Monday, March 20, 2006

THE CONSISTORY: The First American

The ritual of Friday's public consistory stipulates that the first-listed of the new cardinals who will receive the red biretta shortly thereafter rises to offer the Pope an address of homage and gratitude in the name of his fellow designees.

While the practice will continue, there will be an innovation: for the first time, the homage will be rendered by an American.

As he prepares for his big moment before a worldwide audience, Cardinal-designate William J. Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, answers "10 Questions" from TIME's Jeff Israely in Rome:
How will you feel when you get your red hat from the Pope? Of course, I'm honored. But you also want to make sure your hat is on straight.

Your new job places you in the top ranks of the Vatican hierarchy. Does the responsibility of your new office feel overwhelming?
I can say that I'm past the deer-in-the-headlights phase. The biggest challenge now is the amount of reading — not only of new material, but rereading documents and decisions taken by the Congregation....

is this Pope especially open to debate?
Benedict introduced for the first time a "free discussion" period in the Synod of Bishops. We also adopted it in our meetings at the Congregation [for the Doctrine of the Faith], and the members appreciate it. The Congregation has members who are like a board of trustees, and I'm the equivalent of the chairman.

You raised the issue in the synod about whether politicians should be granted communion if they support policies counter to Church teachings.
There are certain teachings that as Catholics we have to accept as part of Jesus' Gospel. When you see Catholic politicians who favor abortion rights ... you have to ask yourself how this person squares this with his personal faith. Catholic politicians need to take this seriously. Maybe they need to say I'm not able to practice my faith and be a public representative.

As doctrinal chief, can you explain the recent instruction on whether a gay man can become a priest?
The document is very clear. It says a person with deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not suited for the priesthood. Somebody who comes to the seminary from a gay lifestyle cannot be a priest. But if you can show us after five or 10 years that you have been able to live a celibate life, it could be possible. But there would need to be spiritual and psychological evaluations....
Levada also addressed the question of clerical celibacy, saying that while "celibacy is a discipline from the invitation of Christ... we also need to be more creative about finding new ways to get men to step forward to the priesthood."
When Papa Ratzinger welcomed you to the new job, did he have any advice on how to handle such a responsibility? No [laughs]. He just smiled, and said: "Go to it."
You'll have to forgive me -- having broken the buzz hours after Levada's 3 May audience with his now-predecessor as Grand Inquisitor, I'm feeling like a very proud papa these days.

Speaking of Levada, the newspaper of his former charge smacked him yesterday in its Sunday editorial on the question of adoptions by same-sex couples.