Pope Benedict Enforcing Traditional Rules and Orthodoxy

By John Jalsevac – Writing from Rome

Pope Benedict - Photo By John JalsevacROME, Italy, November 24, 2005 ( - In an apostolic letter released by the Vatican Press this past Saturday, Pope Benedict again demonstrated his unwillingness to tolerate serious dissent in the Church and further raised the ire of liberal groups, already up in arms anticipating the newly leaked Vatican document reaffirming the centuries-long ban on admitting homosexuals into the priesthood.Â

In the “motu proprio” (on his own initiative)Â letter, Pope Benedict officially revoked the unusual four decade long autonomy of the notoriously liberal Franciscan basilicas in Assisi, again placing them under the jurisdictional authority of the local bishop. The bishop of Assisi, said the pope, “from this moment on, will have the jurisdiction foreseen by (canon) law over churches and religious houses regarding all pastoral activities undertaken by the Conventual fathers in the Basilica of St. Francis and by the Friars Minor of St. Mary of the Angels.”

Annoyed liberal commentators have interpreted this unexpected maneuver by the Holy Father as an attempt to ‘reign-in’ the Franciscans in regards to some of their more controversial or unorthodox initiatives, most notably the abuses of their so-called “inter-faith dialogues” that Benedict strongly spoke out against while still Cardinal Ratzinger. One minister of the liberal Democrats of the Left Party, however, complained bitterly that, “Now the Franciscans have their hands tied and can no longer be a bridge between the Church and society.”

In Italy the Franciscan basilicas have come to be widely associated with left-leaning groups, including, amongst others, leaders of the communist party. However, the particular event that many Italian news-sources have been rehashing in the last number of days is the highly controversial visit to Assisi by former Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam Hussein’s right-hand men, in 2003, shortly before the commencement of the Iraq wars.

Former Assisian bishop Goretti welcomed Benedict’s new directives, lamenting, “Often I would learn about their initiatives from the newspapers…in Assisi it was absurd that there existed autonomous enclaves over which the bishop had no power at all.”

But while conservative sources in Rome agree that, while true that this is most likely a disciplinary measure on Benedict’s part aimed at the Franciscan Friars, that isn’t the complete or most important part of the story.Â

Almost simultaneous with the announcement that the basilicas were to again answer to the bishop, Benedict announced the appointment of Archbishop Dominico Sorrentino as bishop of the diocese of Assisi. Although slipping by general notice amidst the furor over the controversy surrounding the Franciscan shrines, some commentators are speculating that the appointment of Sorrentino may be the most important development yet in Benedict’s papacy.

Until his new appointment Sorrentino had served in one of the highest positions in the Church as secretary of the Congregation for Liturgy. Catholic World News reports that “The new appointment for Archbishop Sorrentino is one of the first important changes that Pope Benedict has made in the leadership of the Roman Curia, and the first time that he has assigned a Curial official to a new post outside the Vatican.”

For some time now Sorrentino has not been looked upon favorably by orthodox Catholics who have questioned some of his decisions and motives pertaining to a number of technical but important issues related to the Catholic liturgy. And in Italy, especially, Sorrentino has received criticism for his involvement in seminars related to exonerating Giordano Bruno, a crazed 16th century Dominican monk who taught anti-Catholic, anti-Christian doctrines, arguing, amongst other things, that Christ was merely a skilled magician, that the Devil would be saved, and similarly and universally repugnant teachings to Christians.Â

Sorrentino’s new post, in one of the smallest dioceses in Italy, with a population of a mere 77,000 Catholics, removes the vast majority of his universal influence in the Church. Furthermore, both Sorrentino and the Franciscan basilicas, according to Benedict’s directives, will now also answer to Cardinal Ruini, one of the most conservative members in the College of Cardinals.Â

Archbishop Sorrentino, says the Pope, “will hear the opinion of the president of the Umbra Episcopal Conference for initiatives that affect the Region, of the Presidency of the Italian Episcopal Conference for those of a larger radius.” Which is to say that any pastoral decisions having a far-reaching effect, most especially any further attempts at hosting “Peace Conferences”, which in the past have appalled Christians by openly celebrating pagan religions, will have to pass by Cardinal Ruini.Â

Some are calling this dual decision, of reinstating the normal authority of the bishop over churches in his diocese, particularly the Franciscan basilicas, and the transfer of Sorrentino from the Roman Curia, as “brilliant”, the killing of two birds with one stone.

Indeed, in light of a series of recent dramatic decisions by the Holy Father, many hopeful Catholics are increasingly speaking about the so-called “reform of the reform” that the new pope has undertaken since the beginning of his pontificate. Although the “do and don’t ask questions” technique that he has employed has caused consternation amongst Catholic liberal fringe groups, many see this practical, hands-on approach as the natural conclusion to the papacy of John Paul II, who painstakingly laid the philosophical and pastoral groundwork for the new reform.

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