July 13, Wednesday, Holy Office, Dr. Morale

We left the hotel at 8:30 a.m. to walk to the Vatican, and we waited for the Swiss Guard to clear us through for an interview with Father John Paul Kimes, a priest from Birmingham, who is now a cannon lawyer in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, also known as the Holy Office initiated in 1542 by Pope Paul III to watch over matters of the Faith, especially heresy. This was in part in response to the Reformation, but it was not the same as the Spanish Inquisition. Although the Papacy did burn a few people at the stake. They don’t have any instruments of torture any more. Pope Benedict was the Prefect of the Holy Office before he was elected Pope. Father Kimes did show us the “stairs of death” but that was an especially wide stair case built into most of the apartment houses in Rome in order to accommodate carrying out a casket.

John Paul’s specialty is cannon law of the Eastern Rites of the Church. Father Kimes is a priest in the Maronite Rite. A little history is necessary to understand the Eastern Rites and their differences with Rome. There are 22 different kinds of Catholic. 96 % of all Catholics are of the Latin Rite. There are also Melkite, Maronite, and 19 other Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. Historically there were 5 metropolitans in the early church: Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch and Rome. Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. and was lost. The churches associated with Alexandria became known as Coptic. Constantinople was the home of most of the Orthodox churches. And Antioch was the seat of most of what became the Eastern Rite Churches. There was a Western Syrian Tradition, and an Eastern Syrian Tradition. The Eastern Syrian Tradition spread to Persia, India, even Beijing. The Maronites came out of the Western Syrian tradition, and they spread into Northern Syria, parts of Iraq, but with the coming Islam they were pushed into the mountains of Lebanon, where they were cut off for several hundred years, just doing their own thing. Their liturgical language is Aramaic, but it is a different alphabet than the Syrian Orthodox we met in Jerusalem, who are also known as Jacobites who never accepted the Council of Chalcedon.

There was no Bishop in Antioch so in 780 A.D. the Maronite Bishops elected a Patriarch. During the crusades the Maronites began to have contact with Rome again. At first Rome insisted that the Eastern Rite adopt Roman practices, with the Second Vatican council they were allowed to go back to their original traditions. The Maronites have married priests, but they must be married before they are ordained like in the Greek Orthodox tradition.

The Maronite Patriarch is located in a village North of Beirut, but lays claim to Antioch. He is elected by a Synod of Maronite Bishops, and then received by the Pope. The current Patriarch is a monk who became a Bishop and is considered to be a very spiritual person. The wahabi Saudis are dedicated to driving Christians out of the Middle East. There are six different Catholic churches and seven different orthodox communions in Lebanon. The Maronites are in conflict with Hezbollah. The previous Patriarch of the Maronites resigned before he died, because he had become so heavily involved in the crazy politics of Lebanon he felt he needed to step aside and allow a new Patriarch to start with a clean slate.

The Holy Office is part of the Dicastre a Roman word for Department. It is part of the Vatican bureaucracy charged with safe guarding the doctrine of the Church, by examining publications and disciplining people when necessary. When an author publishes a book and seeks the imprimatur of the Congregation of the Faith, the Holy Office will review the material and then send a series of questions to the author, asking for a response for clarification. The dialogue may go on for several years before the Imprimatur is granted. The case of Terry Schiavo was discussed and argued out in the room, where we were sitting for two and a half years, before a decision was made concerning whether food and water have to be administered to a brain dead patient.

Some of the most recent work of the Holy Office has been the examination of Liberation Theology popular in South America and some other places in the Third World. They try to put people on notice, when an author has departed from orthodox doctrine.

The disciplining section of the Holy Office handles the abuse cases from all over the world. Essentially abuse cases have been taken out of the hands of the Bishops, and it is now all processed in Rome. Abuse of minors is always now referred to the civil authorities. Cases of sexual abuse are all over the world. Other types of abuse can include the violation of the confessional seal, and the violation of the eucharist. The Holy Office is also charged with the examination of apparitions. Apparitions that are silent don’t have to be examined, but apparitions, where there is talking is considered to be revelation, teaching, and the content must be examined.

Criteria for examining private revelations:

Apparitions cannot contradict the apostolic tradition. Private revelations are never required to be believed by the faithful. Lourdes and Fatima have never been “approved” by the Holy Office. It is important to draw the distinction between public and private revelation. Where ever there is an apparition, the Holy Office prays the figure or figures don’t say anything. The church only regulates public revelation.

Steve Jones asked about Mother Angelica. The Holy Office does not want to comment. They do not regulate other media in the same way they regulate books. This may be a mistake in the internet age, but they cannot possibly keep up with everything on the internet.

Barry Vaughn asked about the organization Opus Dei. Their founder has been canonized, and they have started many schools especially in Spanish speaking countries. They are sort of like a new Jesuit Order, dedicated to raising the level of intellectual discourse in the church educating for a new intellectual culture. They are organized as a personal prelature. Priests are either attached to a Bishop or an Order, a religious community. In a personal prelature there is a Superior to whom the priest in the prelature are responsible. The Prelate of Opus Dei has the authority to ordain priests. In some places they operate their own parishes and this makes some Bishops nervous.

We asked Father Kimes how he senses the divine in his work. He said that he used to pray for the people involved in the cases he has to review, but had to stop doing that, because he became too emotionally involved. Every day he is examining abuse cases and it is a real downer. In his own personal devotional life he has had period of dryness, sometimes long periods, and then every once in a while he fines “a drop of water,” and he finds himself moved to tears. It doesn’t happen on his schedule either, or when he thinks he needs it. He is grateful for every touch of the divine in his life. He would like to go back and serve a parish, because so much of his life force comes from sharing faith in community. Even on the worst day in the parish something good happens. In the Holy Office we see “the garbage of the church” all the time. There are 53 priests in the Holy Office, and about half of the staff are lay people.

From the Holy Office we left the Vatican and went back to the Hotel to freshen up before going again to the North American College in order to meet with Dr. Allaria Morale. Dr. Morale is Professor of Dogmatic Theology at Gregorian University. Her specialty is relationships and tension in the interfaith dialogue. She was a co-author with Father Becker of an important volume entitled Catholic Engagement with World Religions. In particular she has been involved in discussions with Muslims.

Islam is not a unity. There are several different Islams, and it is important to distinguish with whom you are talking in the Muslim world, and also be clear but diplomatic about Christian Faith. Interfaith dialogue tends to look for commonalities in belief about God. Muslims venerated Jesus as a prophet but not as the Christ.

The theologian Karl Rahner lifted up the theory of anonymous Christians, people who because of the exemplary lives they lead may be said to be Christian, but not by that name. Catholic position acknowledges that all human beings are seeking salvation, and all human beings can be saved, but only God knows how. At Reggensburg Benedict tried to take a first step in engaging the Muslim Communities of the world. Benedict challenged Muslims to embrace human rights, particularly freedom of religion, and he called upon everyone to forsake violence. Whenever a door opens Christians must walk through. The Islamic Spring may be an opening for Catholic initiative.

There are two opposing narratives. Mistakes are part of the history between the church and the Jews. Some Catholics still believe we need to share Jesus with the Jews. Other Catholics say the Jews have their own covenant with God. Have Catholics given up super-cessionism? Most Catholics have. Sometime at the end of time we will all understand.

There are dialogues in individual Islamic countries in hospitals and other places of ministry. Dr. Allaria has been involved in discussions with Muslim scholars at the University of Islam. Turkey wants to be open to Europe, and wants Europe to be open to Turkey, so they are willing to work harder at dialogue than some other countries. The head of the library at Istanbul University began a section of Christian books so students my come to better understand Christian faith.

In the discussion time AB indicated that in several stores in Rome, he could not get waited on because of the color of his skin. Dr. Allaria is from the North of Italy and she agreed that Romans are not nice. But she pointed out that Italians in general are very nervous about immigration especially from Africa. Not unlike some attitudes in the United States about immigration. Many Muslim immigrants come to Italy and the country is not ready for it. It is difficult to share space.

After the formal presentation I was able to get Dr. Alarria aside. She had seemed somewhat uncomfortable trying to make a presentation in English. When we talked together informally, we talked about women’s ordination. She mentioned that the Catholic Church is very resistant to women. I pointed out that in the UCC about half of the ordained people now are women. She expressed some surprise and then said, she wasn’t sure if women need to be ordained. I countered that it must be hard to be taken seriously as a theologian, if you are not a priest. She smiled and acknowledged that reality.

From the North American College we returned to the hotel and tried a restaurant near the hotel recommended by Richard Donahoe. As usual, Richard’s recommendation was a wonderful gastronomical experience.

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