Peace Prize, Papal Health, and Breaching the Catholic-Anglican Divide

A Nobel for the Pope?

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, OCT. 9, 2003 (Zenit.org).- On Friday, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize will be announced and Pope John Paul II is once again on the short list of top candidates.

Many are saying that this will be the year: This month the Pope celebrates 25 years of a pontificate which has been dedicated to peace, and his was the loudest voice that opposed the war in Iraq.

Some at the Vatican say it is unlikely that the Norwegian committee of five (the peace prize, unlike the other Nobel prizes, is decided in Oslo) will select the Pope. They say John Paul II’s stance on abortion, contraception and the ordination of women doesn’t sit well with the liberal committee.

Helga Hernes, the Norwegian ambassador to the Holy See, disagrees.

“The committee is chosen by the Parliament, which is center,” Hernes told me Wednesday. “Despite the differences on certain issues, in particular with regard to health, there are many reasons why the Pope should be awarded the prize.”

The ambassador emphasized that her government has no say in the matter. “The committee is totally independent,” she insisted. “The government does not know who the winner is until the announcement.”

In fact, the ambassador was preparing a dossier on the Pope for the Norwegian Prime Minister when I spoke to her.

“The Prime Minister must make a speech when the announcement is made and though it’s not the case with Pope John Paul II, he often doesn’t know anything about the candidate. So we are all given assignments to prepare a dossier on a particular nominee,” she said.

One of the strongest voices in support of the Pope’s candidacy is U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, himself a past recipient of the award and a Christian. In an introduction to the book “John Paul II: A Light for the World” (a beautiful picture book soon to be released from the U.S. bishops’ conference), he names the Pope as his primary inspiration.

“For millions around the globe, Pope John Paul has become the most powerful voice of peace, hope and justice they know,” Annan writes. “I am particularly grateful that in my meetings with him, I have been fortunate enough to be inspired by that voice firsthand.”

Some Americans at the Vatican would consider an award this year an anti-U.S. statement. They express resentment that the Pope might win the Nobel prize this year, when he has spoken out against the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

“They didn’t award it to him when he was standing up for peace in past years or when he was standing up for the rights of the unborn,” one American-born Vatican official told me. “But they give it to him in the year in which he speaks out against American activity in Iraq?”

James Nicholson, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, doesn’t see any such conflict. He told me it would be “wonderful” if the Pope were to receive the peace prize.

“He has been a commanding presence on the world scene for 25 years,” said Nicholson. “He has played such an integral part in bringing down the Soviet Union, ending the scourge of communism in our time and bringing freedom, hope and peace to hundreds of millions of people; along with, allow me to say, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George [W.] Bush.”

Regardless of who is chosen, Friday’s announcement will leave everyone talking, and many complaining. If the Pope is awarded the prize, some will speculate that the committee’s choice is partially motivated by anti-Americanism. If he is not chosen, the charge will be anti-Catholicism.

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Is John Paul II Really in a Bad Way?

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger set Rome abuzz last week with a reported comment that the Pope was “in a bad way.” Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn unwittingly joined the fray by speaking on the radio of a “dying Pope.” The Pope had missed his general audience on the previous Wednesday due to “intestinal difficulties,” and rumors abounded that the end was near.

Amid all the hubbub, I had the opportunity to see the Pope in person the morning of Oct. 2 when he met with the president of Lithuania. I was unsurprised to find that not only was he not in a bad way, but he seemed rather well, all things considered.

The Pope sat in his chair, slightly slumped, as we now are used to seeing him, crossing his middle finger over his index to keep his left hand from trembling on the armrest.

The cameras came in for a five-minute photo-op and John Paul II dutifully lifted his heavy head, staring straight at them, and kept it there until the last shutter had snapped. He knows the eyes of the world are on him and where once he might have walked over and shared a few jokes with journalists, now the small but difficult gesture of lifting his head is the sign of his cooperation and his understanding that the demands of his office continue.

Visitors to the Pope are always welcomed by Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Holy Father’s private secretary, known for his exemplary patience in dealing with all and sundry who come to the papal apartments.

I asked Don Stanislaw (as he is still fondly called in Rome circles) about the rumors that the Pope was in a bad way. He told me that Cardinal Ratzinger had been to see the Pope the day before, full of remorse that his comments had been taken out of context. According to the cardinal, he had never given an interview. He had been asked whether the Pope was in a bad way and he had responded, “If the Pope is in a bad way, then we should pray for him.”

The rumors of a decline in the Pope’s health were clearly exaggerated, as we could see for ourselves. But Don Stanislaw gave a final admonition to journalists who dwell too much on the subject. “Many of the journalists who spoke about the Pope’s health are already in heaven,” he said.

Thus I take my chances when someone asks me whether the Pope is in a bad way. “Yes,” I say, the Pope is in a bad way. He is 83 years old, has Parkinson’s disease, has survived an assassination attempt and has undergone several surgeries.

The Pope himself is the first to admit that he is not well, saying on several occasions in the recent past, “Pray for me as the time draws near when I will meet God.”

Physically, his body is failing him — this is obvious to all who see him on television. But what is not obvious on television, and the question many ask is: How is he mentally? Is the Pope still in charge?

The same morning I saw the Pope, the Australian Foreign Minister paid him a visit and remarked afterward that he was surprised at the depth of the Pope’s knowledge about Australia and the pertinent questions he asked.

Rowan Williams, the newly installed Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, met the Pope on Saturday morning and echoed those same sentiments and said the Pope spoke to him about the recent nomination of actively homosexual bishops.

A Pope that can address arguments ranging from the Church in Australia to the Anglican Communion is a Pope who is still in charge.

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The Williams’ Visit

Speaking of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Rowan Williams visited this past weekend with his wife Jane. It was the first visit to Rome for both of them and they stayed at the Venerable English College, Rome’s Catholic seminary for students from England and Wales.

England’s Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who accompanied Dr. Williams on his visit around Rome, is a former rector of the VEC and is responsible for one of the earliest efforts at unity, the Anglican exchange at the English College, running now for nearly 30 years.

Under the program, Anglican ordinands come to Rome to study with their Catholic counterparts, participating for one semester in the full course of Catholic studies. A graduate of the program is the current head of All Saints Anglican Church in Rome, the Reverend Jonathan Boardman.

Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor also “lent” his titular Church of St. Ma
ria Sopra Minerva (“If I had to ask the Pope for a Church, I’d ask for that one,” the cardinal says) to the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury for the installation of his representative to the Holy See, John Flack.

If Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor provides the practical good will, Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity has the more difficult job of negotiating the theology of unification.

The sticking point this past weekend was the recent nominations of practicing homosexual bishops in two of the Anglican denominations.

Cardinal Kasper was frank in his comments that between the two Churches there were “tensions over human sexuality” which could “present new problems for our relations.” Cardinal Kasper encouraged Dr. Williams to “find a constructive solution.”

That might not be so easy for the archbishop who in mid-October will lead a meeting of all 38 denominations that make up the Anglican Communion. “The public teaching of the Anglican Communion remains what it has been,” he said.

As an aside, Pope-watchers note that John Paul II kissed the ring of the archbishop of Canterbury during their meeting on Saturday. The ring was a gift from Paul VI to Anglican Archbishop Robert Runcie, and John Paul II’s gesture was interpreted by many to be as much a sign of respect for his predecessor as of affection for Dr. Williams.

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Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at delia@zenit.org.

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