What makes this photo fascinating is that Neo Cat founders Kiko and Carmen have so much pull, Carmen can be photographed with Benedict XVI in sweats. At least they are black sweats.
The other day the Vatican announced a decision, that while it hasn't gotten much play, pretty much defines the authority of national bishops conferences to act on their own authority. At the same time the story gives great insight into the power of the various Spanish personality cults with in the Vatican. The cults can and the bishops can't.
Neocatechumenal Way Will Not Be Suspended in Japan
MADRID, Spain, JAN. 7, 2011 (Zenit.org).-
The Neocatechumenal Way will not be suspended in Japan for five years, as was previously announced by the country's episcopal conference, reports the lay movement.
According to a spokesman of movement, Alvaro de Juana, this decision was communicated recently in writing by the Vatican Secretariat of State to the Neocatechumenal Way founders: Kiko Arguello, Carmen Hernandez and Mario Pezzi.
De Juana informed ZENIT that the letter came after Benedict XVI presided at a Dec. 13 meeting with a representation of several Japanese bishops, among them the president of the episcopal conference, Archbishop Leo Ikenaga of Osaka, to address some aspects of the Neocatechumenal Way in Japan.
A few weeks earlier, the Japanese episcopal conference announced that it would suspend the activities of the movement in Japan for five years.
De Juana explained that "the Holy See has made a series of decisions," which were revealed in Cardinal Bertone's letter.
"The first indicates that the suspension of the Neocatechumenal Way in Japan for five years -- as attempted by the country's Episcopal Conference -- is not admissible," he said.
On the other hand, the spokesman added, it specified that "the dialogue between the bishops of Japan and the Neocatechumenal Way must be taken up again as soon as possible with the help of a competent delegate who loves the Way and respects the problems of the bishops."
"Finally, if necessary, the latter must give concrete indications to the Way for each of its own dioceses, avoiding pronouncements of the episcopal conference," explained De Juana.
"The Holy See points out in addition that the Secretariat of State will be in charge of giving the necessary instructions and will address, in contact with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the questions referring to the presence of the Way in said country," concluded the spokesman.
So much for the power of Episcopal conferences to make independent decisions. Or maybe this is actually about the power of conservative lay movements who worship the Vatican. In any event the Japanese bishops have certainly been put in their place when it comes to the Neo Cats. I wonder if an individual bishop could throw them out of their diocese. I would love to see a Japanese bishop test those waters.
The cynic is me wonders if the Vatican is sucking up to the Neo Cats because they need these official Vatican cheerleaders to fill St Peter's square when JPII is beatified. That was one of the main 'charisms' of the Neo Cats, to see to it that the crowds came out for JPII. They also made sure guitar toting Neo Cats sang to the Pope on the days he was in residence at St Peter's. Like Marcial Maciel, Neo Cat founders Kiko Arguello and Carmen Hernandez were connected personally with JPII and had access to his inner circle. They were on his private dinner guest list.
The Japanese bishops had problems with Neo Cat secrecy about their doings, their individualized rituals, and enough concern with Neo Cat seminary formation that they shut down the Neo Cat seminary. The over all complaint about them was that the Neo Cats were affecting unity with in their dioceses. These complaints are generic concerning these privately led, Spanish birthed, lay Catholic initiatives. They run on secrecy, elitism, Vatican worship, and predatory recruiting with in parishes and colleges. In the case of the Japanese Catholic Church, Kiko and Carmen have more Vatican influence than the entire Japanese Episcopal conference.
I've written before about two points this story illustrates. The first is that the whole notion of subsidiarity is dead in Roman Catholicism. It's all Vatican all the time. The second is that these Spanish initiated lay groups
like Opus Dei, the Legion, and the Neo Cats are a parallel church not answerable to any ecclesiastical authority outside the Vatican. Their influence with in the Vatican, which is not a reflection of their actual numbers--well human numbers anyway-- is seemingly unlimited.
These groups seem to function as sort of a fifth column for the Vatican with in Catholicism. The definition of a fifth column is "a clandestine subversive organization working within a country to further an invading enemy's military and political aims." There are other names for groups who infiltrate their fellow citizens on behalf of a central state authority. I'm being generous in describing them as a fifth column.
In any event be prepared to be overwhelmed by tales of Neo Cat allegiance and passionate piety when the Vatican roles out the JPII Beatification ceremony. There will be guitars everywhere and some of them will be from Japan.
I don't imagine there is much guitar playing going on in the halls of the USCCB or other national conferences. Their competency and authority goes only so far as their Vatican leash lets them. No wonder professional groups like the Catholic Health Association blow them off. I can't think of too many people who are intimidated by a dog on a leash, no matter how much the dog barks.
UPDATE: The NCR has also posted on this story and it too is worth a read. It seems the Japanese bishops are not going to accept this directive silently. Good for them.