Chapter 15: Interdict
Robert Blair Kaiser's summary of last week's chapter: When Rackham learned about a new model church for a 21st century based on the ancient model of the autochthonous churches of the Middle East, he promptly tells Mahony he has to lead American Catholics into autochthony. Mahony doubts the pope would ever give permission for that. Rackham says U.S. Catholics ought to make a declaration of autochthony, as the U.S. Founding Fathers wrote a Declaration of Independence in 1776, then stand back and dare the Vatican to say that some 70 million American Catholics are in schism. Mahony isn't so sure it would be that easy. "We'd have a fight on our hands." His prediction seems born out when he reads a Page One story in the Los Angeles Times that said the Vatican was putting the entire state of California under interdict. Now here's Chapter Fifteen...
Chapter 15: Interdict
ROGER MAHONY GOT HIS MESSAGE from the Holy Spirit at five the next morning when he jogged into the lobby of the hospital to find seven television crews and a dozen radio reporters swarming around him. Contemporary history indeed! Faced with such a news horde, his first instinct was to turn around and run, but he spied Nick Pike in the middle of the crowd, and took three long strides to meet him.
"Thank God, you're here," he said, then grabbed the newspaper Pike was holding, and made for an elevator while he scanned the headline on the right side of Page One of the Los Angeles Times.
Schism in Catholic Los Angeles?
He and Pike grabbed an elevator and got it moving up to Mahony's eleventh floor. Definitely not alone—the car was jammed with reporters firing questions—the two of them said nothing, Mahony reading the story in the Times, Pike peering at it over his shoulder, until they arrived at his floor.
Before the doors opened, he pressed the Hold button, held up his hand, called for silence, and tried to speak. "Ladies, gentlemen of the press, you know I'd love to talk to you." He smiled a tight smile. "When have I ever dodged you? Steve Lopez, don't answer that. But you have to give me a few minutes, okay? I need to talk to my people. I need to find out what's going on in Rome."
"You mean you haven't heard from the Vatican?" asked a radio man armed with a large microphone.
"No," snapped Mahony. He waved his copy of the Times. "A lot of misstatements of fact here. A lot of misunderstandings. For now, you radio guys—and gals—and you wire service people, you can report this. 'Cardinal Mahony says, "We are not in schism. This doesn't make any sense. And I haven't been in hiding."' I'll see you all in the hospital's boardroom in fifteen minutes, okay? No. I will need a half hour."
A quiver of more questions, one of which seemed to hit a bull's-eye with him: "Cardinal Mahony, where were you this morning?"
For a wild moment or two, he thought of blurting an honest answer —"with a friend." Instead, he said over his shoulder as he made his way to the AIDS wing, "Couldn't sleep. Out walking. In the neighborhood."
Inside the suite, he headed to his Mac and opened his e-mail in-box. Several hundred messages on one AOl account. Perhaps two dozen on his private account, these mainly encouraging notes from his fellow bishops in California, but also bravo messages from Kowalski, Andy Greeley, and James Carroll, and from the bishops of Portland, Tucson, Metuchen, New Jersey, Denver, Des Moines, and Great Falls, Montana.
After skimming most of them, answering none, he turned to Pike, who had been at his side. "Nice surprise. They're all with us. No dissenting voice, not even from Denver."
"They all want to be part of the schism?" asked Pike. He was needling Mahony, and Mahony knew it. He knew Pike knew he wasn't leading a schism. Thank God he had the information he needed to tell the world about autochthony. And the courage.
WITH SEVERAL HUNDRED NEWSMEN crowding the hospital lobby and flowing out the front door, Harry Gray, Mahony's press secretary, sought and got an okay from the hospital administration to move the news conference to the auditorium. In the meantime, Mahony was taking a quick shower. Then he donned a black cassock trimmed in cardinal red, poured himself a huge glass of orange juice, and turned back to his e-mail. He was looking for a message from Sunnyhill, and found one containing something that Sunnyhill called "A Declaration of Autochthony."
"Just a draft," wrote Sunnyhill, the Australian Jesuit with a fondness for America. "You might want to check it out with your team."
We hold these truths to be evident from scripture and tradition, that all baptized Christians, men and women alike, are equal, that they are endowed by their baptism with certain unalienable rights and duties, that among these are the freedom to be all we can be—in this life as well as the next—and the duty to advance the mission on earth of a Christ who said he had come so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. That to secure these rights, and help us in our duties, we set up a governance in the Church that derives its just powers not from a bureaucracy in Rome that claims to speak for almighty God, but from the consent of the governed on every part of the planet.
No, Mahony thought. This would not do. This was entirely too cheeky, too brainy, too analytical, too wrapped up in the values of law, order, judgment and power. It was too eighteenth-century.
He looked in his personal in-box. Surely other members of the team would have a better sense of what he needed at this moment. He needed to fight, of course. But how? And with what? If the Vatican was forging a hammer to raise against the American Church, he didn't want to fight back with another hammer. His heart leaped when he opened an e-mail message from Sister Phoebe in Solvang.
"Tell them some stories," she said. "Talk to your family."
It leaped again when he opened an e-mail message from Pike, sent apparently at three o'clock in the morning, along with a large attachment. The printout ran a dozen pages. His eyes ran down the text before he put it in the breast pocket of his cassock. It was a well-written compendium of what he and his team had been discussing for weeks, the case for a people's Church in America.
HARRY GRAY HAD SET UP A LITTLE PODIUM on the stage of the auditorium. Mahony spurned the stage, asked for a handheld mike, and took a position at floor level, in the center aisle. He paused, giving the soundmen time to adjust their mikes and their booms, and scanned the faces before him—the press, the most maligned group in society today, vultures ready to tear a man apart at the slightest sign of weakness. He made a rough count of the house—maybe two hundred men and women in the room, and at least twenty TV cameras, three of them marked with the logo of C-SPAN. He thought, Good, sooner or later, those who care most can catch every word I say here. I only hope people will understand what I am trying to say.
MAHONY SAID, "If you've been following the horror stories for the past six years, you know it isn't only the spectacle of sex abuse by a relatively few American priests that makes us ashamed of our Church in America. It is the systematic cover-up of that abuse by most of the nation's bishops—including me. I hope that I will someday be able to make up for my part in the cover-up.
"We bishops have covered up because we have labored on the mistaken assumption that this is our Church, a Church that we can run pretty much as we see fit." Mahony was speaking now not so much to the press horde, but to the people who were watching and listening, somewhere out there in media land.
"It is, in fact, your Church, one that we must run pretty much as you see fit. This means that, although we are in charge, we must be accountable to you, to the people we serve, as Jesus told the Apostles in the twenty-second chapter of luke. In Luke 22:26, Jesus told the Apostles, 'let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.'
"We have a few servant-bishops today. I wish we had more of them. I would like to be more of a servant-bishop than I have been. But my pastoral team in Los Angeles (and I) would like to do more than wish. We want to push for new laws in the American Church that will make us all accountable to one another, grounding our stand in scripture and the traditions of the primitive Church, and modeling our governance on the American Constitution. In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great, who left the contemplative life of a monk before he became pope under protest, laid down a principle that is even more appropriate today: 'Who presides over all must be chosen by all.'"
Mahony paused while his eyes skimmed ahead to Pike's draft. It was too long, so he tried to summarize in his own words.
"In the early 1960s, the bishops at Vatican II wrote a charter to give the people ownership and citizenship in their Church. Then we sat back and waited for our priests and bishops in the United States to implement that charter—to give the people a voice and a vote, American-style. They didn't really do that. But then, it was not very realistic, was it, to expect they would? Few lords willingly become servants.
"It is realistic, however, to come up with our own plan, if only a starting point—to give American Catholics a voice and a vote. We are not calling for a schism nor are we challenging the faith we hold and the beliefs we express in the creed we say every time we go to Mass. We are challenging the way our Church is governed—unaccountably, top-down in a bottom- up kind of world.
"In 1978, Pope John Paul II told millions of Poles, "you can take back your country if you demand it." I am telling American Catholics they can do the same thing. you can take back our Church if you demand it. One way you can do that—you can insist on electing your own bishops. you can do it when I resign—and I will," he assured the cameras with a smile, "when I reach my seventy-fifth birthday.
"I will encourage the four million Catholics in the Church of Los Angeles to elect my successor. I hope you see what I am trying to do, give LA Catholics a voice and a vote. This may not be the only way, but it is the best way I can think of—to make the Church credible once more. This might also reverse the extraordinary outflow of young people from a Church that finds itself stuck, for example, in a theory of ministry that bars half its members from serving as priests at a time when priests are in terribly short supply.
"Once the Holy Father understands how this move will bring millions of alienated Catholics back to the Church, he will have to give his approval. I am not proposing a schism, after all, just a new way of making this Church of ours a Church of the people. I am not saying American Catholics should say goodbye to their bishops. I hope we always have bishops. I am a bishop myself.
"But the American Church doesn't need lord bishops any longer. It needs servant bishops who will act more like the fathers of modern American families. Since Vatican II, mainstream theologians, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, have described the Church as something more like a family. If that's the updated model, then the Church should function in the spirit of modern families, where fathers and mothers share authority, and where even the kids are invited to speak their minds. I think this family model will make sense to American Catholics—who are far more educated than many of their priests and bishops, and won't be treated like kids much longer. They are adults. They want ownership and citizenship in their Church. I hope we can give it to them."
Mahony dropped his voice and his gaze and made the sign of the cross, as if the words he had just spoken were a prayer. His action was met with what appeared to be a thoughtful silence. No shouts from the press horde, no demands. He looked over the throng, and saw reporters nodding at him, and exchanging glances with one another, but no hands raised. "Okay. I think I have given you enough. You can do some good stories. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?"
Finally from the back of the room, someone shouted. "I have a question, your Eminence. Steve Lopez from the Los Angeles Times?"
Mahony smiled. "Go ahead, Mr. Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times. I think this exchange is long overdue." Indeed it was. Lopez had been seeking face time with Mahony for several years. "Ask your question."
Lopez had just gotten what amounted to a graduate seminar in ecclesiology, but what kind of column could he write about it for his audience? "What's next?" he asked. "What's your next move?"
He was disappointed when Mahony told him and the news horde, "We want to make one thing perfectly clear. We're in union with Rome. That means we will abide by the pope's orders. If he wants to put us under interdict, we will abide by that."
"What will that mean?" asked Lopez.
"According to canon law, interdict means that the whole region—in this case, the entire state of California—cannot receive the Sacraments. No Mass. No Communion either. No Catholic who dies can receive a Catholic burial. If I have anything to say about it, we will abide by that order (if, in fact, it is an order), as long as the Holy Father wants it to remain in effect. The people and the priests may protest to the pope. We'll see about that."
"So why is the pope punishing the people of California?"
"You know," said Mahony, "that's the interesting thing. As of now"—he looked at his watch. "As of 8:15 AM on January 28, 2009, we haven't heard a thing from the Vatican, maybe because this is a big holiday in Rome. All we know is what we've read in the Times. I don't think that amounts to any kind of legal notice. And, since the men in the Vatican have always been great sticklers for legal correctness, we have to say that, technically, nothing has changed. We haven't been served. Yet. So I am telling all of our parish priests they can celebrate Mass this morning. Until we see an official order from Rome, we cannot consider an interdict in place."
"What about Sister Phoebe? Can she celebrate Mass?"
"Sister Phoebe McNulty, the parish administrator of St. Priscilla's in Solvang, isn't celebrating Mass—and has never celebrated Mass. She and the members of her parish have been saying the words of the Mass in unison together and partaking together of some bread and wine, as Jesus bid all of his disciples to do at the last Supper. Sister Phoebe and the people of St. Priscilla's aren't doing anything more—or less—than Jesus asked his followers to do in memory of him. We will let the theologians argue over the question—whether Jesus is sacramentally present in this stylized memory or not. The people of St. Priscilla's are quite happy with what they are doing. They feel closer to our lord. And I feel closer to them."
Another reporter stood, identifying himself as Mark Day of the National Catholic Reporter. "Cardinal Mahony," he shouted, "if the people of St. Priscilla's are happy with what they feel is Jesus' presence within them in their liturgy, and you're happy that they're happy, why do we need priests at all?"
The news crowd hummed over that one, giving Mahony time to ponder his reply. Finally he said, "Good question. Short answer: We don't. I can give you a somewhat longer answer. Maybe we're just catching up with history itself, which as Pope John XXIII used to say, is a good teacher. If we've been paying attention, we might conclude that the ordained celibate male priesthood itself is dying. No one should be surprised if some Catholics who can think outside the box come up with something else to take its place."
A large, bosomy blonde—she looked like a mezzo-soprano from the Metropolitan Opera—rose and challenged Mahony from the front row. "Helga Krankenkrauser from the Wanderer, your Eminence." Mahony nodded. He wasn't aware that the Wanderer, a right-wing Catholic weekly out of Minnesota, had a correspondent in Los Angeles. He could have predicted the tenor of her question.
"Your Eminence," she said, "according to number 1378, paragraph two, note one of the 1983 Revised Code of Canon law—" She held up a typescript at arm's length and squinted at it through thick horn-rimmed spectacles. "It 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."
"What's your question, Ms. Krankenhauser?"
She corrected the cardinal. "Three Ks. Krankenkrauser."
"Sorry," he said, smiling uneasily. "What's your question, Ms. Krankenkrauser?"
"Well, isn't it obvious? You've been supporting Sister Phoebe's priestly pretenses when all the time she and her people are under automatic excommunication. How can you justify that?"
"In the first place, Ms. Krankenkrauser, who says she's acting like a priest? Or that she's attempting to re-enact what canon law calls 'the liturgical action of the Eucharistic Sacrifice?' And in the second place, the canon you are quoting doesn't say anything about excommunication. You are saying she's incurred a penalty that no one has yet been able to define. 'Interdict?' What exactly does that term mean to you, Ms. Krankenkrauser?"
She sputtered. "Well, I don't know. At the very least, I think it means the Vatican isn't happy about what she's doing. And not happy, I'd assume, not happy with what you—and most of the California bishops—are doing, supporting Sister Phoebe and a bunch of other Phoebes up and down the state of California."
"Well, Ms. Krankenkrauser, when you use the word 'assume,' you're using the right word. You assume. I'd like to wait until I see something official on this from the pope. So far, all I know is what I've read in the Los Angeles Times."
Ms. Krankenkrauser cackled scornfully.
"You have another question?" asked Mahony.
"Not really," she said.
Mahony recognized a TV reporter standing next to a news camera.
"Harley Banks of Fox News, your Eminence. Can you tell us just exactly what you mean by a people's Church in America? And why that doesn't amount to a schism?"
"Harley, to make an accountable Church in America, we need to change the way we govern ourselves, not change what we believe. The Church hasn't always governed itself in the same way. For the first six centuries, the people of Rome elected their bishop—who later came to be known as 'the pope.' The first bishop in the United States was elected by a vote of the priests in the new nation. The modern Church has a different polity in different parts of the world, but the same faith. So, for good reasons, we hope we can change our polity here in America. And canon law even tells us how we can do that.
"Canon law talks about a regional, or national synod. The American Church had three of them in the 1800s, the First, Second, and Third Councils of Baltimore, where rules were set for American Catholics by the delegates, all bishops, no laymen. The American bishops are, in fact, now preparing a Fourth Council of Baltimore, scheduled to begin on July 4, 2009, modeled on those early regional American synods. Only bishops attended those synods. No mere priests or nuns, and no laymen. No women, either.
"But times have changed. I am going to urge that my fellow American bishops follow a provision in modern canon law that says a regional synod can include non-bishops—up to fifty percent of the delegates. If those delegates are elected by Catholics in every state (or every diocese) and claim active voice, the synod might take on the character of a constitutional convention, and delegates could end up writing a charter for a people's Church in America, a charter that looks very much like the Constitution of the United States—with an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judicial branch. That constitution might call for the popular election of two parliamentary bodies—a Senate of Bishops and a House of Commons, an elected president (or executive board), and a judiciary appointed with the advice and consent of both houses.
The Fox reporter said, "What a battle that would be!"
"Sure," said Mahony, "Just like the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a battle between men who didn't always agree, and who didn't get it right the first time. You may remember, they had to come back and put together ten amendments, our Bill of Rights.
"I expect delegates to our national synod would wrangle over their charter's specifics. But if they want to lead a Church of and for the people, I think they could come up with rules that would make us all accountable to one another. I think American Catholics would all like to see that happen."
The Fox reporter interjected. "But that sounds very political. Are you trying to bring politics into the American Church?"
Mahony smiled. "We don't know our own Church. We should all realize the American bishops have been playing politics for two hundred years, mainly taking orders from Rome unless they could convince Rome otherwise. But they've always played the game in secret. I should know. I was one of the players. I am suggesting it is high time we bring everything out in the open, and let everyone have a voice and a vote. We are not talking about Catholic doctrine here, but about the way we govern ourselves.
"So why not write a constitution, with three branches of government that operate in the open, covered closely by the media, so everyone can know what's going on? Three branches of government and the Fourth Estate—they check and balance one another. What's so bad about that? Americans are justly proud of the U.S. Constitution, and their free press. And new nations all over the world have been copying our system for more than a hundred years.
"In fact, the Roman Catholic Church itself, the one based in Rome, already has a constitution. It is called 'canon law.' Romans are proud of it, possibly because it is modeled on ancient Roman law and is therefore part of their own Roman culture. Americans do not quite understand it. Nor will we ever. It is a charter for tyranny, actually, designed to make its secret orders stick by the sheer power of an absolute sovereign, who makes all the laws, interprets all the laws, and enforces all the laws. That's one form of governance. One kind of politics, really. But it is not the kind of politics that commends Christ to his people, not any more, not today. Not in California. Not in the United States."
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