Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In B16's Vatican, Doctrine Is the Best Medicine

While a handful of John Paul II's favored countrymen still linger in top Curial posts, Papa Wojtyla's successor returned one of his Polish crew to Vatican service over the weekend.

On Saturday, Pope Benedict named Bishop Zygmunt Zimowski of Radom as president of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Health-Care Workers, essentially the global church's top voice on matters medical. From 1983 until his episcopal appointment in 2002, the 60 year-old prelate -- a theologian by training -- served at the Congregation for the Doctine of the Faith under then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who ordained his longtime aide a bishop on his return home to lead the 900,000-member diocese south of Warsaw.

Of course, the move comes fresh on the heels of the papal visit to Africa, when Benedict sparked a global tempest with his in-flight comment that the distribution of condoms to combat HIV/AIDS only "increase[s] the problem."

In the latest round of the quote's fallout, late last week the Holy See took aim at a protest of the Pope's words passed by the Belgian parliament and communicated by the country's ambassador to the Vatican.

In a release from the top Curial office, the Secretariat of State said it "deplores the fact that a Parliamentary Assembly should have thought it appropriate to criticize the Holy Father on the basis of an isolated extract from an interview, separated from its context, and used by some groups with a clear intent to intimidate, as if to dissuade the Pope from expressing himself on certain themes of obvious moral relevance and from teaching the Church’s doctrine.

"As is well known," it added, "the Holy Father, in answer to a question concerning the efficacy and the realistic character of the Church’s positions on combating Aids, stated that the solution is to be sought in two directions: on the one hand through bringing out the human dimension of sexuality; and on the other, through true friendship and willingness to help persons who are suffering. He also emphasized the commitment of the Church in both these areas.

"Without this moral and educational dimension, the battle against Aids will not be won."

Zimkowski succeeds Mexican Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, whose resignation was accepted a year after he reached the retirement age of 75. One of the Curia's most tech-friendly chiefs, Barragan had led the Vatican's "health ministry" since 1996. His successor joins two other Poles at the helm of Roman dicasteries, both with close ties to the prior pontificate: a close friend and classmate of John Paul's longtime secretary, now Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski remains the church's Schools Czar, overseeing the Congregation for Catholic Education, and Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko -- an assistant secretary to Cardinal Karol Wojtyla in the run-up to the 1978 conclaves -- heads the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

With the appointment, Benedict XVI has named 15 of the 23 heads of the topmost "cabinet" offices. Of that group, Zimkowski is the fifth to have been a close collaborator of the now-pontiff during his 23 years at the CDF; the others are Cardinals Tarcisio Bertone, now Secretary of State; the CDF prefect William Levada, the Worship Czar Antonio Cañizares Llovera, and the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Archbishop Angelo Amato, who'll receive the red hat at the next consistory, which could take place as soon as this summer, according to some reports.

In other Vatican doings, next Tuesday the Pope will visit L'Aquila, the epicenter of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck Italy's Abruzzo region early in Holy Week, killing close to 300 people and leaving another 65,000 homeless. Among other stops on the daylong trip, B16 will visit the tent city where thousands of displaced survivors have decamped and the collapsed dormitory that's become a symbol of the destruction.

Along the way, he'll also make an intriguing stop at the tomb of Pope Celestine V -- the last Roman pontiff to resign the office. "In homage," Benedict will leave a papal pallium at the resting place of his predecessor, who died (possibly under sinister circumstances) two years after leaving office to seek "a purer life" in 1294.

And lastly, it seems as if another hold's been called on Caritas in Veritate, Papa Ratzi's already well-delayed social encyclical, begun in 2007 and most recently promised for sometime this spring. As the Roman buzz has it, the addition of a treatment on the global economic crisis to the text, along with the recent shockwaves behind the walls, has led to the re-shelving of the document's release, possibly to beyond the summer.