Published February 18, 2004
The Catholic Difference
Roberto Pazzi has written two novels about the Vatican. His recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, “Why the Next Pope Needs to Be Italian,” suggests that Mr. Pazzi should stick to fiction in the future. Fiction masquerading as informed opinion isn’t very pretty. To wit:
Pazzi: “‘What if,’ then, the next pope were to be Italian? We would surely have in bioethical and sexual matters a more modern and less conservative attitude, more sympathetic to the sufferings of the multitudes in Africa who are scourged by AIDS.”
Reality: The Italian papabile with formal credentials in bioethics is Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Milan. I don’t think he’s going to be the next pope, but in any event his published work on sexual ethics and bioethics is entirely consistent with the teaching of John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor and Evangelium Vitae. Tettamanzi’s theology, like the pope’s magisterium, is neither anti-modern nor “conservative.” It’s Catholic, in that it refuses to reduce human sexuality to a contact sport, a matter of meeting “needs.” Because of that, it challenges the shibboleths of the European chattering classes, of which Mr. Pazzi is a dues-paying member.
The chattering classes, by their ideologically-driven insistence that condoms are the one and only answer to the AIDS plague in Africa, are contributing to the plague’s spread. The most effective AIDS-prevention programs in Africa stress abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage, with condoms as a last resort. Genuine sympathy means facing facts. And the fact is that condoms-only AIDS prevention programs don’t work.
Pazzi: “…the pope has revealed the same mindset in condemning common-law and gay couples, under the influence of a family model that is more Polish than Italian…”
Reality: Italy, like every other culture since the dawn of civilization, never imagined that “marriage” could be anything other than the union of a man and a woman until the chattering classes transformed homosexuality from a condition to an identity, and then started playing identity politics. The idea of “marriage” as the stable union of a man and a woman is about as distinctively Polish as spaghetti carbonara.
Pazzi: “We Italians are an ancient and tested bridge between past and future, and supported by two thousands years of consummate political tradition….John Paul II’s rigidity seems alien to this more farsighted and elastic Italian tradition…which guarantees…a warmer pastoral mission.”
Reality: Two thousand years of consummate political tradition? How many governments has Italy had since World War II? I stopped counting at forty.
Rigidity vs. elasticity in politics? John Paul II’s Italian Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, was the architect of the Ostpolitik of Pope Paul VI (another Italian); the Montini/Casaroli Ostpolitik began with the (rigid?) conviction that the Soviet stranglehold on east central Europe was as permanent as anything in world politics. It was the Polish pope who understood that Stalin’s external empire was far more vulnerable to the weapons of moral resistance than Cardinal Casaroli and his Italian colleagues in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State imagined.
A warmer pastoral mission? I don’t know what Signor Pazzi has been watching for the past quarter-century, but the rest of the world has been watching the most pastorally and evangelically “warm” pontificate in centuries.
That the Times would print this rubbish suggests that its editors can’t grasp one elementary fact: the Catholic Church is not a political party, but a religious community governed by an authoritative tradition. The pope – any pope – is the servant of that tradition, not its master.
The next pope, whatever his national origins, is not going to reverse John Paul II’s teaching on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, or the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood. Why? Because those teachings are not the personal opinions of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II, but the settled teaching of the Catholic Church.
Happily, the overwhelming majority of the cardinal electors understand that. They also understand that, with John Paul II, nationality ceased to be a major issue in selecting a pope. The next pope may be an Italian; but if he is, it won’t be because he’s an Italian. And it certainly won’t be because he’s the kind of Italian Roberto Pazzi would like to see elected.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.