Friars of Assisi lose their independence as Pope reins in adventurous negotiators
Tuesday 22 November 2005
The friars of the shrine of St Francis of Assisi, the world-famous centre of inter-religious dialogue and Christian pacifism, have been brought to heel by Pope Benedict XVI.
The mendicant friars, who welcome millions of pilgrims every year to the burial place of St Francis, have at a stroke lost the autonomy that made them one of the boldest and most adventurous institutions in the Catholic Church. Italian commentators on the right and left have hailed the move or roundly condemned it. The daily newspaper La Repubblica called it "a shocking initiative".
The friars were granted autonomy by Pope Paul VI in 1969, and the picturesque shrine of the saint in the Umbrian hills has since become renowned for its annual peace marches, drawing thousands of participants, and for two Assisi peace conferences, in 1986 and 2002, which caused outrage among conservative Catholics.
The first conference in particular, which saw the participation of native American and African animists as well as Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders, still rankles with the conservatives. At the time the current Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger and John Paul II's theological adviser, said of the meeting, "this cannot be the model" for ecumenical dialogue.
Vittorio Messori, a conservative Catholic commentator, said: "The Church has a long memory. Joseph Ratzinger has had an account to settle with the friars of Assisi since the inter-religious meeting of 1986. Now he has fixed it."
He went on: "Ratzinger has not forgiven the Franciscan community for the excesses of the first day of prayer of the religious leaders with [Pope John Paul II]. It was a mockery, as many said, that forced the hand of the Pope, and it was the friars who broke the agreement they had made. They went so far as to allow African animists to slaughter chickens on the altar of the basilica of Santa Chiara, and American redskins to dance in the church."
Other conservatives remembered bitterly the visit to Assisi of the nominally Christian Tariq Aziz, foreign minister to Saddam Hussein, in February 2003, part of a last-ditch attempt to halt the imminent Iraq war.
But others were dismayed by the Pope's decision to put Assisi under the control of the local bishop, a cardinal, and Cardinal Ruini, the fiercely conservative head of the Italian Bishops' Conference. "The fort of dialogue has fallen," lamented Livia Turco, a former minister and member of the opposition Democrats of the Left. "Shorn of their autonomy ... the Franciscans have had their hands tied and will no longer be the bridge between the Church and society."
The friars themselves were more diplomatic. "One Pope gives, the next takes away," said Fr Vincenzo. "When we decided to invite Tariq Aziz, one meeting was enough. Now who knows what we would have to do."
But what about that invitation, extended to the right-hand man of a bloody dictator? "Whoever arrives among you, friend or enemy, thief or brigand, welcome him with goodwill. That is the rule of St Francis, and that's what we follow."
- 1 Malaysian cyclist could face disciplinary action after 'Save Gaza' gloves protest
- 2 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 3 Fifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage from US parenting groups
- 4 McDonald’s removes chicken nuggets from the menu in Hong Kong amid major food scare
- 5 Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
Israel-Gaza conflict: Israeli targeting policy under scrutiny after shellfire hits a mother and child, a school full of refugees and a doctor’s home
Students offered grants if they tweet pro-Israeli propaganda
McDonald’s removes chicken nuggets from the menu in Hong Kong amid major food scare
Satellite full of sexually experimental geckos adrift in space, Russia loses control of mission
Costa Concordia finally towed from Giglio amid environmental concerns that cruise liner is a 'floating bomb'
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Arizona execution lasts two hours as killer Joseph Wood left 'snorting and gasping' for air
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...
Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...
£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...
£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...