Amid Tea Leaves and Hunches, Some Dare Disagree

National Catholic Reporter, November 10, 2006 | Go to article overview

Amid Tea Leaves and Hunches, Some Dare Disagree


Journalist Marco Politi of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica once remarked that the best training he received for covering the Vatican was covering the Cold War era Kremlin. Both involved secret cultures with their own languages and customs, impenetrable bureaucracies and both were fiercely protective of information.

Allowing for more than a bit of exaggeration, the reality is that discerning the direction of a papacy isn't the same as, say, figuring out the direction of a U.S. presidency. Popes issue encyclicals, not position papers; they don't deliver stump speeches or endorse platforms, and appointments of personnel could have far-reaching implications or signal significant changes in direction from a predecessor, but no one ever announces such things.

So we're left with tea leaves and hunches, instincts and bits of evidence. And in this issue, with an interesting question raised by John L. Allen Jr.: Who will say no to Benedict?

Allen, of course, is raising the question about the pope's inner circle. Who will dare vet the speeches or tell this pope--or any pope--that he's wrong or that it would be better to say one thing or another?

For those who think good leadership allows pushback from underlings and takes good suggestions from wherever they arrive, it is an encouraging and very human moment that Allen recounts of a pope interrupted at prayer kindly receiving a suggestion on what to include in a sensitive speech he was to deliver at Auschwitz. If only someone had suggested he add a line or some qualifier to his speech in Regensburg, Germany, which contained a passage offensive to Muslims.

It is easy to jump from inner circle to wider church, and wonder not so much who will say no to Benedict, but rather whether the new pope will give any credence to those who might disagree.

Again, we're left mostly with scraps of evidence and hunches.

But in recent days, the signs are that some high-ranking church leaders feel they can voice criticism without fear.

Apparently news that Benedict could widen the use of the Latin Mass has provoked an intense debate in Europe. According to a Reuters report, church leaders in Belgium, Germany and France have loudly protested any encouragement of widespread use of the Tridentine rite because, first, they see little interest in it and, second, they suspect that the Mass is just a front for dragging other issues, such as ecumenism, interfaith dialogue and religious freedom into dispute. …

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