It’s not every day that a group of reporters can sit around the conference table in the doctrinal congregation’s inner sanctum and toss questions at its cardinal-prefect.
U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, named to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005, generously gave time during a busy week to a delegation of Catholic journalists. They were in Rome for Saturday’s consistory, on a trip sponsored by the Catholic Press Association.
The setting alone was impressive. Cardinal Levada hosted the reporters in the “Sala di Consulta,” where three times a month about 30 consulters — mostly professors at Rome pontifical universities — meet to offer perspectives on whatever the congregation considers the pressing issues of the day.
Sometimes these discussions are the breeding ground of new documents; sometimes they’re just interesting exchanges of opinions. Participants sit at a large oval table outfitted with microphones. On the wall are portraits of Pope Pius V, a former prefect of the congregation and now its patron saint, and Pope Benedict XVI, who presided here for 24 years before becoming pope.
At the same table, the cardinal and bishop members of the congregation meet once a month — always on a Wednesday — to review issues and make decisions.
With the Catholic journalists, Cardinal Levada fielded questions ranging from ecumenism to excommunication. This was mostly a background conversation, but a few things can be disclosed:
— The cardinal doesn’t anticipate another Vatican document on politics and Communion as the U.S. election campaign gets into full swing over the coming year.
— The congregation is pressing ahead with a global study of “natural law theories for moral theology,” which could turn into a bigger project.
— The cardinal’s weekly meetings with Pope Benedict are not pro forma. As one might guess, the pope still takes a keen interest in the details of doctrinal affairs.