Rome's Nuns and monks are controlled from 3 Piazza Pio XII, in front of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, where the 'Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life' is located.
Pope Sixtus V established it in 1586 as the Sacred Congregation for Consultations about Regulars. The power of this body is immense. "The Congregation is responsible for everything which concerns institutes…. and societies of apostolic life regarding their government, discipline, studies, goods, rights, and privileges … for matters regarding the eremitical life, consecrated virgins and their related associations, and new forms of consecrated life … and has no territorial limits (and) also can dispense those who are subject to it from the common law".
Archbishop Franc Rodé
And its head, Archbishop Franc Rodé, seems an acceptable nun supremo. He is particularly keen on getting unmarried people, whether female or male, sequestered in cloisters. He can quote widely from the Romanist mystics such as Teresa of Avila and St Teresa of Lisieux who said things like, "notwithstanding the grilles - or in some mysterious way actually because of them - they are present with their hidden life of love and sacrifice".
Rodé also quotes freely from the late John Paul II's Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata, which tells us why Rome is so terrified by the falling nun numbers: "The monastic life of women and the cloister deserve special attention because of the great esteem in which the Christian community holds this type of life."
So how did Rodé become overseer of Rome's 783,000 vulnerable unmarried females? He ays, "I had an opportunity of breathing the clean air and sweet perfume of life totally dedicated to contemplation in a community in the diocese of Ljubljana, of which I was priest and pastor for seven years: the Community of the Discalced (barefooted) Carmelites of Sora." Recently, "The cloister accepted as gift and chosen as free response of love, twenty women young in age or with the will to live … it is indeed true that contemplatives do not grow old!"
But most of Rome's Archbishops must have nunneries in their dioceses. What was so special about Cardinal Franc Rodé?
The fact is that Pope John Paul II only appointed Franc Rodé as Archbishops of Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, on March 5, 1997. Yet by February 2004 Rodé had been elevated from nowhere to be Prefect of this Congregation, a top job, as powerful in theory as leading the Inquisition. Why this sudden rise in such dizzy heights? Franc Rodé's story is most instructive.
|Archbishop Franc Rode (right) shakes hand with Serbian Patriarch Pavle|
Slovenia recently came fourth in a Channel 4 programme the "20 Best Places to Buy Property Abroad," beating the French Riviera, Tuscany and Florida, as "one of the most beautiful places in the world". Continually changing borders since the break up of the Austro Hungarian Empire in 1918, it lies near the eastern border of Italy, above Croatia and below Austria. It boasts a tiny strip of western Adriatic coast and a short eastern border with Hungary. Slovenia is a land of mountains, a third larger than Northern Ireland, with a population of 2 million.
Slovenia became part of Yugoslavia in 1929, then fascist in Word War II, and later communist under Tito. However as Sabrina Ramet of the University of Washington writes, "Of all of the Yugoslav successor states, Slovenia has recorded the smoothest and least problematic transition toward liberal democracy and has maintained the highest level of system stability". Ramet attributes this to the fact that the Communists of Slovenia had allowed a liberal political culture to emerge as early as the 1980s. The result was a mere 10 day bloodless confrontation when Slovenia declared independence on June 25th 1990.
Slovenia was already Yugoslavia's economic heavyweight, with a thirteenth of the population of Yugoslavia but responsible for a fifth of Yugoslavia's GDP. Entry into the EU and Nato in 2004 brought more prosperity. As a consequence, Slovenia is, "one of the most stable and prosperous of the central and eastern European economies" and enjoys, "a role on the world stage quite out of proportion to its small size". So Rome set about regaining her former hold on Slovenia. Croatia to the south is 87% Roman Catholic. Austria to the north is 73 %, but Roman Catholics in Slovenia had dwindled to only 60% of the population.
The fact is that Slovenia's tolerant Communism had marginalised Rome. The political parties which emerged as early as 1988 were often atheistic peasant organisations. Independence naturally gave Slovenia's Right wing a new opportunity. Rome grabbed it. A shaky coalition called DEMOS the Democratic opposition of Slovenia was concocted from a rag bag of six right wing groups. At the first multiparty elections, the clergy openly solicited votes for the Right. The Liberal intelligentsia from the Tito years raised the alarm Rome is back on the offensive!
Apparently election documents were distributed in front of all Slovenian (RC) parish churches after Mass, with the help of the priests. Voting day was Palm Sunday and "the voters duly perfomred their sacred duty by attending the Mass and then proceeded to cast their ballot at the polling station. It was observed that the priests in some churches, toghether with their flock, prayed for the people to make a right choice."
We are told that, "Later on, to make the mockery even greater, the priests explained that leaflets and prayers were meant for older people who completely forgot about the elections, especially as it is the duty of the church to explain to confused people what each party stands for". Priests were heard saying, "Elections are on Sunday! Decide so that the world and our own Slovenian history would not laugh at you! People came to church aware that they would get a red card from above if they do not make a choice acceptable to God".
DEMOS won. But the Slovenians, who had just emerged from one totalitarian ideology, did not want another. DEMOS lasted less than two years. Old Communist free thinkers, allied with Liberals in a Centre Liberal coalition, were led by left of centre Dr Janez Drnovsek, a well qualified, muti lingual economist with no love of Rome.
The Vatican was now driven to engage directly in politics. Drnovsek found himself "under attack from all [RC] pulpits". And who should be found leading the battle but Franc Rodé!, Rodé at the age of 11, had fled Slovenia with his parents for Austria and later Argentina. Now he busied himself manipulating the fallout from scandals surfacing amongst the old entrenched Communists.
Rodé demanded control of education and marriage ceremonies, Roman Catholic blessing of schools and public offices and a ban on new religious groups, lumping genuine protestant works with the sects and Islam. He is reported to have stated that Slovenians must either "live for God (the Roman Church) or ... for death. There is no third way." And, "what can a young Slovenian without a Christian education comprehend when he visits European museums, gazing like an idiot, which he in fact is?"
Honouring Hitler's men interestingly, Rodé joined politicians at meeting on 30th June 2000 honouring, "the Home Guards who fought in the Second World War as part of the German war machine and who in summer 1941 pledged allegiance to Adolf Hitler". These are, it seems, to be remembered with the communist partisans. They sang their old fascist anthem My Homeland.
The showdown came when the Vatican recruited Rodé to reach an Accord with Slovenia. Prof Ramet writes, "In the educational sphere, battle lines have been drawn between the Roman Catholic Church and its political advocates ... and those who champion a secular state ... At the centre of the battle has been the insistence on the part of Archbishop Franc Rode ... that Catholic religious instruction be incorporated into the curriculum of state elementary schools".
The Slovenian government agreed to negotiations. Article 10 guaranteed the Church's right to establish and operate educational facilities, and declared that "other questions pertaining to education would be handled via mutual consultation between authorized representatives of Church and state".
Prof Ramet continues, "Mateuz Krivic, a former justice of the Constitutional Court ... protested that Article 10 opened the door for the Church to meddle in the Slovenian educational system. Under pressure from various quarters, the Holy See agreed to a revision of Article 10, but a disputed section of Article 2, which stipulated . . . that the Republic of Slovenia and the Holy See are obligated ... to resolve open questions which are not included in the agreement, remained intact."
"Archbishop Rodé stated that, quite apart from the exclusion of religious instruction from the schools, the textbooks currently in use for other subjects were atheistic and needed to be replaced ... his Church would never accept secular education." The Accord was eventually signed on December 14, 2001.
Krivic immediately protested that, "in case of collision of the laws of state and church, the state shall be duty bound to fully respect the autonomy of the Catholic Church and its canon law". This alarming prospect forced the Slovenian Government "to submit the Accord to its experts for further study". Krivic then protested the altered version "is even worse than the first ... If the Parliament gives the green light to this Agreement between Slovenia and Vatican, all comments about the interference of the Church in state affairs will become superfluous, because church intervention in education and other spheres of social life will become a part of daily routine".
Rodé and his political priests finally triumphed in this lengthy stand off. Slovenia News announced on January 28th 2004, "Vatican Agreement Finally Wrapped Up". The National Assembly ratified it in a 44 to 12 vote. The Court did not find the agreement to be in violation of the principle of separation between the State and the Church.
The following month the Vatican announced Rodé's promotion to nun supremo in Rome. Slovenia News reported on Feb 11th 2004 that Rodé "would not relate his appointment directly to the recent ratification of this agreement between Slovenia and the Holy See". Well he wouldn't would he. "But he did say that he learned about his promotion only a day after the ratification."
No doubt Rodé was relieved when Benedict XVI confirmed this shotgun appointment in May this year. But then, they are both children of the Fascist era.