago by the influential young Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, Franz Cardinal Koenig.[1] Before turning to the interview itself, however, it will be helpful to know something about the man himself.

Franz Koenig was born in 1905 into a farming family, the eldest of five children.  At the age of fourteen he entered the seminary for the diocese of Sankt Pölten, Austria.  He studied ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy and humanities; he drew and painted and wrote poetry and drama.  He continued his education in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1930.  He was ordained a priest in 1933 and earned another doctorate in theology in 1936. Throughout his time in the university he took courses on experimental psychology, biology, mineralogy, physics, chemistry and languages, but he wasn’t finished yet.  He continued post-doctoral studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome (old-Persian religion and languages) and then obtained a fellowship for two semesters at the Faculty of Sociology of the Catholic University of Lille, France, where he obtained a diploma. He spoke German, English, Italian, French, Spanish, Russian and Latin, and could understand Syriac, ancient Persian and Hebrew.  His language skills would later prove invaluable on his many missions as a papal representative.

tn_konig7_jpgIn 1937, he returned to his home diocese and took on a variety of pastoral ministries, often involving the youth of the diocese.  Due to the Nazi regime in Austria, Fr. Koenig’s activities in teaching youth in defiance of Nazi law, made him a target of the Gestapo.  After the war, he was sent back to school in preparation for an academic career.  In 1945, when the University of Vienna reopened and he took courses in law, finance and economics, statistics, political science, linguistics, Syriac texts, ancient and modern history, modern philosophy, comparative anatomy, methodology of botany, morphology of plants, and more. He served as Professor of religion at the College of Krems from 1945-1948. In 1947, he also became a lecturer on the Old Testament and on comparative theology at the University of Vienna. Finally, he taught moral theology at the University of Salzburg from 1948 until 1952, when he was ordained a bishop at the age of 47.  Within four years, at the age of 50, he became the Archbishop of Vienna and was one of the first Cardinals named by St. John XXIII in 1958.  When he died in 2004 at the age of 98, he was last remaining Cardinal made by Pope John.  Cardinal Koenig was a close friend of Pope John’s, and his duties as Cardinal involved outreach to non-Christians and to a variety of locales around the world.  He was a strong proponent of outreach to all peoples, once saying that “As chaplain in St Pölten, I learned that I have to go to the people, that they must know me before we can have any meaningful talk,” he said. “So when I came to Vienna, I had no great political strategy or concept. I simply felt that I wanted contact with people of every persuasion. . . .  I wanted a dialogue with all people, and that included the leading political figures.”

KONIG FRANZ (+2004)1In 1964, the Council was in its Third Session.  Cardinal Koenig granted an interview which focused on the work of the Council as it was beginning to see the final directions various issues were going to take.  The Constitution on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) had already been promulgated at the end of the previous session (1963), and work was nearing completion on the landmark Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium).  Much work remained, but the end was in sight, even if it would take a fourth and final session to complete everything.  And at the beginning of the interview, Koenig offered a wonderful insight about the work of the Council: “The switches are now thrown in the right direction.”  The metaphor is most apt, emphasizing that the impact of the Council itself will only truly be known in the decades following the event of the Council.  The Council was putting the institutional Church on a particular course, and only in the years to come would the results of those “thrown switches” be known.

He continued the image by saying, “We must appreciate the overall influence emanating from these deliberations, the impact resulting from them and we should realize that the gears certainly cannot be thrown into reverse anymore.”  Citing the work going on with dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium)and the document on the pastoral responsibilities of bishops (the Decree Christus Dominus), Koenig observed that “easily 80% of the council Fathers are fully behind the innovations now proposed, especially in regard to what has been called the collegial principle, which in practice implies a decentralization and internationalization of the Church.”  He was being very conservative in his estimates.  By the time the final voting on these documents took place, Lumen gentium was approved by a vote of 2,151 placet to 5 non placet, and Christus Dominus by a vote of 2,319 placet to 2 non placet.

koenig stampThroughout the interview, Cardinal Koenig keeps to his theme that the Council is only the beginning of reform.  Citing world hunger as one example, he says, “We should face [it] realistically by expressing our concern for it and thereby inaugurate the sort of collective initiatives which eventually lead to tangible results.”

For we who serve fifty years later, I suggest that this long-range view remains essential in our own approach to ministry and the terrible pastoral needs of the world today.  How practical and yet how humble is the attitude expressed by so many of the Council Fathers, as we see in this particular case.  They fully accepted that the problems of the world would be best served, not merely by trying to devise immediate, tactical responses, but rather to place the Church on a proper course and to “inaugurate” strategic initiatives which might only bear fruit years later.

As we serve today, focused on the immediate needs of our people, do we also allow ourselves to be long-range thinkers and dreamers?  How might we “throw switches in the right direction” so that parishioners fifty or one hundred years from now will benefit, long after we are gone?  What will be the long-range implications of what we do today?  Certainly there are matters that cannot be left for the future: barbarism, terror and violence demand immediate attention!  And yet, in addition to thinking tactically, how might we also plan strategically?

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[1] The full interview may be found at Placid Jordan, OSB, “Interview with Cardinal Koenig,” in Council Daybook: Vatican II: Session 3, September 14 to November 21, 1964 (Washington, DC: National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1965), 181.  All quotations in this column are taken from that interview.

Back from Vacation!

The silence here has been due to a conscious decision to “unplug” a bit while taking a couple of weeks to visit family around the country. It’s been a wonderful, life-giving time.  Here’s just one picture with two of our fourteen grandchildren!

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I’m back now, however, and intend to get back to many things, including this blog, once I clear a pile of paperwork from my desk!

God bless all here!

The Chiapas Decision: About More than Mayan Deacons

Chiapas DeaconsA few days ago, Deacon Greg Kandra posted an item on the restoration of diaconate ordinations in the Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the State of Chiapas in Mexico. Read it here.  This is, of course, great news for the people of that diocese.  However, it is a decision which has far greater ramifications than the diaconate itself.  At issue is a renewed sense of ecclesial identity.  While some describe this as a “win” for a rehabilitated Liberation Theology, I believe it goes even farther than that.

Chiapas2First, we need to get our bearings.  Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico; it shares its eastern border with Guatemala. Chiapas is home, not simply to Mayan descendants, but twelve recognized ethnic populations.  Poverty is extreme, the terrain is rugged, and the people for centuries isolated from other parts of the region.  The history of the area is one of suppression of the indigenous peoples.

Second, we meet a young bishop named Samuel Ruiz Garcia.  Born in 1924, Samuel Ruiz was ordained a priest at 24 and was named bishop of Chiapas at age 35.  He went to seminary in Mexico and in Rome, completing a doctorate in Sacred Scripture after his ordination.  He was appointed bishop in November, 1959, and ordained and installed in January, 1960.  He remained bishop of that diocese for forty years, retiring as required at age 75, in 2000; he died in 2011.

Samuel Ruiz2Moving to Chiapas, and following a tour the diocese which was accomplished largely by mule in order to reach some of the remote areas of the diocese, the bishop was greatly affected by the way the indigenous peoples were being treated.  Not unlike Bishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador, he was moved to do all he could to secure their rights and freedom.  Within two years he was attending the Second Vatican Council with its own renewal of ecclesiology, especially its ideas of collegiality, subsidiarity, co-responsibility, and human dignity.  Following the Council he was one of the guiding lights behind the Medellin Conference (1968) with its own focus on regional social justice.  His efforts involved adopting and adapting principles of what became known as liberation theology, which drew the ire of Mexican political leaders as well as Church officials.  He expanded efforts of inculturation, small base communities, and new catechetical methods.  And, after Pope Paul VI renewed a permanent diaconate in 1967, he looked into the diaconate as a way of encouraging and providing for indigenous religious leadership throughout the diocese.

I am not competent to discuss the civil and political aspects of Bishop Ruiz’ tenure, but from an ecclesiological standpoint, his forty years as diocesan bishop became a model for what is rightly termed “autochthonous” leadership.  Autochthonous has been defined as “indigenous” or “native”: specifically, “indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists”.  Bishop Ruiz’ obituary in the New York Times observed:

During his 40 years of presiding over a Roman Catholic diocese in Chiapas State, Bishop Ruiz cast light on abuses suffered by the Indians and sought to bring them into the church as equals with other Mexicans, challenging the rigidly stratified social order. . . .

Bishop Ruiz attracted a fervent following among Indians in Chiapas, who called him “Tatic,” which means “father” in a Mayan language. On Tuesday, Indian parishioners filled the cathedral in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a colonial town in the Chiapas highlands, for a memorial Mass that also commemorated the 51st anniversary of Bishop Ruiz’s ordination there. . . .

Bishop Ruiz was influenced by the Second Vatican Council, which in the 1960s called for bringing the Catholic faith to people in a way that reflected their own cultures. . . .

Starting in 1970, Bishop Ruiz ordered translations of the Bible and other religious texts in the indigenous languages of Chiapas. He trained Indian catechists, or instructors, to organize village assemblies throughout the mountains and jungles of the diocese. By the end of his tenure, there were more than 20,000 Indian catechists in Chiapas, said Pablo Romo, a former Dominican priest who worked with the bishop.

“He made the word of God accessible to the people,” Mr. Romo said.

chiapas-samuel-ruiz-funeral-3In addition to those 20,000 catechists, Bishop Ruiz ordained hundreds of deacons: by the time of his retirement in 2000, there were 341 deacons in his diocese, out of a total in all of Mexico of only 800!  Several news sources have reported that this number is the largest number of deacons in any Catholic diocese in the world, this is not accurate; several dioceses in the United States exceeded that number, even in 2000.  Regardless, it is a significant indication of Bishop Ruiz’ commitment to indigenous religious leadership.  It also got him into difficulties with the Holy See.

There were only 60 priests in the diocese, and Rome became concerned that there were so many deacons in relationship to the priests.  There were rumors, later found to be completely false, that Bishop Ruiz was ordaining women as deacons, as well as encouraging his deacons to join with rebel factions against the government. However, the Holy See’s interest was not only with Bishop Ruiz: In a pattern to be repeated elsewhere in Latin America, it is reported that St. John Paul II replaced as many as 86 of 100 Mexican bishops in two years alone, between 1997-1998. In 1997, two seminaries were closed.  The fear that Marxist applications of liberation theology were overshadowing its positive aspects, created great concern, and liberation theology as a whole came under considerable negative scrutiny.  John Paul II and Benedict XVI were both critical in their negative assessment of liberation theology, with Benedict XVI at one point apparently referring to it as “deceitful.”  (I’m still looking for the precise quote, however.)  Although Bishop Ruiz had been asked by the Holy See to suspend ordinations of any more permanent deacons, he continued.  Finally, his successor reluctantly agreed to a suspension, which the Holy See made permanent in 2001.

Felipe Arizmendi of ChiapasBishop Felipe Arizmendi, who has continued Bishop Ruiz’ pastoral plan for autochthony, has been in constant dialogue with the Holy See for the last fourteen years, attempting to explain his position, including his need to ordain as many as 200 new permanent deacons.  Until now, that has seemed an impossible task.  Many people confuse “autochthonous” with “autonomous” and they are two very different things.  No one wishing to maintain communion with the See of Peter would propose an “autonomous” church, and Bishop Arizmedi makes that position quite clear: that is NOT what they are doing.  An “autochthonous” structure, however, focuses on indigenous leadership, strongly enculturated by the people themselves.  It is this that Bishop Ruiz, and now Bishop Arizmendi, has sought.

But things seem to be changing.  Last year, Pope Francis welcomed Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez to the Vatican and honored a “founding father” of liberation theology.  In isolation, that may have been little more than a long-overdue sign of respect for Fr. Gutierrez and his ministry over many decades.  However, with this lifting of the ban on ordaining deacons in the diocese, perhaps more is at work here.

As I have long maintained in my own research and writing on the diaconate, we can never consider the diaconate out of the context of the entire Church.  Bishop Ruiz, and now Bishop Arizmendi, did not simply ordain deacons to have deacons.  They see the diaconate as it should be seen: as a sign of the servant-Church itself.  These deacons are serving as part of the larger pastoral plan to have an autochthonous church structure, much like those still in place in our Eastern Catholic churches, and which were the common polity of the ancient Church.  To read more about that, the wonderful work of another bishop, John R. Quinn, archbishop-emeritus of San Francisco, is most informative and helpful.  Find his books here.

Could this be part of a gradual movement in this direction, under the leadership of our first Latin American Pope?

In a June 12 letter following announcement of his intention to ordain 100 new deacons, Bishop Arizmendi lamented that 50 years after Vatican II revived the permanent diaconate, “in many parts its importance is still not understood.” I echo that sentiment, and pray for those about to be ordained to the service of the Chiapas vineyard of the Lord!

SanChristobal Cathedral

 

 

Happy 47th Anniversary to All Deacons!

At Salvatorian Seminary, 196618 June 1967.  I had just graduated from high school seminary at Salvatorian Seminary, St. Nazianz, Wisconsin.  I would soon be leaving to start college seminary.  So, I have to admit, I wasn’t paying much attention to what was coming out of the Holy See on 18 June, 1967.

paulvi-colourBut Pope Paul VI did something that day which was to change the lives of so many of us!  He issued, as the result of a decision reached three years earlier by the bishops assembled at the Second Vatican Council, Sacrum Diaconatus Ordinem (“The Sacred Order of the Diaconate”): read it here.  He restored a diaconate which was to be permanently exercised to the Latin Church.

Consider it this way.  On that June day in 1967 there were no “permanent” deacons in the Latin Church: all Latin deacons were destined for eventual ordination as presbyters (priests).  Shortly after the Pope’s action, deacons would be ordained in Germany and Africa, with more men in formation in Europe and other parts of the world.  Today there are more than 40,000 deacons around the world, with thousands more candidates in formation.

The Council of Trent in the 16th Century had stated a desire to have a kind of “permanent” diaconate again, but no pope ever acted upon that desire.  Without Pope Paul VI, we wouldn’t be here today, so thank you, Your Holiness!

Happy anniversary to ALL deacons, East and West!  Ad multos annos!  May God grant us all many years in his service.

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D-Day: A Personal Reflection

D-Day1I wasn’t at D-Day 70 years ago.  I wasn’t at Pearl Harbor 73 years ago.  I wasn’t in Poland 75 years ago.  But like everyone else alive today, my life has been given a context because of these events, the events which transformed the world.

The context is this: In the face of tyranny, good people rise up and take a stand and put their own lives and safety on the line in service of others.  The Polish citizens and their soldiers, most of whom were on foot or on horseback, trying valiantly to defend their homeland on 1 September 1939 against the Nazi juggernaut invading their country.  The sailors, Marines, soldiers and airmen — along with untold numbers of civilians, who found their world exploding literally around them on 7 December 1941 in Hawaii.  And the day we remember today — D-Day — 6 June 1944, men and women from all walks of life who had abandoned their “real lives” in order to support the war effort to overturn the Axis powers, took to the ships, landing craft, and aircraft to mount an Allied response to tyranny.

Uncle JoeAll of us have family members who took part.  In our family, two uncles served as paratroopers, and one of them was part of the 101st Airborne “Band of Brothers” who jumped behind the lines that day.  He wrote a letter a few weeks after D-Day to his brother, who had been injured in training, and that letter has become part of our family’s treasured tradition.  He describes in phenomenal detail his experiences of D-Day and the days immediately following.  When I first read that letter as a young boy in the 1950’s I thought it read like a movie and was too fantastic to believe.  It also changed forever how I viewed my uncle, because that letter revealed a young man I hadn’t met before.  When I read that letter today, as a man in my 60’s who was a career Navy officer, I see a young man like so many other young men and women who rolled up their sleeves, year after year, conflict after conflict, put their own lives on hold, and did what needed to be done without counting the cost.

In my own Navy career of 22 years, going from Seaman to Commander, every duty station I was ever assigned, every place we lived, every place I was sent on duty, was because of the events of 70 years ago.  Cyprus, Guam, Okinawa, Hawaii, Midway, Kwajelein Atoll, Singapore, and even the Stateside assignments — the context of our family’s life is found in the sacrifice of those men and women so many years ago.  And we must never forget.

In our own time, we too are called upon to serve without counting the cost.  How are we doing?  Will future generations look back at us and say, “They have given meaning to our lives”?

Well, are we?

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