Monday, 11 June 2007
Prefect for the East
Archbishop Leonardo Sandri has been moved from the Secretariat of State to become the Prefect for the Eastern Churches. Unremarkable, you might think.
But I am fairly confident, from knowing several Eastern rite priests, that this appointment will cause disappointment that, yet again, their affairs are going to be regulated by a Latin rite cleric.
No doubt this is partly so that the very different Eastern traditions can be moderated by someone who is impartial, who belongs to none of them, but the past has shown that this impartiality can mean in effect, equal indifference to them all.
It seems to me that the policy towards the Eastern Catholic Churches has shuttled from one extreme to the other. A Rumanian Catholic priest friend of mine complained that when he was a seminarian, the then prefect delivered a homily extolling the indispensibility of celibacy for the priesthood. This priest, I might add, now has a wife and five beautiful children. Other prefects have urged that all 'latinization' be utterly purged from the rites. This doesn't just mean in the Eucharistic rite itself, but statues, stations of the cross, rosaries &c that have been an important part of the rites' spirituality for decades if not centuries. These people are not just Eastern, they are Catholi, and their fear is that they and their churches will at some time be coolly handed over to the supervision of their local Orthodox Patriarch, perhaps in some sort of a Northern-Ireland power-sharing deal, as an ecumenical gesture. In some cases, there has been real oppression of these Eastern Catholic by their Orthodox neighbours—in Transylvania, the Orthodox still hold many Catholic Churches gifted to them by the Communist regime, which they keep locked because they do not need them, but which they will not return to their true owners. Dogs in the manger, indeed. I am of course aware that there has also been bad behaviour the other way, but it just goes to show that you really need someone who understands the situation from the inside at the head of this congregation.
And then there is a row about whether the rites should be 'montini-ized'. Many Eastern clergy now want to celebrate Mass/the Liturgy facing the Congregation with other similar changes. Why, I can't imagine. For quite a while now, Rome has been supporting those who want to maintain the traditional position and rites (this being ecumenically motivated, I think), while at the same time doing little or nothing to achieve the same in the West.
You can read something about this row in the Indian Syro-Malabar church here.