Chapter 12: Kowalski
Robert Blair Kaiser's summary of last week's events: In Chapter Eleven, Sister Phoebe , with the strategic help of Cardinal Mahony and Nike Pike, turned aside a Vatican attempt to close down St. Priscilla's, and she does so in a televised encounter on the church steps with the Vatican's chosen emissary, Bishop Thomas Dimleigh. She waves a legal-sized envelope. "This document, signed by the cardinal, says I am in charge here. It says the people of God in Solvang own this church, and that the cardinal and I just watch over it for them. If the people don't like what we're doing for them, they can get rid of us." When Dimleigh's aide, sent by the Vatican, says the Church is not a democracy, Dimleigh says, "It sure as hell is beginning to look like one." Now here's Chapter Twelve...
Chapter 12: Kowalski
TWO AMERICAN CANON LAWYERS were guests that night on The O'Reilly Factor. Monsignor Albert Rountree, Cardinal Grandeur's chancellor, was in Fox's Philadelphia studio, and Father James Kowalski was in a broadcast studio at the University of Notre Dame, both linked to O'Reilly in New York on a remote hookup. Rountree replied to O'Reilly's first question by saying he regretted seeing the scene in Solvang televised all over the world.
"Legally though, according to canon law," said Bill O'Reilly, "could Sister Phoebe do that to a bishop? Just send him packing?"
Rountree, who was wearing a purple vest under his Roman collar, huffed, "Certainly not!"
"But she did it," said O'Reilly. He turned to Kowalski's broad Polish face on a large, in-studio screen. "Father Kowalski, you're a former president of the Canon Law Society of America. What do you say?"
Kowalski said, "Well, you're right, Bill. She did it. That is a fact. It is also a fact, apparently, that she has the backing of the cardinal-archbishop of Los Angeles. And he is the guy in charge, even in Solvang."
"Most unfortunate," said Rountree, interrupting. "To have this dispute aired on national television."
"International television," said O'Reilly by way of correction. "That news clip this morning flashed all over the world. And our show is now being seen from Rio to Riobamba. It's 4:00 AM in the Vatican, but I am sure this show is also being taped there right now so the pope can see it."
"I hardly think his Holiness is concerned with St. Priscilla Parish in, uh, Solvang, California," sniffed Rountree.
"He should be," said Kowalski.
When Rountree did not respond, O'Reilly asked him, "Shouldn't he be?"
"Well, uh, of course. The pope is the vicar of Christ on earth for all mankind. Humankind."
Kowalski said, "We don't need to get into that. What we learned today by watching that little confrontation in Solvang is that someone inside the Vatican tried an end-around on Cardinal Mahony, and a little nun playing outside linebacker threw him for a fifteen-yard loss."
Reilly said, "Uh, we hope someone in the Vatican can explain to the Holy Father what that means. Outside linebacker, huh?" He shook his head, clearly nettled by a cleric speaking the vernacular as colorfully as he. Who was the star here anyway? "Okay," he said to Kowalski. "The pope wanted her out of there, and Cardinal Mahony wanted her to stay. I understand that. But there's something I don't understand. Wasn't Bishop Dimleigh correct? Doesn't Cardinal Mahony work for the pope?"
Kowalski said, "As a cardinal? yes. As the archbishop of Los Angeles, no."
Rountree stopped him. "Well, just a moment here!"
O'Reilly broke into a big grin. As a staunch Catholic, there was nothing he liked better than a fight between two Churchmen. "Father Kowalski! You're telling us the archbishop doesn't work for the pope?"
"Who appointed him archbishop of Los Angeles?"
"Well, I should think that the guy that hires you has the right to fire you."
"We're not talking about hiring and firing," said Kowalski. "Popes didn't start appointing bishops outside the Papal States until 1829, and maybe a future pope ought to rethink that policy. But that's another issue. What we have here and now is a difference of opinion. This issue is pastoral, not doctrinal. And some of us think pastoral matters are best left to pastors. The Church has a long-standing teaching on subsidiarity."
"Tell the people out there," said O'Reilly, "what that means?" He implied that he knew what subsidiarity was, but his audience needed some help.
Kowalski said, "Nothing should be done by a higher agency that can be done as well, or better, by a lower agency. That's part of the Church's social teaching."
Rountree said, "What Sister Phoebe is doing is against Church teaching. And Cardinal Mahony apparently approves of it."
"Sister Phoebe—and her little community—"
Rountree interrupted Kowalski, "They're breaking Church discipline. Priests—not the people—are the ones who say Mass in our Church. Canon law, number 1378, paragraph two, note one, says that anyone who has not been promoted to the priestly order and who attempts to enact the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice incurs an automatic penalty of interdict."
Kowalski picked up on that. "Discipline? Monsignor, you said discipline. Discipline isn't doctrine."
Rountree exploded with a sound, not words, a rippling of his lips.
"This is not a new phenomenon," said Kowalski. "Many religious establishments tend to confuse their own man-made rules with doctrine. Jesus charged the Pharisees with making their own man-made rules into the kind of doctrine they could use to lord it over the people. You can look it up in the Fourteenth Chapter of Luke."
Rountree insisted, "If Sister Phoebe's defying the pope, she isn't Catholic any longer. In the Catholic Church, the pope makes all the rules."
"That's a pretty big leap, Monsignor. If Sister Phoebe isn't a Catholic in your book, what does that make Cardinal Mahony?"
"Well, I'd hesitate to excommunicate the cardinal."
Kowalski countered. "But you'd find it easier to excommunicate a little nun?"
Rountree made that explosive sound again with his lips.
O'Reilly said, "gentlemen, we have to move on here. Sum this up, in ten seconds. What's gonna happen here?"
"Unless someone does some furious backpedaling," said Rountree, "I see a schism ahead."
Kowalski said, "I don't foresee any backpedaling. But I don't see a schism."
O'Reilly shook his head in puzzlement. "Folks, I don't think we've heard the end of this. It looks like the American Catholic Church is in for a rough ride."
Rountree tried to correct him. "Don't say 'the American Catholic Church.' Say 'the Catholic Church in America.'"
Kowalski objected. "I'd say 'American Catholic Church' is exactly the right phrase, Monsignor. When we have an American Catholic Church, it will be accountable—to the people. And if it is truly American, it will look more like a democracy than a monarchy. Or a dictatorship."
"We'll have you back," said O'Reilly. "We gotta have you both back."
IN HIS TWO-ROOM SUITE in the AIDS wing at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahony turned off his TV and sighed at the exchange that had been orchestrated by Bill O'Reilly. He was in huge sympathy with Kowalski's views. He had had two long telephone conversations with Kowalski, and agreed with him: the U.S. Church needed to be more accountable to the people. In the American experience, accountability went hand in hand with a whole host of democratic institutions. Men and women were elected to public service by the people. If they didn't serve, they didn't win re-election. Sometimes, those who served themselves more grandly than they served the people were even recalled in midstream. But he had problems applying that democratic paradigm to the Church.
He told Kowalski, "Making the Church accountable to the people. It all seems so—well, so political."
Kowalski laughed. "Roger! you know who you're talking to? You're talking to a guy who has observed the American bishops in action for more than four decades now."
Mahony grunted. "Watching you, too, Roger. Are you going to tell me that you haven't played ecclesiastical politics all your life?"
"Well, that's different," he said.
"Well, secular politics and Church politics are two different—"
"The same shenanigans go on. Admit it. The only difference is that in the Church we clerics are the only ones who know what's going on. We play our political games behind a velvet curtain of secrecy and indirection. And keep the laity in the dark."
"What are you suggesting?"
"We could admit the truth—that, wherever men vie for power, we have politics. Let's be honest about it, honest with the people. They have a stake in all this, don't they?"
Mahony shook his head. "I wonder if the people would understand—or even want to get involved in—. Politics is so—" He paused, searching for the right word.
"Messy? Yes, it is," said Kowalski. "And, if it's done right, dangerous, too. Jesus threatened the political power of the Pharisees—urging his followers to hunger and thirst after justice—and they had him crucified for his trouble. And those who followed his lead—some of them got crucified, too. Peter was crucified and Paul was beheaded."
"For being in politics?"
"We don't usually think of Peter and Paul in those terms. But, yes. The Roman emperors saw them as a threat to their power. And that's been the whole history of the world, a struggle for power. I think it is part of being human." He reflected on what he had just said, then added, "What's wrong with being human?"
"People don't expect us to be human," Mahony said. "They like to think that everything out of my office comes from God. Make them part of any decision process and we may have trouble. I wonder if the people of God are all that ready to take a hand in their own governance."
"You've got a number of boards and commissions, don't you?"
"The members are all appointed, not elected. Appointed by me!"
"Well, you might ask the people of Los Angeles to elect them. And give them real, not merely advisory, power."
"How do I do that?"
"Sign 'em up. Make 'em voters."
"Voters for what?"
"You challenge them to elect their own representatives on every parish committee. And you let all the parish committees elect reps to your various archdiocesan boards."
Mahony pondered that. When Pike got him starting to think harder about a people's Church, he hadn't dreamed of going this far. At times, he wondered if he was going too far. Other times, he wondered if he was going far enough. "Who gets to vote?" he asked.
"Anyone who is registered in a parish."
"They tell me half the Catholics in LA aren't registered in any parish."
"I dare say many of them will register, if they think this will give them a voice and a vote."
Mahony questioned that, too. "you know what this would mean? This could double the size of every parish."
"Pastors might like that. Double their collections,"
"Double their work, too. Lord help them!"
"He'll have to help them," said Kowalski. "But so will the people. Give the people a voice and a vote, and the people will get to work."
"Work for the Church?"
"Not for the hierarchical Church. For their Church, the people-of-God Church. For themselves."
AS HE LAY DOWN TO SLEEP THAT NIGHT, Cardinal Mahony mulled what Kowalski had been telling him, then pulled his olive-pit rosary out from under his pillow, and started to say five decades—for the people of God, and for himself, praying the people wouldn't drag him under.
But then he caught himself. Drag him under what? He had thoughts like that when he was still a young-priest-on-his-way-up. But he, Roger Michael Mahony, was no longer on his way up. He was the cardinal-archbishop of the biggest archdiocese in America. He couldn't go any higher than that, unless he were elected pope, and there was no chance of that.
He remembered the story about Joe Bernardin, archbishop of Cincinnati in 1976, and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when hundreds of Catholic leaders, mostly laymen and women, but some priests and bishops, too, gathered in Detroit's Cobo Hall for the National Call To Action Conference. The people there got out of hand, caught up in their own enthusiasm for radical change in the American Church. On the final day, Sunday, they voted yes on 86 propositions. One of them called for an end to mandatory celibacy for American priests, another for the ordination of married men, another a request for the Vatican to consider the ordination of women.
Monsignor Joseph gremillion, the USCCB's executive secretary, who had run the affair from beginning to end, read those propositions from the podium. Afterward, as he was leaving the podium, Bernardin turned to him and said. "Joe, what have you done to my career?"
On Monday morning, Bernardin tried to repair his career at the Vatican by calling a news conference to tell the press, "The American bishops cannot endorse this package." Bernardin soon got his reward for putting down a people's revolt in the American Church. The pope made him the archbishop of Chicago, then a cardinal. Bernardin had saved his career. But, to do that, he had to sell out the people. It wasn't that Bernardin was a bad man. In fact, he was one of the best bishops in America. His troubles stemmed from the simple fact that he had learned from his seminary days that if he wanted a career in the Church, he had to protect the power of the hierarchy.
Mahony came out of his revery just as he was finishing the fifth decade of his rosary. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen." Yes, he thought, we are all sinners.
IT TOOK SEVERAL DAYS for Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco to return Mahony's phone call. When he did, Mahony told him that he would never guess the identity of the newest addition to his growing team of revolutionaries.
"Okay. I give up."
"Juana Margarita Obregón."
Quinn tried to process that information. Finally, he said, "I can't believe it."
"Believe it." Mahony told him how she'd avoided death at the hands of the Mexican commandos—"floating up to her eyeballs in a pond of shit."
Quinn needed to hear all of the details. When he was satisfied he had the entire picture, he wondered whether Mahony had told Nick Pike.
Mahony informed him that Nick Pike already knew Juana Margarita Obregón had come back to town. In fact, Pike had rented an apartment for her. "He was just waiting for her to make herself known to me. He's coming over to see me in the morning. And he's bringing—get this—a community organizer."
"What community you going to organize?"
"Not sure. Pike will probably tell me what to do. We may be in politics up to our eyeballs."
"Yeah. like Juana Margarita Obregón. In a pond of shit."
"Yes. Politics can get messy."
"And for that, you need an organizer?"
"Politics can get complicated, too. We can't just let things happen. Pike urged me not to do that. That would be dumb. We have to make things happen. Pike reminded me of St. Ignatius loyola. 'Pray as if everything depended on God. Work as if everything depended on yourself.'"
"What do you mean, 'good luck?' You're on the team, too."
"John, it is time for you to grow some balls, too."
"What do you mean?"
"You know. After the pope had a fit in 1980—when you called for a rethinking of the whole birth control thing at the synod and the synod secretary called you down for doing that, you retreated. You said you'd been misquoted. Then you came back to San Francisco and did next to nothing, until you took early retirement. You became a spectator."
Quinn was silent.
"Well, didn't you?"
"I did write that book in 2000," said Quinn. The Renewal of the Papacy. I took it to Rome and gave the pope a copy. I gave one to Ratzinger, too."
"And nothing happened, right?"
"What do you wish you'd done?"
"I don't know."
"Yes," agreed Mahony. "You really didn't know what to do, except appeal to the pope's common sense."
"Uh huh. What else could I do? I'm no politician. Not like you."
Mahony smiled. In another day, he would have denied it. But now he realized he was indeed in politics. "We all have to be politicians," he said. "We have to be accountable to the people."
"What kind of people?"
"Short, tall, thin, fat, black, white, brown, yellow, gays, straights, and in- between. Everybody. We get the people on our side, the bullies in the Roman Curia will back off. If there's anything these guys understand, it's power. They cozy up to power wherever they find it. In Germany before World War II, they made friends with Hitler. In Latin America, in the 1970s, they were quite cordial with dictators. Two current South American cardinals with big jobs in Rome used to play tennis with Pinochet."
"And how do you get the people on your side?"
Mahony said he knew how to talk to the press. "And I may need a campaign manager."
"Or a press secretary."
"I already have one of those."
Quinn didn't hear him. "Somebody like James Carville?"
"Oh, sure! Bill Clinton's genius, the guy who reduced everything to its simplest elements."
"'It's the economy, stupid.'"
"I'm just not sure," said Quinn, "that you'd want Carville. Southern Baptist, I think."
Mahony said, "Maybe I need someone exactly like Carville. Someone who, the less he knows about the Church, the better."
"Why is that?"
"Because he won't feel his hands are tied by our archaic customs. Or by canon law."
Quinn laughed. "You'd go that far, huh, Roger? Well, good for you. You may not last long. But you'll go down in glory."
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