Friday, February 17, 2006

Indulging in The Tablet

Because it is Friday, after all, Happy Tablet Day to everyone.

From the Pope's backyard, Robert Mickens examines the question of indulgences:
Many Catholics today, at least those on the progressive wing of the Church, probably never give indulgences a second thought. The notion that by securing an indulgence – quite simply the removal of the temporal punishment of sins that have already been forgiven by the Church – one can secure a fast track to heaven seems curiously outmoded to many. It is an aspect of Catholic life that belongs, if not to the Middle Ages, to the pre-Vatican II era.

But now there is clear evidence that indulgences are very much back at the heart of Catholic life as seen from the Vatican. In his first 10 months of office, Pope Benedict XVI has explicitly – and surprisingly – granted a plenary indulgence in connection with three major ecclesial events: last year’s World Youth Day, the fortieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II, and the recent World Day of the Sick.

So what should we make of such recommendations? Has the Church taken a step backwards? Or have indulgences continued to exist, but been quietly ignored? In fact it can be argued that Benedict’s interest in indulgences tells us a great deal about how he perceives his own authority and that of the Church....

The Council of Trent, which sat from 1545 to 1562, not only outlawed the selling of indulgences but also roundly condemned Martin Luther as well: “The Church… condemns with anathema those who say that indulgences are useless or that the Church does not have the power to grant them.” This same formula was re-stated, verbatim, by Pope Paul VI in 1967, some two years after the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which – significantly – had chosen not to issue condemnations or anathemas.

The practice of indulgences was never really addressed at Vatican II. And yet, some four decades later, a good number of Catholics – and many Protestants, too – continue to hold rather firmly but equally erroneously to the notion that the Council did away with indulgences – or, at least, severely altered them. It was actually Pope Paul who oversaw the “revision” of the practice. But the formula that Paul devised was only a partial reform that satisfied neither the Neo-Tridentines (such as the schismatic Lefebvrists) nor the so-called “progressives” more sympathetic to Luther’s position.
Mickens also touches on Archbishop Fitzgerald's journey into Egypt, and what's to come....
[T]he appointment could herald a long-awaited major re-organisation of the Curia. Archbishop Fitzgerald’s nomination as the Vatican’s top diplomat in Egypt is one of Pope Benedict’s first major changes to the make-up of the Vatican government bequeathed to him by John Paul II. Benedict XVI’s only previous change was to appoint American Archbishop William Levada, 69, to succeed him as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Highly placed diplomatic sources in the Vatican were said to be shocked at the extent of the expected changes to the Curia. Some curial conservatives who pushed for Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s election as Pope are said to believe that the influence of certain Vatican dicasteries should be curtailed.
Elsewhere, now that it's published, it can be told that earlier this week your humble narrator -- in his capacity as the paper's US church guru -- interviewed the new archbishop of San Francisco. An enjoyable time was had by all.

No news there for you Loggiaheads, though. You lot have long had the goods on that story. That's why the Whispers keep on a-comin'.