Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Italians Are Fighting Amongst Themselves Again... Ratzi's Officially Pope Now

Well, it had to end sometime, and it seems that seven months into his pontificate, Benedict XVI's papal honeymoon is over. On the home turf, at least.

But don't cry -- looking at it from another vantage, this is the moment when Joseph Ratzinger's papacy has actually, finally, begun.

Saturday morning's Motu proprio letter, in which the Pope stripped the Franciscan Conventuals and Observants of their respective direct jurisdiction over the Basilicas of St. Francis and S. Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, placing both under the aegis of the bishop of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, has stoked fury among the Italian Left, who could always count on the Franciscans for a ready boost. The annual Easter Peace march would be held there, and the Italian press was filled over the weekend with the glee of the now-retired bishop of Assisi at the changes; he wouldn't stop talking about how he had no ability to rein in the sons of the Poverello.

As Phil Pulella of Reuters termed it, Benedict "turn[ed] the screws" on the Friars. To use the best American analogy I could come up with, it's comparable to a mass excommunication of the Kennedys. Does that help?

Strong words from Vittorio Messori, via The Independent in London
[Messori] said: "The Church has a long memory. Joseph Ratzinger has had an account to settle with the friars of Assisi since the inter-religious meeting of 1986. Now he has fixed it."

He went on: "Ratzinger has not forgiven the Franciscan community for the excesses of the first day of prayer of the religious leaders with [Pope John Paul II]. It was a mockery, as many said, that forced the hand of the Pope, and it was the friars who broke the agreement they had made. They went so far as to allow African animists to slaughter chickens on the altar of the basilica of Santa Chiara, and American redskins to dance in the church."

And the conservative anger over Tariq Aziz's Really Big Visit (which wasn't supposed to be big at all) to the tomb of St. Francis in 2003 remains as well. Doesn't help that one of the Franciscans allegedly received $140K from the Oil-for-Food monies... It's very interesting that John Allen wrote about it on Friday -- think he was clued in on the document's impending release?

Whatever the case, just on the off chance you didn't know already, the Left wants you to know that they are not happy
"The fort of dialogue has fallen," lamented Livia Turco, a former minister and member of the opposition Democrats of the Left. "Shorn of their autonomy ... the Franciscans have had their hands tied and will no longer be the bridge between the Church and society."
I can only wonder what's doing over at Adista, which memorably termed Papa Wojtyla's silver anniversary "The Jubilee of Repression." I hope they're OK over there and that the windows are bolted shut.

But above all else, this fraught situation -- ahead of Italian national elections in April -- gives an opening to see in a new light the transfer of Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino, heretofore Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to Assisi as the new bishop. As noted here within minutes of his Saturday appointment (announced concurrently with the papal decree), Sorrentino is a political scientist by trade, one who spent a good chunk of time in the Secretariat of State.

It's quite possible that the forces who engineered the change in the status of the Franciscans, having an inkling that the move would provoke fury and shake up public opinion far beyond Umbria, knew that the skills of a trusted diplomat would be needed to smooth over the local situation. Ergo, this thinking goes, Sorrentino was the ideal man for the job. That he happened to be the second-in-command on the church's liturgical matters was simply serendipity, a chance for Benedict to kill two birds with one stone, a second shoe that will drop when, in short order, the Pope appoints a new archbishop-secretary to serve alongside the prefect of Divine Worship... whoever that may be.