September 30, 1995

Associated Press

By VICTOR L. SIMPSON Associated Press Writer

U.S. Voice In Rome Not So Loud

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The publication of the first summary of Roman Catholic teaching in more than four centuries was of major importance. So the American church wanted to use gender-neutral language to make the English-language version acceptable to its flock.

When the dust settled after an 18-month battle with the Vatican, Rome won. The new catechism came out as originally written, using "man" or "men" and not "men and women" as American translators had sought.

At times, it seems, the noisy American church carries a small stick in Rome.

At the Vatican, its clout is not commensurate with its size.

Disagreements among American bishops themselves, a wariness among some Europeans of anything American and outright policy differences are all seen as undercutting the U.S. voice in Rome.

said Monsignor William Murphy, vicar general of the Boston Archdiocese, who worked at the Vatican for 13 years.

With a flock of 60 million, the U.S. church is among the top five in the world in terms of size. It is second only to Brazil in the number of bishops, with more than 250.

Yet it counts only one man, Cardinal Edmund Szoka, among top, active cardinals at the Vatican. The former archbishop of Detroit watches the Vatican's money as head of its Office of Economic Affairs.

Few Americans hold midlevel positions, many of them in the hands of Italians and other Europeans.

Among cardinals in the United States, only one, Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, has ready access to Pope John Paul II, according to Vatican insiders.

Of course, the size and wealth and the important role that American Catholics do play in their country is not completely overlooked.

John Paul's visit Wednesday through Sunday will be the fourth trip to the United States in his 17-year papacy, following previous stops in 1979, 1987 and 1993.

At the same time, the Vatican hasn't restrained itself from criticizing U.S. officials by name, a very rare departure for an institution that usually takes great care not to offend.

Over the past 12 months, it has taken public swipes at Vice President Al Gore over American pro-abortion positions at a population conference and at Geraldine Ferraro, a member of the U.S. delegation to the recent United Nations women's conference in Beijing. The Vatican never disguised its irritation with Ms. Ferraro for her pro-choice stance when she was the Democratic candidate for vice president.

On his last trip to the United States, a visit to Denver in August 1993, John Paul publicly rebuked President Clinton on abortion.

One Vatican official, speaking under customary anonymity, said the Holy See receives "mixed signals" on U.S. domestic politics from its bishops. They find themselves aligned with many Republicans against abortion, while embracing Democratic social policy.

Some American bishops themselves were out of line with the Vatican during the Gulf War, supporting U.S. military intervention while John Paul was urging restraint.

Shifts on policy issues apparently don't help the cause.

Disagreement over women's ordination led U.S. bishops in 1992 to abandon a pastoral letter on women's ordination after nine years of work. The pope has repeatedly ruled out women priests.

Keeping up a worldwide trend, John Paul is moving in like-minded conservatives to dioceses, reducing the possibilities of doctrinal disagreements among his bishops. In the latest move, the pope moved Monsignor William Levada from Portland, Ore., to San Francisco to eventually take over from Archbishop John Quinn, who pursued a liberal line.