Something important happened in Rome [Wednesday] morning.
I don’t fully understand what it means, but I know it is important, and very interesting.
The Pope merged an entire Vatican office, lock, stock and barrel, an office which had been separate and on its own for the past 21 years, the Ecclesia Dei (“Church of God”) commission, set up to work with traditional Catholics, especially those desirous of preserving the old Mass, into the most important Vatican Congregation, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
The CDF is No. 1 Vatican office in terms of doctrinal authority, after the Pope himself.
It is the chief doctrinal office in the Roman Catholic Church, and as such the final arbiter of Catholic orthodoxy and heresy, truth and error.
The CDF is the Congregation which, prior to the Second Vatican Council, was known as the “Holy Office of the Inquisition” — the office which, believing that doctrinal truth is of supreme importance, and deserving of extraordinary intellectual and legislative energy to defend it, became the “sentinel” or “watch-dog” over orthodoxy throughout the world.
After Vatican II, Paul VI ordered the name of the Congregation changed from “Holy Office of the Inquisition,” which seemed to have a negative connotation, to “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” because that seemed to him to have a more positive connotation.
And the mission was revised to emphasis more clarifiation and “promotion” of doctrinal truth rather than investigation and condemnation of doctrinal error.
This is the first time any external office has been merged into the CDF. There is no precedent for it that I know.
Why did the Pope do it?
I was in the Press Office, watching “the wives” on television, when the news broke. (By “the wives” I mean the wives of all the presidents and government leaders who are meeting in Aquila, Italy, not far from Rome, at the G8 world economic summit. Many of the wives will not meet with the Pope when their husbands meet with him, so a special meeting was set up at noon [Wednesday], just after the regular Wednesday general audience. A group of 10 or 12 wives, all wearing black, with black head coverings, were received by Pope Benedict XVI in audience…)
“They’ve released the Ecclesia Dei motu proprio,” my colleague, Martin Zoeller of German television, said to me.
“Ah!” I said. “Do you have a copy of the text?”
“Yes,” he said. “It’s on the Vatican Radio website. Hasn’t it been published here yet?”
“No,” I said. “Can I see your copy?”
A few minutes later, the Vatican Press Office itself released the news in a press bulletin, and then Father Federico Lombardi came out from his office to explain the text and answer questions.
The text was released in Latin and Italian.
Essentially, what it said was this:
The Ecclesia Dei commission would not longer have a separate head, but would be under the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF, currently the American Cardinal William Levada. The old head, the Colombian Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, who has passed the retirement age of 75 in any case, would retire.
The Secretary, or #2 man, would change from the Belgian Monsignor Camille Perl, who had been with Ecclesia Dei since the beginning, for 21 years, to Italian Monsignor Guido Pozzo, a staff member of the CDF. The aml Ecclesia Dei staff would remain in place.
My first thought was: What are Cardinal Levada’s intentions? What has the Pope instructed him to do with Ecclesia Dei?
My second thought was that Monsignor Perl might feel a bit mistreated, as he was confirmed just last year “ad quinquennium,” that is, for another five years…
I decided I should try to visit the Ecclesia Dei offices.
As I walked across St. Peter’s Square, I noticed that the fountains were not working. They had been turned off for cleaning. I saw a worker spraying a hose to dislodge all the lichens and moss which grows on the inside of the fountain basin. Then, up ahead, as I looked up at the saints along the top of the colonnade, I noticed that only two of them are white. The rest are all dark with soot and grime. But there are two which have been cleaned in recent weeks, and I suppose all of the 153 statues all along the top of the colonnade encircling the Square will be cleaned in the next year or two.
When I reached the Holy Office, I rang the bell, and the doorman let me in.
“May I speak with Monsignor Perl?” I asked.
“Monsignor Perl is in a meeting and can’t see you now,” he said.”You’ll have to wait.”
He indicated a room next to the foyer. “You can wait in there…”
I sat down in the empty office.
“Whose office is this?” I asked the doorman.
“It is Monsignor Mario Marini‘s old office,” he said. “He died just a month ago, on May 24.
“Here is the card from his funeral Mass.
“He died rather suddenly. No one knew he was ill. But he had a cancerous tumor in his lung, and it metasticized. He learned of it about seven months ago, but he didn’t tell any of us. In fact, up until three weeks before his death, he was in here every morning at 8:30, laughing and joking and wishing all of us good morning. He was a saint…”
“Did you know him well?” I asked.
“I was with him at the end,” the man said. “I would go to the Policlinico Gemelli those last three weeks when he was bed-ridden, and bring him whatever he needed. And I was with him, along with his brother, the night he died.”
I looked around the office. There were only two things on the wall: an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and a wooden crucifix.
“He loved Mexico,” the doorman said.
“Who is Monsignor Perl meeting with?” I asked.
“It’s a big meeting,” the doorman said. “Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, Cardinal Levada, Monsignor Pozzo, and the staff of Ecclesia Dei…”
I waited for 20 minutes, then the meeting ended.
I could see Monsignor Perl coming down the corridor. He looked tired.
“Monsignor,” I said.
“Oh,” he said. “Hello.”
“I wondered if I could talk to you…”
“No,” he said. “Some other time.”
He turned, his shoulders bent as if under a heavy load, his face grey with suppressed emotion, and went out the door of the office where he has worked for 21 years for the last time…