Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Paul's Man in Washington"

The National Catholic Reporter has rolled out what's arguably the definitive obituary of Archbishop Jean Jadot -- the Holy See's delegate to the US from 1973-80, who died yesterday in Belgium aged 99.

The lengthy piece's writer, the retired Louvain don Jack Dick, is putting the finishing touches on his biography of Jadot, Paul's Man in Washington. Reportedly prepared with the understanding that it not be published until after Jadot's death, the final product is foreseen to be "explosive."

From the obit:

In “A Watchman for the House of Israel,” his 1976 address to the general meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, Jadot gave a candid assessment of the state of the Catholic church in the United States, stressing three areas of concern. He began with the shortage of priests: “This morning, my brother bishops, I would like to share with you some of the signs that I read in our times so that we can see from afar and be prepared for what is coming. One problem that we will have to face very soon — at most within 10 years — is the shortage of priests. I ask your permission to be frank and candid. I am worried that so many of us — laity, clergy, and bishops — do not seem to be concerned that, if not today, then in a very few years, we will not be able to staff our parishes and institutions with priests as we did in the past. ... In some regions priests are dying in their 50s from overwork. Others are chronically tired and frustrated because they cannot accomplish by themselves what several priests together accomplished in the past.”

He then went on to stress the need for “new forms of parochial life and perhaps new forms of parochial organization so that the parish can become a community of small communities.”

Then he called attention to the problems of minorities in the American church: “How are we to give pastoral care to those who do not feel at home with our white, Western European ways of public worship and community living, to those who have not adapted and do not want to adapt to what we call our American way of doing things? … How are we to foster the unity of the people of God within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church while at the same time preserving the diversity that is one of the riches of this great country?”

A few bishops reacted with obvious irritation when he chided them about failures to promote social justice and respect for all cultures: “I wonder if the majority of our priests and people realize our shortcomings in these areas and even our arrogance toward our brothers and sisters in the faith who are in some ways different from ourselves. I wonder if we can ever fully understand the legitimate frustrations that they feel.” In his concluding remarks, the apostolic delegate called brief attention to two more areas of concern that the bishops would have to follow up on: “There are other problems either near or far on the horizon. I could mention the question of the role of women in society and in the church or problems that will come from the rejection of the traditional standards of morality in society, political and business life.”

The apostolic delegate concluded his address to “my brother bishops” by saying: “Let us be confident, courageous and open to the Spirit. Let us build the church of God by our foresight.”

A few American bishops were delighted with Jadot’s observations. A number were dumbfounded. Some were outright angry. Clearly, after that November meeting in Washington, two divergent Jadot camps emerged in the United States....

Jadot received a steady flow of anonymous hate mail (originating from Missouri) telling him to “get out of the United States and go back to Belgium.” He was also being denounced at the Vatican. At one point Jadot even offered his resignation to Paul VI, who responded immediately by saying. “No. You are doing just what I want you to do.”...

In early July 1973, Jadot was in Rome to receive specific instructions about his new appointment. Pope Paul VI informed him that he had had been selected to “the most important of our posts” because he was not under the influence of the curia and would not have to follow in the footsteps of his two predecessors. Paul VI was very much aware of the fact that previous apostolic delegates had been pawns in the hands of powerful kingmaker American cardinals. Nor did Paul like the fact that most American bishops were, in his opinion, more big businessmen than they were pastors. It was time for a change. Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, from the Secretariat of State, had also informed the pope that several U.S. archbishops were pushing for a new kind of apostolic delegate, as well. Previous delegates Archbishop Egidio Vagnozzi and Archbishop Luigi Raimondi had in fact not been that well received.

Jadot was told he did not have to be the “eyes and ears of the pope,” but he did have to “express his heart” to the church in the United States. Paul VI, Benelli and other key advisors from the Secretariat of State then outlined major characteristics of Catholics in the United States as well as their concerns. American Catholics were “faithful” and “generous,” especially toward Third-World peoples; they had made great strides in Catholic education, thanks especially to the great numbers of religious; but there were also a number of red flags about the church in North America.

The pope was alarmed about a growing pro-abortion movement in the United Sates, a decline in the quality of religious instruction in Catholic schools, increased numbers of divorced people, and certain questionable theological positions being taught at American Catholic universities. Jadot was reminded about a comment made by Belgian Catholic theologian Edward Schillebeeckx shortly after he had returned from a tour of the United States: “Rome should be paying more attention to the audacity developing within the United States than to what is happening in Holland.”

Benelli stressed that there was a growing communication problem among American Catholics — between conservatives and progressives and between bishops and priests — and added that the Holy See had lost much credibility in the United States. The new apostolic delegate would have to be a healer and a bridge-builder, someone who could establish “bonds of affection.” Pope Paul told Jadot that he had selected him because he was not in the mold of previous delegates Vagnozzi and Raimondi. He expected Jadot to be a new kind of representative of the Holy See. Jadot understood what he meant and immediately sent a clear and highly symbolic message to the American hierarchy. He announced that he would not enter the United States by way of New York.