Feb 13, 2013

The North American papabiles

There are only a few North American names floating around in the speculation about the possible next pope, following the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on Monday. The chances that the next leader of the Roman Catholic Church will be from North America are exceedingly slim. The names that come up in this game of speculation, though, say something about the landscape, about the shape and tendencies and dispositions of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States and Canada, in relationship to the Vatican.

There's little point in speculation, except as a game, but the speculation nevertheless is interesting for what it reveals about the leadership of the Catholic church. It's interesting, for that reason, to look at the three top North American names on the odd-maker's list of papabile cardinals: Marc Ouellet, previously of Quebec, Timothy Dolan, of New York, and Raymond Burke, previously of St. Louis.

There are some differences in style, temperament, and the focuses of their careers, but also some marked similarities, especially with regards to opposition to "secularism" and debates over the correct interpretation of the Second Vatican Council.

The odds on Marc Ouellet becoming the next pope are currently at 7 to 2. That's down a bit from the days before Benedict's announcement, when they were 5 to 2, but still very, very high. Cardinal Ouellet  is actually the very best bet for pope according to those setting the odds, and Vaticanologists do consider him to be a real candidate, though not by any means a sure thing.

In fact, Ouellet himself is on record as  saying it "would be a nightmare" to be made pope, and it's possible that he could decline the papacy.

Ouellet, born in 1944, was elevated to the cardinate in 2003 by Pope John Paul II. He speaks five languages, and has good connections to Latin American cardinals, as well as Italians, who make up about 25 percent of the college of cardinals, and could conceivably draw solid support from both groups when the cardinals gather.

Ouellet's career has been as an academic. He has a doctorate in dogmatic theology, and has been a professor and rector at Catholic seminaries. He is associated with federation of theological journals named Communio, as was Hans Urs von Batlhasar and Pope Benedict XVI.

Looking through his speeches, homilies and public statements, it becomes apparent that the rapid secularization of Quebec in "Quiet Revolution" in the 1960s was significant in his intellectual formation. Ouellet has said, in his public statements, that the first mission of the leaders of the Catholic Church in the 21st century must be to respond to this secularization.

In 2001, he gave a very strong statement about what he looks for in leaders of the church. He said:
Today, especially in the context of our secularized societies, we need bishops who are the first evangelizers, and not mere administrators of dioceses, who are capable of proclaiming the Gospel, who are not only theologically faithful to the magisterium and the pope but are also capable of expounding and, if need be, of defending the faith publicly.
In his time as a primate of Canada, this issue of secularization came up in a conflict over how religion was to be taught in schools. The Supreme Court ruled that religion could only be taught in schools if it was taught neutrally, a decision that Ouellet strongly disagreed with. He argued that the so-called neutrality was actually a "dictatorship of relativism" that was "applied beginning in elementary school."

Ouellet thought that this apparent culture war skirmish was indicative of the "profound crisis shaking the foundations of European culture." He said: "A new raison d'etat imposes its law and tries to relegate the Christian roots of Europe to a secondary plane. It would seem that, in the name of secularism, the Bible must be relativised, to be dissolved in a religious pluralism and disappear as a normative cultural reference."

Ouellet said that many of the teachers in Quebec elementary schools had a "Marxist" approach, which was being masked as neutral.

This wasn't just a matter of clashing worldviews or a debate about the possibility of ideological neutrality in education, though. Ouellet held that Quebec was betraying its religious tradition with this secularization, and that the results were catastrophic. This was the theme of his first homily as archbishop of Quebec City:
Quebec languishes far from the values that gave strength and glory to its forefathers. Its will of cultural survival dramatically clashes with a very low birth rate and catastrophic youth suicides. These incomprehensible suicides tear us to pieces, and alarm us about the family situations and about the values that should give sense to their lives. Are these not the signs of the most serious loss that is striking Quebec society: the forgetfulness of its spiritual heritage, the forgetting of its martyrs and saints? But how much more should we see to the teaching of the virtues and spiritual attitudes that form the soul and the destiny of the people!
Ouellet has expressed concern that the same forces that are work in schools and in undermining European societies have also been felt within the church. Church leaders don't only need to speak the gospel to the secular world, they also need to save the church from that secularism. This is a concern, especially, in how the Second Vatican Council has been interpreted by many.

Ouellet said: "After the council, the sense of mission was replaced by the idea of dialogue. That we should dialogue with other faiths and not attempt to bring them the Gospels, to convert. Since then, relativism has been developing more broadly.”

This is not to say, however, that Ouellet simply dismisses dialogue, or is always strident in his speech, a committed cultural warrior. In one very public act as cardinal, he apologized for Catholic Church's historic failings, specifically towards women, homosexuals and minorities. Last year, in a homily in Ireland, he apologized for the church to the victims of sexual abuse by clerics. He called it a "great shame and enormous scandal," and a "sin against which Jesus himself lashed out."

On the other hand, there were previous instances where it was reported that Ouellet refused to apologize, saying the church was not yet ready for that step.

My sense, though, is that in both the cases where Ouellet engages and dialogue and those in which he opposes it come out of a consistent theological position that can be seen in his interpretation of Vatican II.

In a theological reflection on the council, he said, "Fifty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council, we have seen that its chief inspiration was the ecclesiology of communion, which a right interpretation of the Council gradually identified and emphasized."

Ouellet said that in the "ecclesiology of communion," the church itself becomes a sacrament, which is to say that it has a very important role in the world, much of which has been secularized, a role as the carrier of grace. He said:
The Church thus becomes a sacrament [...]. As 'sign,'  she is the bearer of a mysterious divine reality that no image or analogy of this world will adequately express. As 'instrument,' she works efficaciously for the salvation of the world through her union with Christ, who associates her to his unique priesthood as his Body and Bride. The Church’s mission thus coincides with the sacramental form of the love that reveals God at work in the world, in an intimate synergy with the witnesses of the New Covenant.
Kathryn Jean Lopez, a conservative American Catholic who writes for National Review, calls Ouellet "brilliant and holy." Considering his chances to become the next pope, she notes: "He’s got a steady hand and is widely respected — and his resemblance to John Paul II in certain — even physical — ways is uncanny."

If Lopez likes any North American leader of the Catholic Church more than Ouellet, it's probably Timothy Dolan, whose chances, as of Benedict's resignation, were set at 25 to 1, though they've now dropped to 40 to 1.

According to Lopez, Dolan, born in 1950, would be a very good choice because "Everyone knows Cardinal Dolan and his media acumen and warm and pastoral heart."

Dolan has only been a cardinal for a year, but already he's the face of American Catholicism. Which means he's  charismatic, camera-ready and conservative.

He's been called a "back slapper," and a professional extrovert who loves to talk sports.

A lot of attention has been paid to Dolan's temperament and style. It can be seen as his greatest strength and weakness, in being considered for pope. Dolan was elevated to the cardinate by Benedict XVI, who, it has been said, tended to look for prelates with a certain sort of style. Benedict wanted "leaders who are basically conservative in both their politics and their theology, but also upbeat, pastoral figures given to dialogue," those who were part of the "center-right" of the American Catholic hierarchy. That means,
Bishops who are temperamentally conservative but who prefer to set a tone rather than impose penalties, who give pride of place to pro-life issues but also devote energy to other social justice concerns, who are often more invested in concrete pastoral concerns rather than political battles, and who are willing to work within the bishops’ conference as an expression of collegial relationships with other bishops.
This has been called "affirmative orthodoxy." The description suits Dolan very well.

His interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, for example, puts an emphasis on the church's "evangelical duty." He has said that Vatican II should be understood as a teaching that "refines the Church’s understanding of her evangelical duty, defining the entire Church as missionary, that all Christians, by reason of baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist, are evangelizers."

Dolan believes that, following Vatican II, because of the secularization of modern societies, evangelism is the mission of the church, "central to the life of every local church, to every believer."

This has led him to be very outspoken, politically. He has regularly made the news for his critiques of Barak Obama. He spoke out to oppose Obama's invitation to speak at Notre Dame, for example, and has been on the forefront of opposition to the Obamacare requirement that employers, including Catholic hospitals and charities, provide coverage of contraception in their employees' insurance plan.

Sometimes, his opposition has not been temperate. On one popular FOX News show, Dolan said the Obama administration was a "force trying to caricature" Catholic bishops as "bullies," and warned of a new religion "called secularism," that wanted to "duct tape" the mouths of religious people when they entered the public square.

The cardinal said that secularists, and specifically the president, were trying to erect a "Berlin wall" between church and state.

Dolan has, at other times, spoken out about what he perceives to be a pervasive anti-Catholic bias that manifests in political opposition to the American bishops. In an interview with the Associated Press, he  said, "Periodically, we Catholics have to stand up and say, 'Enough. The church as a whole still calls out to what is noble in us."

In that same interview, however, he also reached out to alienated Catholics, saying, "Please come back. We miss you. We're sorry if we hurt you. We'll listen to you. It's not the same without you."

He has also been vocal about the abuse scandals that have rocked the church, and alienated many of those Catholics he's now saying he wants back in the church. Dolan has said he is "haunted" by the fact that clerics routinely sexually abused children with impunity, and said"it is impossible to exaggerate the gravity of the situation." He acknowledged that the church cannot yet put the scandal behind her. In 2009, he said: "We're nowhere near to admitting that, thanks be to God, we've got this behind us .... And we should be glad that we can't say that. Because it's the kind of thing that is necessitating the vigilance ... to see that it never happens again."

Some prominent conservative Catholics have said the cause of the abuse was the liberal theology creeping into the church, blaming the factions they have consistently opposed. Dolan, however, has identified the root cause of the scandal as the church's penchant for secrecy. He said, ''Mistakes were made in the past because it was a little closed, a little clandestine, and we've got to be more open, more transparent.''

Dolan has not been entirely separate from the scandal, though. When he was an archbishop, in Milwaukee, he authorized payments of up to $20,000 to priests who'd been abusing children, a severance package of sorts to convince them to not fight laicization. Dolan denied doing this, but subsequent investigation showed he was involved in the pay-outs. The one time he mentioned this money, he referred to one such payment as an "act of charity" when pressed by a reporter.

Dolan's response to the abuse scandals has not defined him, though, as much as his personality and his visibility has. In the last few days, he's been on numerous media outlets discussing Benedict's resignation. He wrote about the pope's empty chair in a column in the New York Daily News in a way that could only be described as "pastoral."

As the Religious News Service notes, "Dolan’s extraordinary visibility and popularity are being cited as factors that could make him the first American with a realistic shot at being elected pope when the College of Cardinals gathers in March," but,
The same everyman exuberance that endears him to the hoi polloi can strike the stodgier College of Cardinals as sophomoric. Asked about his sense of humor, Benedict once said: 'I'm not a man who constantly thinks up jokes.' Compare that to Dolan on '60 Minutes' about arriving in New York: 'They asked me when I got here, 'Are you Cardinals, Mets, Brewers, or Yankees?' And I said, 'When it comes to baseball, I think I can be pro-choice.'
As Dolan himself noted, his papacy is "highly improbable," but it's significant that more than a little attention has been given to that outside chance.

The third cardinal to make the bookies' list of North American papabiles is said to have the same odds as Dolan, but his chances seem to have gotten little to no public attention. Raymond Leo Burke's odds of become pope are also currently at 40 to 1, having dropped from a slightly higher but still improbable 33 to 1 a few days ago.

It's not clear why Burke, born in 1948, the former St. Louis cardinal who heads the Vatican's supreme court, should be less talked about than Dolan in this context, except that he's less gregarious and not as well known to Catholics in the pews (though more well known in the Vatican).

Burke's most public moments have come from his denunciations of pro-choice Catholic politicians. He has regularly made very public pronouncements that Catholic politicians who are pro-choice should be denied communion. He spoke out against John Kerry in 2004, and said Ted Kennedy should be denied a church funeral when Kennedy died in 2009.

His position on this is not without support from conservative Catholics, though there's far from universal agreement on this, even among bishops who would generally ally with Burke on political issues.

The cardinal has gone further, though, and made the very unusual and controversial argument that bishops who do serve the Eucharist to pro-choice politicians should be removed, a statement for his he later apologized.

He has also said that Catholics who voted for pro-choice politicians were committing a mortal sin, a statement which he softened in a clarification, but then, in another context, seemed to reiteration just as strongly.

In 2009, he made the argument this way:
If a Catholic knowingly and deliberately votes for a person who is in favor of the most grievous violations of the natural moral law, then he has formally cooperated in a grave evil and must confess his serious sin. Since President Obama clearly announced, during the election campaign, his anti-life and anti-family agenda, a Catholic who knew his agenda regarding, for example, procured abortion, embryonic-stem-cell research, and same-sex marriage, could not have voted for him with a clear conscience.
Burke has also attracted media attention when he urged that similarly absolutist lines be drawn when people who were associated with Catholic institutions made or were known to have made pro-choice statements. He argued for the discipline of a basketball coach at St. Louis Univeristy, a Catholic school, who made pro-choice statements, and opposed a fundraiser for a Catholic hospital that featured singer Sheryl Crow for the same reason.

According to Burke, he's only insisting that the church remain consistent in its witness. Regarding Crow's performance, for example, he said that it mattered that she was pro-choice even though she wasn't herself Catholic, because, "A Catholic institution featuring a performer who promotes moral evil gives the impression that the church is somehow inconsistent in its teaching."

Though many in the American Catholic hierarchy agree with Burke about these issues of moral evil and the real threat of modern secularization, Burke's tone is significantly harsher. He appears to wholeheartedly embrace the idea of a culture war, warning that Catholicism may soon be illegal, Catholic teaching will likely be outlawed, and that the struggle with secularism is a struggle to the death: "secularism will in fact predominate, and it will destroy us."

If you examine his arguments about denying pro-choice Catholics communion, however, it has less to do with secularism, per se, than with his interpretation of canon law. In fact, though Burke is clearly concerned about American politics and public life, his greater concern is "antinomianism," disregard for the law, within the church itself.

As a canon law expert, he holds that disregard for church law and "indifference toward church discipline" are at the root of the church's problems.

In a speech he gave this past summer, Burke described how he came to the realization of the depth of the problem of this antinomianism. He said:
After I began my studies of Canon Law in September of 1980, I soon learned how much the Church’s discipline was disdained by her priests, in general. When I answered the question of a brother priest regarding my area of study, the fairly consistently reaction was expressed in words like these: 'I thought that the Church had done away with that,' and 'What a waste of your time.' The usual reaction, in fact, reflected a general attitude in the Church toward her canonical discipline, an attitude inspired by the hermeneutic of discontinuity, by that sense that 'a day of sunlight' had arrived in the Church, in contrast to the darkness of what had gone before. Institutes of the Church’s law, which, in her wisdom, she had developed down the Christian centuries, were set aside without consideration of their organic relationship to the life of the Church or of the chaos which would necessarily result from their neglect or abandonment.
The "hermeneutic of discontinuity," in Burke's view, undercuts the church's claims of truth, severely damaging its witness. He believes that this idea that the church can change and does and should change is responsible for the "betrayal" of the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council in the United States. After reflecting on his experience in the 1980s, he continued:
The 'hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture,' which has tried to highjack the renewal mandated by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, is marked by a pervasively antinomian culture, epitomized by the Paris student riots of 1968, and has had a particularly devastating effect on the Church’s discipline. It is profoundly sad to note, for instance, how the failure of knowledge and application of the canon law, which was indeed still in force, contributed significantly to the scandal of the sexual abuse of minors by the clergy in our some parts of the world.
In some cases, Burke seems to argue that so-called "reforms" were the cause of the sexual abuse and cover-up, though, more often, as above, he says only that it was a significant contributing factor.

Burke himself, it should be noted, has been accused of participating in cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.

Burke's own efforts have, for the most part, been aimed at a restoration restoration of the "disciplinary tradition of the church and respect of the law in the church."

As part of that restoration, he has advocated the church bring back some elements of the Tridentine mass. He doesn't think that the mass should necessarily always be done in Latin, as some traditionalists maintain, but does believe that the current liturgy should be revised, with some of the older rites reintroduced. He also wants strict enforcement of the uniformity of liturgical services, so that they really are "catholic," and do not vary from region to region and parish to parish. He has called for an official crack-down on "liturgical abuses,"which he says destroy or seriously threaten Catholic faith. 

It's no accident that Burke was put in charge of reaching out to traditionalists who have left the church over developments they see as accommodations of modernity, most notably the Society of Saint Pius X.  A number of sustained efforts were made by Benedict XVI to bring the traditionalists back into the church, despite some controversy surrounding the traditionalists, and Burke led those efforts, being both sympathetic to the traditionalists' arguments and critical of their willingness to reject authority they disagreed with. 

The cardinal has been called Benedict's top U.S. advisor, and he has been seen as the hand behind the promotion of like-minded conservatives, such as Cardinal Charles Chaput and Archbishop Salvadore Cordileone, though it's not clear if there's any merit to those speculations. Likewise, some think Burke was the one instigating investigations into the Leadership Conferences of the Women Religious, who are alleged to promote "radical feminism" and teachings contrary to the churches.

Burke's life and ministry have not been solely concerned with canon law and church discipline, though. A major accomplishment of his career has been establishing the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 103 acres in La Crosse, Wisc. The shrine promotes "fully authentic Marian devotion," and is a place of pilgrimage, housing hundreds of saint's relics. Burke started this when he was a bishop, in Wisconsin, but has returned as an archbishop and as a cardinal.

There's only a very outside chance that Burke will emerge from the cardinal's conclave next month as the new pope. It's likely, though, that in his role as cardinal, he will want the new pope to be someone who can lead a restoration movement in the church, bringing her back to the disciplinary tradition.

Looking at Burke's life and work, and Dolan's and Ouellet's, helps very little with speculations about the next pope. That these are the names that come up in such speculation, though, says a lot about Catholicism in North America, today. These are the men who are perceived to be close to the Vatican and also connected to and actively leading the churches in America. There are some real differences, especially in personality, temperament, and in the subjects they've devoted their lives to studying. There are also some strong similarities. All three understand "secularism" to be a major threat, and are, in their ministry, committed to opposing and combating that secularism.

Further, all three of the American papabiles have made the correct interpretation of the Second Vatican Council a central part of their ministries, and their ministries are, in some sense, about putting the correct interpretation of the council into practice. The next pope may be the first who is post-conciliar, but he, along with the American hierarchy, will likely continue to be defined by the controversies and competing interpretations of Vatican II.