On Life, and Life’s Healing

This morning in St. Peter’s Square, during an Easter Sunday liturgy in a steady rain, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the former Vatican Secretary of State, gave a vigorous — and unprecedented — defense of Pope Benedict’s conduct of his papacy. Why it was unfitting for this occasion. And how it overshadowed the Pope’s own homily on the resurrection

By Robert Moynihan, reporting from Rome


ROME, Italy, Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010 — There is a simple declaration and response which have been spoken by Christian believers for 1,980 years which sum up nearly the entire content of the Christian message. Here are the words in Latin as they echoed through St. Peter’s Square this morning:

“Christus resurrexit!”

“Resurrexit sicut dixit.”

(“Christ is risen!”)

(“He is risen as he said.”)

Those first phrase makes the Christian claim — evidently an impossibilty under ordinary circumstances — in ordinary human experience: that Christ rose from the dead, that his crucifixion was not for him the “end.”

The second phrase affirms the first, and extends it to include the fact that Jesus foretold that he would rise. Implicit in the words is that the first disciples, for a moment, doubted his prediction, and so doubted his truthfulness, until his resurrection was confirmed for them with their own eyes.

Both phrases are declarations of historical facts, proclamations of an event which has been seen and heard, even against all expectation, even against all hope.

Both phrases are “news” in the essential meaning of the word: they bear a content, they proclaim that a certain event really happened.

They are like a headline and the subtitle in a newspaper story.

They are the sharing of information in the matter-of-fact way in which any news is shared: “this happened.”

And, Christians say, this “news report” is “good” news, because it means that death is not the last word, it means that life, and all that life contains, is the last word, the eternal word.

And these were the words, this the report, that echoed in Rome this morning, in a raint St. Peter’s Square.

And to all who read these words, I echo and repeat these two phrases, which were first spoken 1,980 years ago, in Jerusalem, the City of Peace, and which were spoken again this morning in Rome:

“Christus resurrexit!”

“Resurrexit sicut dixit.”

A blessed Easter to you all.


Cardinal Sodano Makes More News

But this was not the only news this morning.

Something unprecedented happened in St. Peter’s Square (I was present throughout, in the rain).

Never before did the Easter morning liturgy begin with a greeting to the Pope.

This greeting, spoken by one of the Church’s most senior cardinals, Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State under John Paul II and at the beginning of this pontificate, and the dean of the college of cardinals, went on for several minutes.

(Photo of Cardinal Sodano, dressed in red with his back to the camera, as he spoke his greeting to the Pope this morning at the beginning of the Easter Sunday liturgy in St. Peter’s Square, by Albert Cesare)

It was not clear whether this greeting was actually part of the liturgy, as it seemed, coming after the entrance hymn, or was simply a preface to the liturgy, like an announcement at the beginning of Mass — though such an announcement still ought to come before the entrance hymn.

But, if news is something that happens that is “new,” this was news.

And when this cardinal rose to his feet and took the microphone to speak, every newsman within hearing pricked up his ears, thinking, “This is something new.”

What did Sodano say?

Essentially, that Catholics around the world love and support Pope Benedict XVI, and will continue to do so no matter how fiercely he his attacked by the media.

Sodano, clearly referring to recent attacks on the Pope from the New York Times and other media outlets which allege that he did not do enough during his many years as an administrator in the Church to halt and punish priests accused of sexually abusing children, said the “people of God” would not be influenced by “petty gossip.”

What did Pope Benedict think of Sodano’s intervention? It is not clear. During the remarks, the Pope expression seemed to me to contain a certain puzzlement, as if he had not fully expected this intervention, but after the remarks, he embraced Sodano with what seemed to be warmth and appreciation.

(Photo, from the Associated Press, of the Pope embracing Sodano after reading his greeting.)

I was puzzled by this intervention.

To me, it seemed neither the time, nor the place.

It seemed at once inappropriate, and unnecessary.

But I am traditional in liturgical matters.

I do not even like clapping at a Mass — something never done when I was a boy.

Why? Few today seem to sense anything unfitting in such departures from our tradition.

Clapping is not fitting because the entire Mass, as I was taught, is directed to God, and to His glory, and nothing else.

And so it should be.

Whether or not the Church, or the Pope, is under attack, has nothing to do with the liturgy.

The appropriate place for remarks about such matters is at non-liturgical venue, like a press conference.

Because there is a danger one risks through such an intervention at Mass, or on the edge of a Mass.

By placing such an intervention at the beginning of a Mass — and such a Mass, Easter Sunday Mass, Easter Sunday Mass in Rome — one risks opening the door to the New York Times, and others, to criticize the Mass itself.

Any time anyone politicizes the liturgy it is a departure from our tradition. The Mass is above politics, transcends politics, just as the kingdom of God is above the kingdoms of this world.

The Mass, which is the Resurrection made present, should not be risked, or diminished, for any reason.

The moral authority of the Church derives ultimately from the events of Easter morning 1,980 years ago.

The moral authority of the Church is not diminished by any sin that any sinful Christian may commit.

The moral authority of the Church is the moral authority of the Risen Christ.

If we believe he rose, we believe he remains risen, will always remain risen, unto ages of ages.

There is no possibility that the Church can lose the moral authority of Christ, ever, under any circumstances.

To fear such a loss is to misunderstand the Church, her source and her nature.

In prudential matters, Popes can err. This is Catholic teaching.

Only in announcing Christ, crucified, resurrected and glorified, is the Church protected infallibly from all error.

If — I say “if” — if grave crimes have been committed by priests in the Church, then the men who committed those crimes must be punished.

If any reason, including an understandable desire to protect the reputation of the Church in society, has ever led to the cover-up or minimization of grave crimes committed by members of the Church, then this was wrong, and has dramatically compounded the original crime.

If the canon law of the Church has ever been inadequate to the requirements of justice, that canon law should be revised and renewed.

Let all the truth come out.

Our hope is not in princes, or in men.

Our hope is in Christ.

“Christus resurrexit.”

“Resurrexit sicut dixit.”

How the Press Reported Sodano’s Intervention

The world press immediately saw that Sodano’s intervention was the “new” thing, the “news,” at this Easter Sunday Mass.

And this is how it was reported. Here are key excerpts from the well-written AP story, which has now been picked up by newspapers around the world:

Pope hailed as ‘unfailing’ leader at Easter Mass

By FRANCES D’EMILIO, Associated Press Writer

VATICAN CITY – A senior cardinal staunchly defended Pope Benedict XVI from “petty gossip” on Sunday as the pontiff maintained his silence on mounting sex abuse cover-up accusations during his Easter message. The ringing tribute by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the College of Cardinals, at the start of Mass attended by tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, marked an unusual departure from the Vatican’s Easter rituals.
Sodano’s defense of the pope’s “unfailing” leadership and courage, as well as of the work of priests worldwide with children entrusted to their care, built on a vigorous Vatican campaign to defend Benedict’s moral authority.
The pontiff and other church leaders have been assailed by accusations from victims of clergy sexual abuse that he helped shape and perpetuate a climate of cover-up toward the crimes against children in parishes, schools, orphanages and other church-run institutions.
Dressed in gold robes and shielded from a cool drizzle by a canopy, Benedict looked weary as he listened to Sodano’s speech at the start of Mass in the cobblestone square bedecked with daffodils, tulips and azaleas…

“With this spirit today we rally close around you, successor to (St.) Peter, bishop of Rome, the unfailing rock of the holy church,” Sodano said. “Holy Father, on your side are the people of God, who do not allow themselves to be influenced by the petty gossip of the moment, by the trials which sometimes buffet the community of believers”…

The accusations against the pope stem from his leadership as archbishop of Munich before he came to the Vatican three decades ago, as well as his long tenure in Rome leading the Holy See’s office dealing with a growing pile of dossiers about pedophile priests.
Sunday’s edition of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano denounced the accusations against the pope as a “vile defamation operation.”
Benedict hasn’t made any explicit reference to the sex abuse scandals since he released a letter to the Irish faithful concerning the abuse crisis in that country on March 20.
Sodano defended the church’s priests as well as the pontiff.
“Especially with you in these days are those 400,000 priests who generously serve the people of God, in parishes, recreation centers, schools, hospitals and many other places, as well as in the missions in the most remote parts of the world,” the cardinal said.
In rushing to Benedict’s defense, the Vatican has angered abuse victims and their advocates. Jewish leaders also fumed after the papal preacher in a Good Friday sermon told the pope that the accusations against him were akin to the campaign of anti-Semitic violence that culminated in the Holocaust.
The preacher, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, told Corriere della Sera daily in an interview Sunday that he had no intention “of hurting the sensibilities of the Jews and of the victims of pedophilia.”
“I have sincerely regretted and I ask forgiveness, reaffirming my solidarity with both” lobbies, he was quoted as saying.

[end excerpts from the AP story]


Here are some brief excerpts from Sodano’s intervention on the original Italian, with my translation:

“Noi – ha detto l’ex Segretario di Stato vaticano – ammiriamo il suo grande amore e il modo in cui, con cuore di padre, fa proprie le gioie e le speranze, le tristezze e le angosce degli uomini, oggi soprattutto dei poveri e dei sofferenti. Oggi, per mezzo mio, tutta la Chiesa desidera dirle buona Pasqua. [“We,” the ex-Vatican Secretary of State said, “admire your great love and the way in which, with the heart of a father, you make your own the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of men, today above all of the poor and suffering. Today, through me, the entire Church desires to say to you ‘Happy Easter’.”]

“La Chiesa è con lei – ha proseguito Sodano – i cardinali, i suoi collaboratori nella Curia romana, i confratelli vescovi sparsi nel mondo. Particolarmente con lei sono in questi giorni i 400mila sacerdoti che servono il popolo di Dio nelle parrocchie, negli oratori, nelle scuole, negli ospedali, nelle forze armate e nei numerosi altri ambienti, come pure nelle missioni nelle parti più remote del mondo”. [“The Church is with you,” Sodano continued, “the cardinals, your collaborators in the Roman Curia, your brother bishops spread throughout the world. Especially with you in these days are the 400,000 priests who serve the people of God in parishes, in oratories, in schools, in hospitals, in the armed forces and in many other places, as well as in the missions in the most remote parts of the world.”]

“E’ con lei il popolo di Dio – ha detto ancora Sodano – che non si lascia impressionare dal chiacchiericcio del momento e dalle prove che talvolta colpiscono la comunità dei credenti. Gesù ci aveva detto; ‘nel mondo avrete tribolazioni, ma abbiate coraggio, io ho vinto il mondo'”.[“The people of God is with you,” Sodano said, “which does not allow itself to be influenced by the idle gossip of the moment and by the tests that sometimes strike the community of believers. Jesus told us: ‘In the world you will have tribulations, but have courage, I have conquered the world.'”]

Riferendo poi le frasi pronunciate dal Papa lo scorso Giovedì Santo sulla mancanza di vendetta dello spirito cristiano, il porporato ha concluso: “Padre Santo, noi cercheremo di far tesoro delle sue parole in questa solennità pasquale, pregheremo per lei perché il Signore continui a sostenerla nella sua missione a servizio della Chiesa e del mondo stesso”. [Recalling then the phrases pronounced by the Pope on Holy Thursday on the lack of vengeance in the Christian spirit, the cardinal concluded: “Holy Father, we will seek to treasure your words during this paschal solemnity, we will pray for you that the Lord continue to sustain you in your mission in the service of the Church and of the world itself.”]


Media Headlines

Later in the day, the AP changed its headline to “Easter Mass becomes papal pep rally in Rome,” and expanded its story, writing: “Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, the Catholic church’s most joyous celebration, began with a senior cardinal defending Pope Benedict XVI from what he called ‘petty gossip’ and hailing him for ‘unfailing’ leadership and courage.”

Other elements were added:

(1) Reaction from representatives of abuse victims: “Sodano’s words irked a prominent advocacy group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ‘When we speak up and tell how our childhood innocence was shattered by sexual assaults by priests, it is not “petty gossip,”‘SNAP president Barbara Blaine said in a statement.

(2) An incident on Easter morning in Germany: “Separately, in Germany, where the church is facing intense criticism about the widening abuse scandal, a man attacked the Roman Catholic Bishop of Muenster with a broom handle during an Easter service in the city’s cathedral, police said. Bishop Felix Genn, 60, defended himself with an incense bowl and was unharmed. After the incident, he continued celebrating the Easter service. The man’s motive was unclear, police said.”

(3) Jewish reaction to the Good Friday sermon of Father Cantalamessa: “So far, the Vatican’s counterattack to beat back the scandal accusations already backfired in one high-profile attempt. Jewish leaders, and even some top Catholic churchmen, were angered after Benedict’s personal preacher, in a Good Friday sermon, likened the growing accusations against the pope to the campaign of anti-Semitic violence that culminated in the Holocaust. The preacher, the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, told Corriere della Sera daily in an interview Sunday that he had no intention ‘of hurting the sensibilities of the Jews and of the victims of pedophilia,’ expressed regret and asked for forgiveness. He was quoted as saying that the pope wasn’t aware of what the sermon would say beforehand, but that a Vatican official, not identified by the preacher, did read the text before the Good Friday service. The apology satisfied one Jewish leader, Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants. ‘Now that he has apologized and the Vatican has distanced itself from those remarks, the matter is closed,’ Steinberg said in a statement.”

(4) Intervention by the arcbishop of Washington D.C.: “Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl joined those defending Benedict, writing in an opinion piece in Sunday’s Washington Post that the pope has supported U.S. bishops’ commitment to child protection policies.”

In this way, the reporting on the Easter Sunday liturgy of this morning became entirely focused on the sexual abuse scandal.

As this was occurring, new abuse cases emerged from Arizona.

Under the title “Vatican waited years to defrock Arizona priest,” AP writer Matt Sedensky wrote on Saturday, April 3: “The abuse cases of two priests in Arizona have cast further doubt on the Catholic church’s insistence that Pope Benedict XVI played no role in shielding pedophiles before he became pope.

“Documents reviewed by The Associated Press show that as a Vatican cardinal, the future pope took over the abuse case of the Rev. Michael Teta of Tucson, Ariz., then let it languish at the Vatican for years despite repeated pleas from the bishop for the man to be removed from the priesthood.

“In another Tucson case, that of Msgr. Robert Trupia, the bishop wrote to then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who would become pope in 2005. Bishop Manuel Moreno called Trupia ‘a major risk factor to the children, adolescents and adults that he many have contact with.’ There is no indication in the case files that Ratzinger responded. The details of the two cases come as other allegations emerge that Benedict — as a Vatican cardinal — was part of a culture of cover-up and confidentiality.

“The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, called the accusations ‘absolutely groundless’ and said the facts were being misrepresented.

“He said the delay in defrocking Teta was caused by a hold on appeals while the Vatican changed regulations over its handling of sex abuse cases. In the meantime, he said, cautionary measures were in place; Teta had been suspended since 1990.

“‘The documents show clearly and positively that those in charge at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith … have repeatedly intervened actively over the course of the 90s so that the canonic trial under way in the Tucson diocese could dutifully reach its conclusion,’ Lombardi said in a statement.

“In the 1990s, a church tribunal found that Teta had molested children as far back as the 1970s, and the panel determined ‘there is almost a satanic quality in his mode of acting toward young men and boys.’

“The tribunal referred Teta’s case, which included allegations that he abused boys in a confessional, to Ratzinger. The church considers cases of abuse in confessionals more serious than other molestations because they also defile the sacrament of penance.

“It took 12 years from the time Ratzinger assumed control of the case in a signed letter until Teta was formally removed from ministry, a step only the Vatican can take.”


A Profound Homily

And so Easter Sunday in Rome was not centered fully on the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection.

And this was unfortunate, because Pope Benedict delivered a profound homily before extending his “Urbi et Orbi” blessing at noon, in which he compares the joy of the Jewish people after their Exodus from Egypt to the joy of Christians after their salvation from final death through the resurrection of Christ.

This homily has been little noted in the press. The text is below.


2010 Easter Sunday “Urbi et Orbi” and Easter Vigil Homily of Pope Benedict XVI

Here is the text of “Urbi et Orbi” message of Pope Benedict XVI which he spoke just before noon today.

Cantemus Domino: gloriose enim magnificatus est.
“Let us sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!” (Liturgy of the Hours, Easter, Office of Readings, Antiphon 1).

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I bring you the Easter proclamation in these words of the Liturgy, which echo the ancient hymn of praise sung by the Israelites after crossing the Red Sea.

It is recounted in the Book of Exodus (cf 15:19-21) that when they had crossed the sea on dry land, and saw the Egyptians submerged by the waters, Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, and the other women sang and danced to this song of joy: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed wonderfully: horse and rider he has thrown into the sea!”

(Photo, two nuns at the Easter Sunday liturgy, by Albert Cesare)

Christians throughout the world repeat this canticle at the Easter Vigil, and a special prayer explains its meaning; a prayer that now, in the full light of the resurrection, we joyfully make our own: “Father, even today we see the wonders of the miracles you worked long ago. You once saved a single nation from slavery, and now you offer that salvation to all through baptism. May the peoples of the world become true sons of Abraham and prove worthy of the heritage of Israel.”

The Gospel has revealed to us the fulfilment of the ancient figures: in his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has freed us from the radical slavery of sin and opened for us the way towards the promised land, the Kingdom of God, the universal Kingdom of justice, love and peace. This “exodus” takes place first of all within man himself, and it consists in a new birth in the Holy Spirit, the effect of the baptism that Christ has given us in his Paschal Mystery.

The old man yields his place to the new man; the old life is left behind, and a new life can begin (cf. Rom 6:4). But this spiritual “exodus” is the beginning of an integral liberation, capable of renewing us in every dimension – human, personal and social.

Yes, my brothers and sisters, Easter is the true salvation of humanity! If Christ – the Lamb of God – had not poured out his blood for us, we would be without hope, our destiny and the destiny of the whole world would inevitably be death.

But Easter has reversed that trend: Christ’s resurrection is a new creation, like a graft that can regenerate the whole plant. It is an event that has profoundly changed the course of history, tipping the scales once and for all on the side of good, of life, of pardon. We are free, we are saved! Hence from deep within our hearts we cry out: “Let us sing to the Lord: glorious his triumph!”

The Christian people, having emerged from the waters of baptism, is sent out to the whole world to bear witness to this salvation, to bring to all people the fruit of Easter, which consists in a new life, freed from sin and restored to its original beauty, to its goodness and truth. Continually, in the course of two thousand years, Christians – especially saints – have made history fruitful with their lived experience of Easter. The Church is the people of the Exodus, because she constantly lives the Paschal Mystery and disseminates its renewing power in every time and place. In our days too, humanity needs an “exodus”, not just superficial adjustment, but a spiritual and moral conversion. It needs the salvation of the Gospel, so as to emerge from a profound crisis, one which requires deep change, beginning with consciences.

I pray to the Lord Jesus that in the Middle East, and especially in the land sanctified by his death and resurrection, the peoples will accomplish a true and definitive “exodus” from war and violence to peace and concord. To the Christian communities who are experiencing trials and sufferings, especially in Iraq, the Risen Lord repeats those consoling and encouraging words that he addressed to the Apostles in the Upper Room: “Peace be with you!” (Jn 20:21).

For the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean that are seeing a dangerous resurgence of crimes linked to drug trafficking, let Easter signal the victory of peaceful coexistence and respect for the common good. May the beloved people of Haiti, devastated by the appalling tragedy of the earthquake, accomplish their own “exodus” from mourning and from despair to a new hope, supported by international solidarity. May the beloved citizens of Chile, who have had to endure another grave catastrophe, set about the task of reconstruction with tenacity, supported by their faith.

In the strength of the risen Jesus, may the conflicts in Africa come to an end, conflicts which continue to cause destruction and suffering, and may peace and reconciliation be attained, as guarantees of development. In particular I entrust to the Lord the future of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Nigeria.

May the Risen Lord sustain the Christians who suffer persecution and even death for their faith, as for example in Pakistan. To the countries afflicted by terrorism and by social and religious discrimination, may He grant the strength to undertake the work of building dialogue and serene coexistence. To the leaders of nations, may Easter bring light and strength, so that economic and financial activity may finally be driven by the criteria of truth, justice and fraternal aid. May the saving power of Christ’s resurrection fill all of humanity, so that it may overcome the multiple tragic expressions of a “culture of death” which are becoming increasingly widespread, so as to build a future of love and truth in which every human life is respected and welcomed.

Dear brothers and sisters, Easter does not work magic. Just as the Israelites found the desert awaiting them on the far side of the Red Sea, so the Church, after the resurrection, always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish.

And yet, this history is changed, it is marked by a new and eternal covenant, it is truly open to the future.

For this reason, saved by hope, let us continue our pilgrimage, bearing in our hearts the song that is ancient and yet ever new: “Let us sing to the Lord: glorious his triumph!”


“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” —Blaise Pascal (French mathematician, philosopher, physicist and writer, 1623-1662)


Special note: Three years ago, we participated in a concert in Rome (on March 29, 2007) in which a Russian choir and orchestra, flying in from Moscow, performed a new version of The Passion According to St. Matthew composed a few months before by the young Russian Orthodox bishop (now archbishop and “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion Alfeyev).

That moving concert, in which one or two of the exhausted women singers fainted on stage and had to be carried off, was broadcast live worldwide via a Vatican Television Center feed by EWTN.

No DVD or CD was ever made of that concert — until a few days ago. After nearly three years, we have finally produced the DVD and CD of that historic concert, and they aqre now available for sale.

I believe the sound of this music, and the sight of the performance, especially duing Holy Week, when we recall Christ’s Passion, will bring tears to your eyes.

The DVD and CD of this historic concert are now available on at website at the following link: https://insidethevatican.com/products/concerts-dvd-cd.htm

Further Note: We filled all place for our Easter pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome (March 30-April 8). We are now beginning to take preliminary requests for our Fall 2010 pilgrimage, which will include a visit to Assisi and a discussion of the issues mentioned in this email above. If you would like information about this trip, please email us at: [email protected].

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