From Michael Wilson in Rome
'These past days as Pope Paul has been celebrating the tenth anniversary of his pontificate, there has been a revival of the rumours, with as little apparent foundation as past ones, that he contemplates some dramatic move. Abdication and retirement are not mentioned this time — merely a displacement from the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican to St. John in Lateran, the onetime home of the papcy.
These rumours began circulating last month when Pope Paul's words to a Salesian
father were published in the Don Bosco house organ, destined for internal consumption.
Fr. Antonio Maria Javierre, Rector of the Pontifical Salesian Athenaeum, who had led, spiritual exercises in the Vatican for the Pope in March and had been received in private audience of St. Patrick's day, reported in this news-sheet that the Pope had told him: "I would not hesitate to suppress this palace, if this palace is the real obstacle, or do the same with this temple, if this temple be the price of unity."
It took about two months for these words to be taken up and circulated and the rumour-mill to start — weakly. Then, celebrating the feast of
St. John the Baptist, l'ope Paul had stood at his library window and lauded the basilica erected in John's name. This was all the rumourmongers needed to go into full blast.
True enough, says Fr. Javierre, the Pope did use these words in the audience with him. But the Salesian father
did not for one moment interpret them as meaning that he intended moving lock, stock and barrel to St. John in Lateran, taking up his residence there and abandoning the Vatican in the ecumenical cause of Christian unity.
What Fr. Javierre did gather, in recalling his impressions at the time, was that Pope Paul would be more than willing to meet the episcopates of Orthodox and other Christian Churches on a basis of equality without, however, abandoning the unique position of primus inter yarn accorded the Bishop of Rome.
This, in Fr. Javierre's view, implied no physical move from one apostolic palace to another
but a switch in emphasis from Pontiff to Bishop of Rome, which, again, would not affect the authority over the Church held by pre-schism day Bishops of Rome — should this better the cause of a future unity of the Christian Church.
Although much progress has been made towards an eventual possible reunion in talks
and meetings between the Church of Rome and other Christian confessions, the ecumenical goal envisaged by Pope John XXIII when he created the Secretariat for Christian Unity and pursued IL)) Pope Paul is still far olf. A physical move from one place to another would not further the attainment, apart from being organisationally virtually impossible for a pontiff who has so firmly inserted the Church into the modern world with all the day-to-day contacts that this implies.