Pope loses control

Doug Henwood dhenwood at panix.com
Mon Mar 13 22:20:51 PST 2000

Sunday Times (London) - March 12, 2000


Roland White

THE Pope has lost control of the Vatican because he is too frail to manage its affairs, according to senior officials in the Catholic church.

John Cornwell, an author and Cambridge academic, says the Pope, who will be 80 in May and suffers from Parkinson's disease, spends much of his day resting and is invariably in bed by 6pm.

"He is not capable of having the sort of conversations he once had," said a Jesuit academic. "He does not listen and he does not communicate."

Increasingly isolated, the Pope has surrounded himself with an inner clique of clerics from his native Poland, including his secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, and his wheelchair-bound friend Cardinal Andrzej Deskur. Dziwisz is a former skiing partner of the Pope. Deskur, had a stroke shortly after the Pope's election and the Pontiff said of him: "He does my suffering for me."

The Pope faces further deterioration in his health with the advance of Parkinson's disease, which is held in check by the drug Levodopa. He can expect further loss of control of his speech and bodily movements. Already stooped, he moves with an unsteady shuffle.

Cornwell, author of a controversial study of the wartime Pope Pius XII, who is accused of complicity with the Nazis, has investigated the internecine struggle accompanying the Pope's decline.

According to the sources, the breakdown in John Paul II's health has left a power vacuum in the Vatican in which affairs are dominated by Opus Dei, the hardline right-wing faction that has seized control of at least three key Vatican departments: the section responsible for making saints, the congregation that appoints bishops, and the powerful press office.

Officials paint a bleak picture of life in the curia, the administrative centre of the Catholic church, as a bureaucracy turning rotten thanks to a culture of malevolent gossip and the tensions of celibacy. There are few women working in the Vatican, but those who do are treated with contempt. One former secretary was locked in her office each day by her boss. Another found when she went to the cafeteria male colleagues would move away if she sat close.

The church is facing a period of unprecedented danger as reformers attempt to seize the initiative back from the conservatives at the top of the Catholic hierarchy.

According to top theologians, feuding rightwingers are manipulating the Pope to the extent of putting statements into his mouth.

Even his grip on doctrine is being prised away. One Jesuit theologian has accused him of "rank heresy" after a previously unreported public meeting last month at which the Pope announced that the revelation of Christ was "definitive and complete", a view that amazed theologians. According to orthodox doctrine, the revelation will not be complete until the second coming of Christ.

Since 1870, popes have been considered infallible on matters of doctrine. But liberal Catholics believe that such statements by John Paul II - including a view that Catholicism is the only true faith - are being put into his mouth by the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Formerly the Congregation for the Inquisition, this department, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, is the appointed guardian of church orthodoxy. It is waging a fierce doctrinal battle with a liberal Catholic theologian, Father Jacques Dupuis, who acknowledges the importance of other faiths.

"The statement was evidently written out for the Holy Father by Cardinal Ratzinger's department," said the Jesuit source, who refused to be identified.

The Pope was once a keen swimmer and skied until he was 73, but he has since had several falls, including one that broke his femur. He has also had an operation to remove a benign tumour. Recently, Karl Lehmann, a German bishop, became the first senior churchman to raise the prospect of the Pope stepping down.

In the absence of strong leadership, factions in the church have been allowed to struggle for supremacy. Shortly after Christmas, Conservative cardinals condemned the Pope for making an apology for the church's past sins, including the Spanish Inquisition.

This power struggle comes at a difficult time for the church. Young people are leaving the church in large numbers, driven away by the pontiff's hard line on divorce and birth control.There has been a similar fall in young men wishing to become priests. "The church has now entered a period of acute and unprecedented danger," Cornwell said.

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