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Rome Notes: Fatima's New Church Moves Ahead; Critiquing the U.S. on Iraq

Controversy at Shrine Hasn't Affected Construction

By Delia Gallagher

ROME, MAY 14, 2004 (Zenit) - Today is the anniversary of the first of the Blessed Virgin Mary's apparitions at Fatima, in 1917.

In recent months, the sanctuary at Fatima was the focus of controversy because of comments by its rector, Monsignor Luciano Gomes Paulo Guerra, that a new Church being built near the shrine would be used for interreligious purposes (see Rome Notes Jan. 1).

I spoke to Bishop Serafim de Sousa Ferreira e Silva, of the Leiria-Fatima Diocese, to find out the latest on the situation.

Plans for the new church are going ahead, he said. The church will be a Catholic one, much like the Pius X Church in Lourdes, built near the shrine to accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who come to Fatima each month.

As with any Catholic church, it will be open to all, but the services held there will be Catholic.

The bishop told me he had just been to visit Fatima and will be returning for today's celebrations. The controversy of several months ago has not affected either the work on the church nor the number of pilgrims who visit the shrine in Portugal.

"The pilgrims who come here are not concerned by a controversy caused by a few foreigners. People come here to pray, and they continue to come in the thousands," he said.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, expressed the hope that those devoted to Fatima remember that "the figure of Mary should be one that brings people together rather than divides them."

"The best witness we can give," Archbishop Fitzgerald said, "is to take our example from the words of the Acts of the Apostles, 'See how they love one another.'"

* * *

Losing the High Road?

The war in Iraq has put into high relief questions about the Catholic Church's position on the conflict.

The Holy See's opposition to the war has caused some Catholic thinkers, such as Americans George Weigel and Michael Novak, to question whether the Vatican promotes a "functional pacifism" which, according to Weigel, "retains the intellectual apparatus of the just war tradition of moral reasoning but always comes down, at the bottom line, in opposition to the use of armed force."

They also question the Vatican's insistence on the authority of the United Nations given that the latter is sometimes ineffective and in opposition to some Church teachings, for example, on the family.

These Catholic American intellectuals have been frequent guests at Vatican conferences arguing for renewed thinking of the Church's position on war.

A European critique of this American position was provided recently by a professor of social ethics at the Gregorian University during an April 29 conference on Catholic thought and world politics, in the presence of a number of Americans, including Weigel and the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, Jim Nicholson.

Professor Antonio Baggio opened his talk quoting U.S. President George Bush speaking in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"They hate our freedom," the president said, "and they used it to attack us."

What is this freedom on which America is based? Baggio asked.

Since the founding of the United States, he suggested, freedom has been intimately connected to fraternity.

He quotes Thomas Jefferson's 1823 letter to James Monroe criticizing Europe as "nations in eternal war."

Jefferson wrote: "On our part never had a people so favorable a chance of trying the opposite system of peace and fraternity with mankind and the direction of all our means and faculties to the purposes of improvement instead of destruction."

Baggio noted that the Declaration of Independence states that, "out of decent respect for the opinions of mankind," the 18th-century Americans hastened to explain to the world the reasons for their actions.

"The Declaration," said Baggio, "confers on mankind an enormous weight: invoking it as witness to the rights it declares, accepting mankind as judge of its duties. The decisions taken by the people must be shared by that humanity that the people themselves call to stand in judgment of its motives."

Baggio quoted Thomas Paine, in "Common Sense": "The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances hath, and will arise which are not local but universal and through which the principles of all Lovers of Mankind are affected and in the Event of which their Affections are interested."

Such a history, Baggio claims, is at once an opportunity and a danger for America.

"The danger is that of maintaining that the United States is the better part of humanity, and feels itself authorized, because of this, to decide alone and for all," he said.

"After September 11th," he said, "the United States had a historic opportunity to become effectively the moral leader of the world, unleashing a world strategy of freedom in fraternity."

Instead, Baggio claims, the Bush administration went in the opposite direction.

"The disagreement of a large part of the international community with President Bush began when he thought that the United States could decide on its own that which involved everyone," Baggio said.

"It is even more worrying that the general vision of the Bush administration regarding the global project they intend to pursue is in direct contrast with the vision of the Catholic Church," he added.

The Catechism, the professor noted, treats the argument of war under the article entitled, "The Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill." The subheading is then entitled, "Safeguarding Peace," and finally the argument on war entitled, "Avoiding War."

"Beginning with the structure in which the Catechism presents the arguments, it is evident ... that there exists on the part of the Catholic Church a preliminary negative judgment regarding war," Baggio said.

The professor takes issue with what he considers to be neo-conservatives' narrow interpretation of the Doctors of the Church.

"An important limit of the neo-conservative interpretation of the doctrine of just war," Baggio said, "is that it does not take as its central perspective the search to avoid war, but concentrates instead -- because conditioned by the present historical moment and, perhaps, by a patriotism that tends to rationally and ethically justify the choices made by President Bush -- exclusively on that which makes war acceptable.

"They refer to the doctrine of peace and war of Augustine and the Scholastics, whose reflections on the conditions of just war is only a part of their doctrine, that which regulates the exception. In the vision of these classical scholars, beginning with Augustine, the norm and the very sense of their doctrine of just war lies in the search for peace."

Baggio cited Augustine's letter to Dario, "The greatest title of glory is that which kills war with the word, instead of killing men with the sword and to procure or maintain peace with peace and not with war."

* * *

Secret-Archives Files Online

The Vatican made available for the first time last year its files from the Secret Archives containing correspondence from World War II. Since then, select academics have been sifting through the letters and documents in an attempt to shed light on the activities of the Holy See and Pope Pius XII during those years.

Though the archives have been opened, it is still only a privileged few who are able to access them. Now, however, one of those researchers, Italian historian Matteo Luigi Napolitano, has taken it upon himself to make available the files from the Secret Archives on a new Web site:

A professor at the University of Urbino, Napolitano is placing the original correspondence in its entirety on the Internet, for the benefit of students and academics who might not otherwise have a chance to see them.

"Just as it does not make sense to write a book that will not be read," Napolitano told me, "it seems there is no sense in conducting research without attempting to diffuse the results to a more vast public."

It is clearly a labor of love for Napolitano, who enters in all the data himself, without benefit of assistants. The Vatican supports the initiative.

"I informed the prefect of the Secret Archives, Monsignor Sergio Pagano, of my idea, long before I began it," he said.

"With great freedom and courtesy, he told me that obviously nothing barred the publication of the Vatican documents in digital form, although there are rules regulating the publication of the original documents in any other form," Napolitano said.

In addition to the documents, the Web site also contains academic articles by historians pertaining to relationship of the Holy See and Nazism.

The key figure in this relationship, of course, was Pius XII. Napolitano has recently published a book based on his research in the Secret Archives entitled "Il Papa che Salvň gli Ebrei" (The Pope Who Saved the Jews) published by Piemme and co-authored by Andrea Tornielli, a noted Vatican journalist and prolific author.

The authors dedicate their book to their families, "who patiently bear our daily immersion among the papers and documents of the archive."

Their book publishes their findings in the archives, together with testimony of living witnesses, to give a wider historical context to the discussion of Pius XII.

"We try to demonstrate what can happen when the documents are read only in one way," said Napolitano, "without an appreciation for the living and credible voice of witnesses -- used only when they can add to the accusations, while their affirmations are systematically ignored when they go in the other direction."

The book takes up some of the myths surrounding the famous letter by Edith Stein (also available on the Web site) and the film Amen directed by Costantin Costa Gavras.

"We highlight the film 'Amen,' a scandalous manipulation of the historical reality, and of the lightness with which the theme of silence has been addressed by popular TV transmissions," Napolitano said.

"Saying that Pius XII 'was silent' doesn't explain why he was silent," he added. "Saying that he 'knew' doesn't explain in what way or through which channels he knew."


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