Wednesday, June 06, 2007

CDF's "Beloved" = Dialogue's B16 Shot?

As mentioned here last week, in an interview with a Turinese newspaper, Bertone the Omnipresent announced on the Pope's behalf that the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue will soon have a president to call its own again.

Since March 2006, PCID has shared its top official, Cardinal Paul Poupard, with the Pontifical Council for Culture, which the Frenchman had headed long before Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald was exiled from the former's presidency to the Vatican nunciature in Cairo. Given perceptions of the "downgrading" of interfaith affairs by making the dicastery's president do double-duty, Bertone's statement was widely viewed as a U-turn in light of the controversy surrounding Benedict XVI's Regensburg speech and the fallout wrought in the Muslim world by an incendiary quote in the pontiff's text.

After the SegStat let word of the Apartment's intention slip, Fitzgerald's many friends in the Eternal City have hoped that the Papal 180 would complete itself with the restoration of the English prelate -- an expert on Islam and fluent Arabic speaker -- to the post overseeing the church's relations with faiths other than the Christian and Jewish communities. However, word quickly gaining ground-speed across Rome (which, given Benedict's leanings, has a distinct ring of credibility to it) advances that the PCID presidency appears headed for a vanguard soldier of Papa Ratzi's "border patrol": the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Angelo Amato SDB.

Even before succeeding Bertone -- his Salesian confrere -- as Cardinal Ratzinger's #2 at the former Holy Office in late 2002, Amato (shown above with his prefect) already scored his defining mark on recent Vatican history by ghostwriting 2000's Dominus Iesus, the CDF declaration on the primacy of Catholicism among religions which caused something of an earthquake in ecumenical and interfaith circles. The archbishop, who turns 69 on Friday, was a theology prof at Rome's Pontifical Salesian University on his ascent to the senior post of the premier congregation; prior to his elevation, Amato was already a consultor to the CDF, as well as to the Pontifical Councils for Christian Unity and, yes, Interreligious Dialogue. He still sits on the two councils in said advisory capacity.

While Amato's place in the Benedictine ascendancy was assured from Day One of his boss' pontificate, in recent months it's become clearer still. Each of the now-Pope's CDF secretaries has gone on to receive the red hat in a top post of his own, and Amato's eventual entrance into the college of cardinals is one of the safer bets of what's become (to the frustration of many) an inertia-ridden Vatican.

Though anyone expecting the dogmatic theologian to draw a conciliatory line on the tenets of faith would be left wanting, if he indeed ends up as the lead player in Catholicism's interfaith relations, Amato's close ties to Benedict would place the dialogue's course in the hands of a prelate who ranks high in the small circle of the pontiff's most trusted deputies, thus rendering the reported move no mere restoration of PCID's prior standing, but a stratospheric spike in the beat's prominence and import. What's more, given recent reports of tensions within the office overseeing the purity of church teaching, entrusting Amato a dicastery of his own would be a win-win resolution for the Pope, allowing his former lieutenant to spread his wings and giving Benedict's successor as prefect, Cardinal William Levada, a secretary of his choosing following the Californian's two-year transition into the post. An Amato transfer from the CDF would also -- at least, in theory -- sound the death knell of earlier rumors tipping the Vatican's top American for a return home as archbishop of New York.

To be sure, the Salesian's unique brand of truth-telling isn't limited to the interreligious stage. As the film version of The DaVinci Code neared release last year, the archbishop chalked up the book's popularity to "the extreme cultural poverty on the part of a good number of the Christian faithful."

Were "such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust," Amato told church communicators at a seminar in Rome, "they would have justly provoked a world uprising.

"Instead, if they are directed against the Church and Christians, they remain unpunished."

In the same speech, the prelate criticized religious exchanges on television, saying that the church's stance "is put at the same level as that of all others, as the debate does not seek truth, but only the enunciation of opinions."

His biggest brush with global headlines, however, came this past April, when Amato addressed "the problem of evil" before an audience of Italian aviation chaplains and ended up facing an international outcry.

"Reading the daily papers -- or using internet, TV or radio -- every day we see a perverse film about evil, which is 'filmed' in every part of the world with scenery and backdrops ever more cruel, as we see in the thousands of provocations of international terrorism," the archbishop said.

"Besides the abominable terrorism of suicide bombers, which is ever-present in the media," he went on, "there is the so-called terrorism with a human face, which is also a daily occurrence and just as repugnant, which continues to be propagated by the media, manipulating traditional language with expressions that hide the tragic reality of the facts."

Among his examples, Amato cited abortion clinics -- "authentic slaughterhouses of nascent human beings"; "the laboratories where, for example, RU-486, the morning-after pill, is made or where human embryos are manipulated as if they were simply biological material... [and] the parliaments of so-called 'civil' nations which promulgate laws contrary to the nature of the human person, like the approval of marriages between persons of the same sex, or of euthanasia."

Six days later, amid a sustained furor in the press over his assertions, the complete text of Amato's remarks ran as a spread in the Sunday edition of the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano.

The move was an unmistakable indicator that the Holy See stood firmly by the speech.