Monday, October 06, 2008

Faithful Citizenship, CDF Edition

For what it's worth, the latest rumblings of the Roman mill might have him moving to the Apostolic Penitentiary (and his current post taken by the cardinal-archbishop of Vienna and "crown prince" of the current pontificate)...

...but yet again, at this writing Cardinal William Levada remains the church's "Grand Inquisitor" as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. And one of three co-presidents for this month's Synod on the Word, to boot.

Others might've scored more headlines this campaign season, but it's worth remembering that, for the first time, global Catholicism's chief guardian of orthodoxy gets to vote in a US presidential election.

If only the Know-Nothings could've lived to see it.

Yet while the prestige of being the Holy See's #3 official and highest-ranking American ever to serve at the Home Office might sound satisfying, it could well be said that, a la Tony Bennett, the native Angeleno left his heart in San Francisco, where he had been happily serving until, three weeks after getting called higher still, a certain Old Friend asked him to take up his old job.

Long one to keep a quiet hand on the scene, though, the titanic profile Joseph Ratzinger attracted at the helm of the former "Holy Office" is as far from his successor's m.o. as LA is from Rome. But the 15-hour flight's become something of a regular hop for the 72 year-old cardinal, who spent his summer downtime at his Long Beach condo and other SoCal haunts before returning again late last month for the twin dedications of Oakland's new cathedral and San Fran's replica of the Assisi Portiuncula (where he's shown, above, with his closest friend and chosen successor in the Bay City, Archbishop George Niederauer).

A member of the US bishops' 2004 ad hoc task force on Catholics in Political Life before his unexpected return to Rome and the Congregation (where he served as a junior staffer from 1976-82), from his new post Levada's signature quiet touch might be barely detected on the wider radar... but inside, remains quite noticeable nonetheless.

For one, having voiced his hope at an April lunch in New York that a "more serene and effective" post-election exchange would take place among the bishops on the ramifications of political support of abortion by Catholic politicians, the hot-button item was added to the agenda of the USCCB's November Meeting in Baltimore, which opens six days after the vote. For another, following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's nationally-televised dissembling over her pro-choice stance's conflict with church teaching, Niederauer's delicately-crafted response on his parishioner's comments bear no shortage of traces of his predecessor's stamp and spirit (in 2004, the soon-to-be prefect himself penned an extensive reflection on the subject).

And in what's likely to be his only direct contribution to the election-year discourse, at an LA prayer breakfast on his last California trek the third Camarillo cardinal offered some impressions on "faithful citizenship," using B16's texts from the springtime visit as his frame:
Benedict demonstrated that affection [for America] right from the beginning. On the first day of his visit, he spoke to President Bush and the highest officials from all three branches of government in the White House Rose Garden, saying: “I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel, and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society.”...

On the occasion of that first address of his visit, Pope Benedict said, “From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the ‘self-evident truth’ that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” He went on to say, in a remark that some of us may want to hope is a prophecy as we struggle along day after day through an election that seems never to end, “As the nation faces the increasingly complex political and ethical issues of our time, I am confident that the American people will find in their religious beliefs a precious source of insight and an inspiration to pursue reasoned, responsible, and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more human and free society.”

Benedict sees faith and freedom as “friends” not enemies, just as Jesus does in the Gospel when He says, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31-2). In this year’s run-up to the election, when political rhetoric often seeks links with our country’s founding principles, the Pope’s succinct analysis bears recalling: “The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good, and a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life and to bring one’s deepest beliefs and values to reasoned public debate. In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good.”

At this point, Pope Benedict recalled the words of his predecessor: “Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II. In a reflection on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows, time and again, that ‘in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation’, and a democracy without values can lose its very soul. These prophetic words, he continued, in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent ‘indispensable supports’ of political prosperity.”

These are not merely the polite remarks of a guest. They represent a mature conviction about democracy’s potential as a guarantee of freedom – including freedom of religion. Pope Benedict returned to this theme in addressing the American Bishops, when he said, “America is --- a land of great faith. Your people are remarkable for their religious fervor and they take pride in belonging to a worshipping community. They have confidence in God, and they do not hesitate to bring moral arguments rooted in biblical faith into their public discourse. Respect for freedom of religion is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness – a fact which has contributed to this country’s attraction for generations if immigrants, seeking a home where they can worship freely in accordance with their beliefs."
Elsewhere in the hometown remarks, the "Grand Inquisitor" indicated that his previously-admitted fascination with a certain Grand Atheist remains very much intact. And so it goes.

PHOTO: Edwin Paul Borbon/Catholic San Francisco