Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Return of the King - A Happy Ending for Middle Earth?

Somehow I got myself drawn into Italian politics at least as waged by the La Stampa group and its vaticanista ancillaries; this is the conclusion I draw from a rather special article published by that newspaper celebrating the return of ostpolitik in all its glory to Vatican diplomacy in the person of our dear Cardinal Secretary of State (here). It reads like a passage out of the Lord of the Rings, celebrating the return of the king and hope for the future of Middle Earth.

The start of my involvement was an urgent request for an interview from Vatican Insider, the almost instantaneous publication of the same and a super readiness to correct redaction errors except for the spelling of my baptismal name. Interestingly enough, although Vatican Insider did a Spanish translation of the article they have not done one in English, which leads me to my conspiracy theory. Don't get me wrong, I like the article and have congratulated the author personally; he did a good job (here). You won't convince me, however, that it wasn't always intended from the start to be a building block for the La Stampa piece. The thing was intended for Italian consumption; anything "important" they do comes out simultaneously in English. I won't accuse anybody of attempting to censor a clear statement of the position of the Holy See on Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Be that as it may, none of this would really have bothered if the article had not been an over the top celebration of so-called Casarolian ostpolitik.

No doubt curious minds or conscientious types might have googled the word for a definition:

Ostpolitik  ˈɒstpɒlɪˌtiːk/

[noun historical]  the foreign policy of western European countries of detente with reference to the former communist bloc, especially the opening of relations with the Eastern bloc by the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) in the 1960s.

The word can only be applied to the diplomacy of the Holy See in a derivative sense. Without any variable options to a detente equation such as were available to a nation state or major world power, like arms or commerce, Casarolian ostpolitik was little better than an attempt by the Holy See at appeasement of various Iron Curtain countries in hopes of easing the persecution of Catholics and the restoration of some sort of church structure, while hoping for better times or more progress in "taming the beast". You might ask why the Italian vaticanisti insist on touting such as part of the glory days of Vatican diplomacy.

For days I have been ruminating about ways to address the powerful appeal of Myroslav Marynovych to the Holy Father to be also a loving father to his Catholic family in Ukraine (here). I will not defend my part in the Vatican diplomacy he sees as obscuring the pure light of Christ's Gospel, which rather we have the mission to witness for all the world to see. Perhaps his most telling insight for me is this:

"For many Vatican diplomats, the Ukrainian Church is divided, naïve, unskilled in diplomacy – it does not exist as a center of power. For them, it is only a trouble-maker that creates problems in relations with the only real center of power in our area, the Moscow Patriarchate. And the Moscow Patriarchate’s clear, scandalous sins do not trouble the diplomats: they will give it priority as long as it remains influential in inter-church relations."

Wow! True or false? Makes me sort of feel like Cain from our Genesis readings at Mass these days: Am I my brother's keeper? Apart from natural first duties to my own Catholic family, Marynovych makes the point that genuine ecumenism takes its cue from the Divine Will, from Christ Jesus Himself, Who would have all of us baptized into His Death also living as one in His Church. There is little consolation in being able to appeal to centuries of calculated "diplomatic" intrigue as, well, "the way it is done in this world".

Marynovych points a finger at us diplomats, blaming us for stifling the Pope's ministry on behalf of the oneness of Christ's flock, or in his words:

"So the Pope, a brave pastor and moral authority, is forced to be a careful diplomat who is afraid to name the cause of the pain which his flock is suffering. However, I think it’s even more dangerous that diplomacy and reluctance to spoil relations with Moscow has invaded the domain of the Catholic faith. Calls for reconciliation hang in the air if the main prerequisite of all reconciliation, truth, is not secure. If the Church does not establish and defend the truth, it cannot carry out its peacekeeping mission or establish appropriate relations with other sister-churches."

Truth to be told, powerless as we are, the diplomatic part is easy for the Holy See and we are out there on all three points: 1) respect for a sovereign nation's territorial integrity is fundamental to international law and Russian annexation of Crimea is a gross violation of this body of customary law governing relations among states; 2) the chaos reigning in Donbas does not free Russia for its obligation to peacemaking: borders should be closed without delay to stop the flow of combatants and arms enabling Ukraine to establish order on its territory; 3) humanitarian aid is desperately needed by Ukraine, which should coordinate any flow of aid with the help of international agencies like the Red Cross. Speaking that truth does not accomplish it, but perhaps the Holy See still possesses some moral authority, such that other nations would be encouraged to seek a lasting peace for Ukraine and the world in adherence to the truth and in justice.

Ecumenism is harder, much harder, but not impossible, as it is ultimately God's work and not our skill which will bring Christ's Church together in love. We must remain faithful and offer the convincing witness of our profound respect and ardent love for all of the Churches now in communion with each other, with and under the Successor of St. Peter to whom Christ entrusted the mission of strengthening the brethren, of binding the Church together in love.


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