Introduction by Robert Blair Kaiser: In the previous chapter the cardinal visited a federal lockup to see Nick Pike, a Southern California lawyer whom authorities say was connected to an organization called Para los otros, the group that kidnapped Cardinal Mahony and took him to Mexico. Pike says he helped found Para los otros, but professes ignorance of the kidnapping. He says, however, that the cardinal's suffering has put something new in play. "What?" asks Mahony. Pike says, "You, your Eminence. A new you." Mahony is intrigued by Pike's dream to help re-create "the kind of Church we had in the beginning, a nonclerical Church, a people's Church" and he gets a retired federal judge to secure Pike’s release. Now here's Chapter Eight...
Chapter 8: Sunnyhill
THE NEXT AFTERNOON, Anne Pike drove to Terminal Island, collected her husband, and drove off with him in her antique light green '56 Thunderbird convertible. When they were on the Harbor Freeway, Nick Pike got a call on his cell phone. It was Judge Riley. Not two hours ago, one of Riley's colleagues had appeared before a federal magistrate in downtown Los Angeles, seeking and getting Nick's unconditional release because the feds had no case against him.
Riley said, "you okay?"
"I am out of there," Pike said to Riley, "on my way home. Thanks. Federal prisons are no day in Disneyland."
Riley said, "I called Roger Mahony and told him you were coming out. He was pleased. He wants to see you again. Right away."
"Why me? Why now?"
"He told me he wanted to stop talking and start listening. To a lot of people—different kinds of people. Not the clerics and the professional Catholics he's been talking to."
"What's his angle?"
"He says he wants to start listening—to guys like you who aren't in the Church's career network. He's intrigued with your Compañeros. He says you are a gift to the people of God in Southern California."
"I don't know about that," shouted Pike over the roar of the freeway, "but tell the cardinal thanks. I'll come see him. Day after tomorrow. Tomorrow, I want to spend some time with my family. You should also tell him he may be sorry he ever met this Greek. Tell him to remember that line from Vergil. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. Beware the Greeks bearing gifts."
THE GIFT THAT NICK PIKE BORE when he entered the cardinal's study two nights later was a Jesuit from Australia that Pike had met and collared earlier that day on the campus at Loyola Marymount University. Pike was that kind of guy. He made friends quickly, and made demands on them just as fast.
"Say hello to Sean Sunnyhill," Pike said. "He teaches Church history at the Gregorian University."
"In Rome?" asked Mahony.
Sunnyhill nodded as Mahony waved him and Pike on to a divan in his sitting room.
Mahony smiled. He knew about the Gregorian University, the Jesuit order's premier institution of higher learning in Rome, was founded in 1601. Bishops from around the world sent their best seminarians there for graduate studies in theology and scripture and Church history and canon law. "I've read some of your books," said Mahony, as he uncorked a bottle of his best Chardonnay, a Chateau Montelena from the Napa Valley. Mahony believed the old Latin adage in vino veritas. He had been getting some straight talk out of men like Noyes and hoped to get more of the same from Pike—and now, apparently from this famed Roman theologian..
"I'm glad you're here," said Mahony. "Both of you. I have a notion. I may want to start doing some things."
"Things?" asked Sunnyhill.
"Things that Rome might not like."
Pike shot Sunnyhill a look that said, See? I told you this might be worthwhile.
"What do you have in mind?" asked Sunnyhill.
"We don't have enough priests to go around. A year ago, I had fifty pastoral vacancies, and no priests to fill them. I had an immediate, obvious solution to that problem, but I couldn't go with it." He said he had the names of several hundred married priests living in Southern California who had offered to help out on Sunday liturgies, gratis. He got their names from CORPUS, an association of inactive priests, most of whom left the ministry to get married.
"They were—and are—good men. They fell in love, often with nuns, and they did the honorable thing. They left the priesthood to marry them. Some of their clerical buddies did the dishonorable thing: they fell in love, too, sometimes with more than one woman, and even had children by them. But they never had the guts to leave the active ministry. These scoundrels are, technically, priests in good standing today. And their brother priests who married are pariahs. They are still priests, but according to canon law, I cannot let them say Mass in my archdiocese."
Sunnyhill said, "Bishops everywhere in the world have the same problem. Canon law is the same everywhere. Except of course in the ancient autochthonous churches of the Middle East. The Melkites, the Maronites, the Copts. As you know, they have two kinds of priests, married priests in the parishes, and celibate monks in their monasteries."
"Doesn't make any sense," said Mahony. "It is not against canon law for me to take in Lutheran pastors and Episcopalian canons, re-ordain them and set them up in Catholic parishes, along with their wives. Rome approves of that. But Rome won't let me recruit all these married priests to serve in priestless parishes on a Sunday morning."
"It takes a little while to understand Rome," said Sunnyhill.
"You've been there for some time?"
"You might say that." Sunnyhill explained that his superiors in Australia had sent him as a young priest to study history at Harvard. After that, the Jesuit general Pedro Arrupe had recruited him to teach at the Gregorian University. That was forty years and a hundred pounds ago. Now, after watching the Roman Curia from his peculiar vantage point at the Greg, Sunnyhill could tell Mahony that the Vatican's vaunted control over one billion Catholics around the world was a myth.
"In huge parts of the Catholic world," Sunnyhill said, "Catholic parish priests take common law wives and raise families. The bishop looks the other way and says nothing and the people are quite happy to have married priests serving them."
"I sort of knew that," said Mahony. He winked at Sunnyhill. "And of course Rome never finds out!"
Sunnyhill explained, more for the benefit of Pike than for the cardinal. "The men in the Curia know this is happening in small Latin American villages and parts of rural Africa. They just know they cannot do much about the situation. So they do nothing. Oh, they take steps to make sure these married priests do not become bishops. In some places, they can only be sure of that by filling an episcopal vacancy with someone from one of the religious orders that take vows of chastity. you can pretty much figure out where that's happening by looking in your Annuario Pontificio. If you see the bishop is a Salesian, or a Dominican, or a Franciscan or a Jesuit, you can make an informed guess that most of the qualified priests in that diocese are family men."
"So," interjected Pike, "the celibacy issue has disappeared in those places?"
Sunnyhill said, "De facto? Yes. De jure? No. The Vatican clings to the not-so-ancient doctrine, that Roman Catholic priests do not marry."
"But it winks at the situation in Latin America and Africa?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so."
"But it won't wink at a similar situation in the U.S.," said Mahony. He was sure of that.
Pike said he didn't quite get it. "Why should the U.S. be any different?"
Mahony said to Pike, "We could never keep it quiet. The Times, or KFI would make a big deal out of it. And if they didn't, some blogger would be telling the story on the Internet."
"Yes," said Sunnyhill, "you have an extremely aggressive press here in America. And now, with the Internet, bloggers' stories go all over the world. A married priest with a family in a Colombian jungle? Who would ever know? But a married priest with a family in Redondo Beach?"
Mahony laughed. "Yeah! He probably gets a profile in the Los Angeles Times, and then a knock on the door from 60 Minutes."
Sunnyhill nodded. "That's what scares Rome—the American media. It gives the Church in the U.S. too much potential influence—far more worldwide influence than Rome itself has."
Mahony agreed. "Not long ago, when he was running the Holy Office, the pope told me, 'The USA has 6 percent of the Catholics in the world, but it takes up 50 percent of my time.'"
Pike said, "Well, maybe that's a good thing."
Mahony asked Pike what he meant.
Pike said, "The American Church may be able to move the whole Church into the twenty-first century in a way that no one else has been able to."
"I don't understand."
"I already told you. I told you the other day. Make it a people's Church."
Mahony shook his head. "Maybe I didn't hear you. Maybe I didn't want to hear you, because I think that the Church in America has always been a people's Church. That's why American Catholics are the best Catholics in the world."
Pike raised an eyebrow at Mahony. "By what criterion? Thousands, millions of American Catholics have given up on the Church, or to be more accurate, on the hierarchy. you know the second largest denomination in America? Former Catholics."
Sunnyhill was sitting back and sipping his Chardonnay, amused at Pike's near-attack on the cardinal.
"And," said Pike, "the nonaccountability of the bishops has been the last straw."
"What?" asked Mahony. "Don't you remember what we did at Dallas in May 2002? Almost unanimously, we voted for a seventeen-point charter on sex abuse. Abusing priests would get zero tolerance."
"Yeah, once you were caught, you told the people you were sorry the priests did what they did, and sorry you covered up for them, and you promised you wouldn't do it again. But nobody believed you, because you proved you couldn't be trusted."
"Well, can you be trusted?" asked Pike. "Honestly now?"
Mahony sipped his Chardonnay. What the hell? In vino veritas applied to him, too. He said, very deliberately, "No. No—one—trusts—us." He looked over to Sunnyhill and gave him a sorrowful glance.
"And why not?"
"I don't know."
"Obviously. If you knew," said Pike, "you'd do something about it. But you've only taken half-measures."
Mahony shrugged. "We are not God. We did what we could."
Pike sat up straighter on the couch. "You leaped halfway across the ditch, and ended up flat on your ass!"
"Exhibit number one: you set up a national review board—laymen and laywomen—to make the hierarchy accountable to the lower-archy?"
"Yes. It was partly my idea."
"But you didn't give that board any power. And you forced the resignation of your chairman as soon as he put the pressure on to make you accountable."
"Only after he compared us to the mob."
"And that wasn't a good comparison?" said Pike.
Mahony bristled. "In no way are we like the Cosa Nostra!"
Pike let Mahony hear the echo of his own denial, then asked, "In no way?"
"Have you ever heard of omerta? The Mafia's code of silence?" Mahony nodded. "Your canonical secrecy is no different. Correct?"
"Well, canon law—"
Pike interrupted him. "To me that sounds like omerta."
"We're just following the Vatican norms. Canon law makes it very clear."
Pike said, "The American Church cannot be open with the people of God because of canon law?"
"Yes. No. Well. We cannot do a lot of things because of canon law. Can't let laymen have any authority over clerics. Can't carry through with the very clear implications of Vatican II—that, yes, we are a people's Church. I'd like to make this a people's Church. you know that. But canon law—"
Pike interrupted. "We just have to scrub canon law."
Mahony scoffed at the very idea. "Impossible," he said.
"That's only because you have never tried thinking outside the box."
"If I'd made a habit of that, I wouldn't be a cardinal today. The Vatican rewards men who get in step."
Pike wondered why anyone who had reached the top as Mahony had would worry about rewards from the Vatican, but he took Mahony's "get in step" as a challenge. "Lockstep?" he said with a snicker. "Or goose-step?"
Mahony shrugged. "For more than twenty-five years, as head of the Holy Office, Ratzinger had more authority than anyone imagined. He talked. We listened."
"If he had the authority, it was only because you—and all the other bishops—gave it to him."
"No. His authority is God-given."
"What isn't?" said Pike.
"What do you mean?"
Pike said, "I think we can all agree that everything comes from God. The real question is how it comes from God."
"Well, when Ratzinger was head of the Holy Office, his authority came through the pope, of course."
Pike said to Sunnyhill, "Help me out here."
Sunnyhill said, "Juridically maybe. The pope appoints Ratzinger to head the Holy Office, and suddenly Ratzinger has the authority to clobber any theologian who comes up with a new idea, or even an arresting new metaphor. But ontologically? Teleologically? We have to ask what that authority is for, and who's to benefit from it. Without the people of God, there'd be no need for a Holy Office, or for a papacy either."
"So," Mahony said, "since authority is for the people, is it also from the people?"
Sunnyhill said, "Good question. It is the question. Biggest argument going on in the Church. We've been fighting that battle since Vatican I in 1870. And the battle goes on. The papal party in the Church says Peter's authority came from Jesus himself. Ever stop to look up at the ceiling in St. Peter's? ... letters five feet high, in gold, supposedly spoken by Jesus to Peter: I WILL GIVE YOU THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. WHATSOEVER YOU BIND ON EARTH SHALL BE BOUND AlSO IN HEAVEN. Awesome."
"Right," said Mahony. "And Peter's successors enjoy the same awesome authority."
"That's what they say," conceded Sunnyhill. "But the scholars are saying the early Church never thought in terms of an Apostolic succession. Later popes cobbled together something they called an unbroken line back to Peter, and laid a claim to absolute power on the basis of some high-class forgeries."
"That's not new news," argued Mahony. "For some time now, we've known the Donation of Constantine and the Isidorean Decretals were forgeries."
"They were forgeries, weren't they?" said Sunnyhill.
"Yes," admitted Mahony. "But, so what? For more than ten centuries, the people of God have looked to the pope as the vicar of Christ."
"More correctly, I think, as the vicar of Peter," said Sunnyhill, "but no matter. The best theologians at Vatican II—including Pope John XXIII— rejected those who kept insisting on the papacy as monarchy. It was an emphasis that really got in the way of the message Jesus tried to get across to the Apostles—that he had come to serve, not be served. But those who are served have to have a voice. Maybe even a vote. And not just an advisory vote. That principle can have many ramifications."
"I can think of one," said Pike. "The people might even have a say in the selection of their servants."
Mahony pondered that. He looked at Sunnyhill. "Is he saying the people should elect their own bishops?"
Sunnyhill said, "It isn't an outlandish idea. The early Church did that. For the first six centuries, the people elected the bishop of Rome—that is, the pope—by acclamation. In 1789, the priests of the original thirteen colonies elected the first American bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore."
"So you think the laity should be able to tell the clergy what to do?"
Sunnyhill said, "That's the wrong question, dividing the Church into 'the laity' and 'the clergy.' Vatican II tried to get rid of that dichotomy. Both wings of the council agreed on this—on the radical equality of all the baptized."
"The radical equality of all the baptized?" Mahony had used the expression before in his homilies. But he had never thought to assess its political implications.
Sunnyhill did so. "The Council said every one of the faithful are full and equal members of the Church. But the Vatican keeps insisting that only clerics can make decisions in the Church. That means the people of God don't own their own Church. This has disastrous consequences. We can see the results best in western Europe, where huge majorities of Catholics do not care any more about a Church they do not own."
Pike laughed. "Yeah! In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rental car."
Mahony said. "The Church is not the Hertz Corporation."
"Or even Avis," said Pike. "Though we do try harder."
Mahony grinned, but Pike didn't. Pike turned to Sunnyhill. "I have a question: if we Americans don't have a hand in writing canon law, why should we follow it?"
Sunnyhill looked to the cardinal.
Mahony said, "We were always told, 'Because it comes from God.'"
"Yeah," scoffed Pike. "God gave canon law to St. Peter—on tablets of stone."
Mahony's voice rose. "You're saying that canon law is just a human thing?"
Sunnyhill jumped in. "Nick is right. Canon law is not only a human thing, but a Roman thing. It was produced out of a Roman culture—starting in the thirteenth century."
Pike said, "I don't want you to think we are ganging up on you, Cardinal Mahony. But I have to tell you that what Americans understand about canon law, they hate. Particularly all the secrecy stuff—with the various Roman dicasteries making up laws as they go along, with the Vatican courts making judgments in secret tribunals, with the pope saying, 'Shut up already about women's ordination. I am the decider.'"
Mahony nodded. Since his seminary days, he'd been conditioned to revere canon law. Now here was Pike telling him he'd made canon law into an idol. He looked at his watch. Pike and Sunnyhill had given him enough to chew on for one night. He said, "I just want to say this before you go. Whether you realize this or not, you've given me an answer to my first question. 'How do I do what needs doing here without Rome coming down on my head?'"
"We didn't resolve that question," said Sunnyhill.
"But you suggested we might think of challenging canon law?"
"Well," said Sunnyhill. "Maybe just ignore it, then stand back and see what happens. Sometimes we get more things done if we have the guts to just do it. Easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission."
Mahony nodded. That made a rough kind of sense. In this context, he said he had once heard his friend, Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, the cardinal-archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, proclaim, "Between Rome and Honduras is a very wide ocean."
Pike and Sunnyhill shot each other a happy glance. Was it possible that Mahony might help them promote a people's Church in America?
WHEN MAHONY WALKED PIKE AND SUNNYHILL to the door of the rectory, he encountered Monsignor Hawkslaw on his way in, looking very buff in a well-tailored alpaca jacket, silk shirt, and gray slacks. "Jeremiah!" said Mahony. "Lakers win?"
Hawkslaw said they did, but only in overtime on a 34-foot shot at the buzzer by Kobe Bryant. He looked at Pike and Sunnyhill with some curiosity.
Tonight, Mahony felt that the identity of his visitors was none of Hawkslaw's business. He told them. "Say hello to my chancellor, Jeremiah Hawkslaw."
They said hello, nothing more. Hawkslaw nodded, hesitated for a moment, then disappeared up a darkened hall.
On the steps of the rectory, Mahony told them to call him Roger.
Sunnyhill beamed. Pike shook his head. "Couple days ago, I was a jailbird. Now I am on a first name basis with my archbishop."
Sunnyhill handed Mahony a slip of paper. "I think you need to call Jim Kowalski, a former president of the Canon Law Society of America."
Mahony looked at the note. It was a telephone number in area code 574. "Kowalski? The canon lawyer at Notre Dame?"
"I've got a canon lawyer. you just met him. Jeremiah Hawkslaw."
"You trust him?" asked Pike.
Mahony hesitated. "Yes."
"I doubt it," said Pike. "Otherwise, you would have introduced us just now."
Mahony frowned and gave Pike a curious look. He'd never known such candor in a layman.
Sunnyhill said, "Call Kowalski. He will tell you that canon law is only law by analogy."
AFTERWARD, MAHONY WALKED ACROSS THE HALL to visit his small private chapel, lit only by a red sanctuary lamp. He genuflected, then knelt and tried a conversation in the dark with Jesus. He said to Jesus, "I am sure that Nick Pike has planted a seed. Maybe you were speaking to me tonight through Nick Pike and his Australian Jesuit from the Greg. They were making pretty good sense." But then Mahony realized this wasn't much of a prayer. What should he say as he lifted his mind and heart to God? Or should he say anything at all? Maybe with God, as well as with the people of God, he should practice the art of listening. He spent the next ten minutes by trying to empty himself of all thought by repeating an ancient sutra: "lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." That was a prayer.
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Other books by Robert Blair Kaiser:
A Church in Search of Itself
The Politics of Sex and Religion
“R.F.K. Must Die!”
Pope, Council and World
Co-author (with Tim Smith): Jubilee 2000, A Musical Comedy
ROBERT BLAIR KAISER spent ten years in the Society of Jesus, then, three years shy of ordination, left the Jesuits to pursue a career in journalism. He covered Vatican II for Time, worked on the religion beat for the New York Times, and served as journalism chairman at the University of Nevada Reno. Four of his eleven published books deal with Catholic Church reform. This is his first novel.
Kaiser won the Overseas Press Club Award in 1963 for the "best magazine reporting of foreign affairs" — for his reporting on the Vatican Council. Editors at three newspapers have nominated him for Pulitzer Prizes, and the book publisher E.P. Dutton nominated him for another Pulitzer for his exhaustive 634-page book on the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, which was revised and republished by the Overlook Press of New York in June 2008.
From 1999 to 2005, Kaiser was a contributing editor in Rome for Newsweek magazine and a Vatican consultant for CBS-TV. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona, USA.
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