By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Here’s something you don’t see every day: Perhaps the most high-profile member of Opus Dei in Italy, a group usually known for its steadfast loyalty to the papacy, has publicly criticized an utterance from a Vatican official.
The Vatican official in question is Archbishop Angelo Amato, the secretary, or number two official, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal agency. The congregation is led by an American, Cardinal William Levada.
On April 23, Amato gave an address to hospital chaplains in Italy in which he denounced abortion and euthanasia as forms of “terrorism with a human face.” He cited a series of contemporary evils, including abortion clinics, which he called “slaughterhouses of human beings,” euthanasia, and “parliaments of so-called civilized nations where laws contrary to the nature of the human being are being promulgated, such as the approval of marriage between people of the same sex.”
The comments were widely reported, and have triggered criticism in some quarters, even among some Catholics, for seeming intemperate. At a diplomatic reception in Rome Tuesday night where many Vatican officials were present, for example, one European ambassador from a country where same-sex unions have been legalized loudly wondered where Amato got off suggesting that the country isn’t civilized – whatever he thinks of its marriage laws.
The Opus Dei personality is Paola Binetti, an Italian senator who belongs to the ruling center-left coalition under Prime Minister Romano Prodi. (That by itself makes Binetti something of a rare bird, since relatively few Opus Dei politicians belong to left-leaning parties.) Binetti is a numerary of Opus Dei, which means that she’s celibate and lives in an Opus Dei center.
Binetti is considered a leading “theo-dem” in Italy, meaning a member of the center-left coalition who defends Catholic positions on issues such as abortion, same-sex unions, and the role of religious bodies in contemporary Europe.
In the aftermath of Amato’s comments, Binetti gave an interview to veteran vaticanista Marco Tosatti of La Stampa, published today. In it, she distanced herself from the tone of Amato’s remarks, though not from their substance.
“Today, we are all the children of a culture that makes language an element that’s often more important than the content of what one says,” Binetti told Tosatti. “Paraphrasing [Marshall] McLuhan, we can say that ‘language is the message.’ In these cases, we have to pay careful attention to express our values in a way that people will receive them, so that we’re not just proposing them, so to speak, for the sake of proposing them. This is the great challenge that all of us Catholics face in this moment.”
In other words, Binetti suggested, it’s important on hot-button issues to choose one’s words carefully, in a way that’s calculated to persuade.
“This doesn’t mean being relativistic with respect to the truth,” she said. “It simply means knowing that every time I say something, I have to think about whom I’m addressing, and in what way my point might best be understood, might best be useful.”
“In a culture like the one in which we try to move,” Binetti said, “which is a culture of charity, I’m always reminded of that phrase of Scripture that says, Vertitatem facientem in caritate. (‘Do the truth in charity.’) One always has to speak the truth, but in a way that helps.”
Binetti expressed the hope that Amato’s comments will not be read as a verbal “act of terrorism.”