Pope John Paul II and the Church

By Peter Hebblethwaite | Go to book overview
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Pope elates crowd, acts cautiously

( November 17, 1978) In his first four weeks as pope, John Paul II has aroused the enthusiasm of the crowd and quietly set about keeping the Roman curia guessing.

At his audience Nov. 8, he was lost for a time among the milling 5,000 who surrounded him. Buttons were torn off his cassock, his hands were bruised and scratched from countless handshakes, and there were lipstick stains on his sleeves. John Paul is the despair of his protocol-minded entourage. It looks as if he will not take refuge on the sedia gestatoria (portable throne). If he continues to insist on plunging into the crowd, he must expect to get mauled. He does not seem to mind.

He cheered the Roman curia by giving them their usual gratuity on the election of a new pope and an extra day's holiday. All Saints and All Souls are traditional holidays, and as Nov. 3 was a holiday, they were given that day off as well.

But the curia still are being kept on tenterhooks about the future. Only Cardinal Jean Villot, secretary of state, has been officially reconfirmed in his office. This was unexpected, as it was assumed a non-Italian pope would need an Italian secretary of state to help him through the tangled maze of Italian politics.

By reconfirming Villot, John Paul showed he approves of Villot's "pastoral" rather than "political" line, for Villot has made no secret that he sees his task as that of liaison among episcopal conferences of the world rather than one of political forward-planning. Still, the concordat with Italy remains to be negotiated.

All the other heads of Roman departments have been received by the pope and therefore reconfirmed, but only temporarily. John Paul is moving with extreme caution. His predecessor formally reconfirmed everyone within a week of being elected, thus denying himself the chance to renew the personnel. John Paul II has retained his freedom.

Cardinal John Wright, head of the Congregation for Clergy, was last to be confirmed. Though in a wheelchair, he told all who would listen that he had no intention of resigning and that "the head of a Roman congregation does not have to be able to walk -- it is


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