Pastor General's Report

With a speed that surprised even Vatican "insiders," the secret conclave of cardinals elected Cardinal Albino Luciani, 65, as 263rd Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church last Saturday during the first day's balloting in the historic Sistine Chapel.

Although Cardinal Luciani had been mentioned as being among the late Pope Paul's possible successors, he was believed to have been originally far down on the list of papabili. He himself joked to an American newsman before the conclave that he was on "List C." What is obvious now however, is that as the days dwindled down toward the election, Cardinal Luciani emerged from inner-circle caucusing as an acceptable compromise candidate who could be supported by nearly all ideological factions, and by both Italian and non-Italian electors.

Cardinal Luciani chose "John Paul I" as his papal name, making him the first pope to ever assume a double name. It is believed that he chose the names of his two predecessors — John XXIII and Paul VI — both as a tribute to them as well as to indicate that he would continue the general lines of their moderate reformist policies, avoiding any sharp change of direction in the church.

The new pope is considered to be a moderate-conservative in his theological outlook, having been a protege, for a time, of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, now 87, the Vatican's No. 1 conservative. There would thus appear to be little indication of his relaxing traditional church teachings on morality, specifically in the areas of divorce and birth control, or those on priestly celibacy and a strictly male priesthood — issues which have caused wide dissent in the church in recent years. (Pope John Paul, as a prelate, sat on a commission called by Paul to consider if any artificial methods of contraception could be acceptable to the Roman Catholic church and sided with the majority that said the pill could be permitted. After Paul ignored the advice of his own commission and banned the pill and every other means of artificial contraception in the encyclical "humanae vitae" the present pope remained silent on the subject from that time onward.)

Cardinal Luciani is a native of the scenic Dolomite Mountains village of Forno di Canale in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. His father, a glass blower and bricklayer, was an Italian socialist, which probably accounts for Luciani's progressive social views. Ordained as a priest in 1935 at age 22, Luciani rose through the ranks, eventually being named Patriarch (Bishop) of Venice by Pope Paul VI in 1969. In 1973 Pope Paul ordained him a cardinal. Not much is known yet of the state of his health, though one U.S. television network described him as being somewhat "frail," having had health problems as a youth.

Customarily described as a quiet and simple man, yet very intelligent, John Paul has been involved mostly in pastoral work in the parishes and dioceses rather than in the Vatican bureaucracy (he was not a member of the Curia).

Though generally considered to be a "pastoral" rather than a "political" pope (he also eschews the labels "conservative" and "liberal"), John Paul I is recognized as being an ardent anti-Communist. He has published articles in times past in the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano, opposing any accommodation whatsoever by the Church with Marxism. In 1975 he recommended disciplinary punishment for priests who spoke out in favor of the Communist Party or other leftist groups.

Cardinal Luciani once admitted to a reporter that he found it difficult to accept the Vatican Council's teaching that all religions are entitled to full and equal liberty. This he felt was in conflict with the traditional teaching that Roman Catholicism is the "only true religion," which confers upon it rights that others do not have. It was his former mentor, Cardinal Ottaviani, who had developed the thesis that "only truth has rights." Cardinal Luciani, however, subsequently claimed to have become convinced of "his error" on this point. The fact that he has backed away from his previous hardline stand regarding other churches and beliefs has led some observers to speculate that John Paul will perpetuate the Vatican Council's relative openness toward the non-Catholic and non-Christian world.

All in all, it would seem at this point in time that no dramatic changes or innovations lay in store for the Roman Catholic Church during Pope John Paul's papacy. But as has been frequently observed in history, the papal office often "creates the man," or brings out unexpected qualities in him. Thus, until Pope John Paul actually begins to function in his office, we can only speculate. However, judging on the basis of his career and personality, it will probably be necessary to look for another to step into the "False Prophet" role depicted in prophecy.

For your interest (or for whatever else it may be worth), an old Irish Catholic prophecy of the 12th Century predicts that there will be 265 popes before "the end of the world." Pope John Paul I is number 263. The last, pope, according to this prophecy of "Malachy," an old Irish bishop, is to take the name "Peter the Roman." Time will have to judge the prophecy's accuracy.

— Gene H. Hogberg, News Bureau

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Pastor General's ReportAugust 28, 1978Vol 2 No. 33