Friday, April 20, 2007

Developing the Faith

The keenly awaited America interview with Cardinal William Levada, prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has dropped in the magazine's current edition.

As the highest-ranking American in Vatican history comes up on the second anniversary of his appointment to Cardinal Ratzinger's old job, he was queried for the Jesuit magazine by Doris Donnelly, director of the Cardinal Suenens Center at Cleveland's John Carroll University. Next week, as previously mentioned, Levada will receive an honorary doctorate from the Jesuit school, where he'll give his first major speech in the US since taking the reins of the former Holy Office.

As Donnelly noted that Suenens, the legendary Belgian progressive of Vatican II, "wrote in his memoirs that [then-]Monsignor Levada and he were 'on the same wave length,'" the cardinal spoke of the perils of globalisation and his keen interest in the development of the Magisterium on several issues, as he did in a lengthy February sit-down with a Belgian publication.

Among the developments he cited was the church's view of the slave trade: "There is a long tradition in the church of accepting the institution of slavery," he said, "but in the light of the repeated teachings of modern popes and the Second Vatican Council on the dignity of the human person, church teaching has evolved from acceptance of slavery as part of the human condition to its eventual condemnation."

The cardinal-prefect later touched on the evolution of church teaching regarding capital punishment. Donnelly noted the exclusion of the phrase "the traditional teaching of the church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty" -- present in the Catechism of the Catholic Church -- from 2005's Compendium to the 1992 text.

While Levada answers that he's "asked those responsible for the compendium to indicate whether" the phrase's elision "is a 'signal' of development," and that a "negative" reply came back, he cites that "the need to take into account Pope John Paul II’s 'development' in regard to the death penalty, contained in his 1995 encyclical letter The Gospel of Life (No. 56), resulted in a change in the text from the first editions of the catechism (French, 1992; English, 1994) to the Latin typical edition published in 1997.

"A comparison of the English translation of 1994 and those made after 1997 will demonstrate the 'development' in the catechism’s treatment of the death penalty to reflect, among other things, the papal teaching that 'cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically non-existent' (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2267)."

Noting the success of both the Catechism and the Compendium -- both produced under the aegis of the CDF -- the interviewee held them up as examples of his congregation's awareness "of the deliberate recommendation of the bishops in the postconciliar reform of Vatican II that this congregation would develop a positive orientation in its work, in addition to its traditional focus of rejecting heretical and erroneous teaching." Notably, given the interview's timing just before the CDF published its notification on the works of John Sobrino SJ, the Basque liberation theologian, he said of the latter element that "if corrections took place by peers, if there were a functioning process of serious review and assessment in light of Catholic doctrine by theologians competent to evaluate the work of one of their own, there would be much less work for us to do in the congregation."

Of the reign of Pope Benedict, a friend of 25 years and his predecessor at the doctrinal office, Levada said that he was "delighted" to see how the pontiff "has overcome a certain innate reserve so that he can accept his role comfortably." The former Cardinal Ratzinger "continues to have a very keen interest" in the work of the congregation he led for 23 years, and while his successor said that "along the way, if he wants to give us an orientation or direction, he can," the cardinal didn't disclose if the Pope had, indeed, exercised that prerogative to date.

They say a spot on Levada's reading list was once taken up by The Pope's Daughter, a look at pre-papal offspring of the future Julius II (who, history says, ended the reign of corrupt pontiffs). These days, the cardinal said, he's "fascinated" by the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist. Levada copped to being "halfway through" Dawkins' book The God Delusion, saying as he did that "engaging religion and science in conversation is important, so for me it's necessary to understand Dawkins's arguments."

Asked by Donelly what he prays for, the interview wrapped with Levada's comment that, alongside the work of the Holy Father and his Roman Curia, "he prays also and especially, he said, for the poor who live with the unjust effects of globalization and are pushed even further into misery and suffering."

Since advance word of the interview hit these pages last week, Levada's made a bit more news across the Pond, the circulation of which spurred a clarification from the Roman backrooms that, confirming the prior expectation, no transition at the helm of the archdiocese of New York is foreseen before the end of its bicentennial in April 2008. Word from Gotham says this should be evidenced shortly on the ground by a mini-reshuffle in 1011's top ranks.

In advance of his Cleveland lecture on Tuesday, Levada will be spending the weekend on the East Coast.