From the San Diego
Union-Tribune - Friday, January 5, 2001
RELIGION & ETHICS Section
Petitioners Want Mary Seated Beside Christ
Group asks pope to elevate her from being an adviser to being a
by Jan Jarboe Russell
New York Times News Service
"The world of today is in desperate need of a mother," whispered
Professor Mark Miravalle as he sat behind his desk at Franciscan University
in Steubenville, Ohio, carefully fingering a string of rosary beads.
Half a world away, inside the Vatican, yet another enormous box arrived
filled with petitions asking Pop John Paul II to exercise his absolute power
to proclaim a new and highly debated dogma: that the Virgin Mary is a
co-redeemer with Jesus and cooperates fully with her son in the redemption of
Miravalle, 41, began the petition drive four years ago from his obscure
position as a professor of Mariology--the study of Mary--at one of the most
conservative Catholic universities in the nation. Since then, the pope has
received more than six million signatures from 148 countries asking him to
give the Virgin Mary the ultimate promotion.
In addition to ordinary Catholics, Miravalle has received support from
550 bishops and 42 cardinals, as well as from Cardinal John O'Conner and
If Miravalle's campaign succeeds and John Paul II proclaims the Virgin
Mary as a co-redeemer, she would be a vastly more powerful figure, something
close to a fourth member of the Holy Trinity and the primary female face
through which Christians experience the divine.
Specifically, Roman Catholics would be required to accept three new
spiritual truths: that Mary is co-redemptrix and participates in people's
redemption, that Mary is mediatrix and has the power to grant all graces and
that Mary is "the advocate for the people of God," in Miravalle's, words, and
has the authority to influence God's judgments.
For the millions of Virgin Mary devotees who have signed Miravalle's
petitions, these are an accepted part of their daily spiritual lives. They
represent what theologians call popular piety, practices that are widely
accepted by ordinary religious people over the learned objections of the
Indeed the idea has been present in Catholicism at least as far aback as
the 14th century. There is also historic precedent for petition campaigns
such as Miravalle's. Two other Marian dogmas -- the dogma of the Assumption
in 1950, which declared that Mary was taken up, body and soul, to heaven
after her death, and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of 1854, which
established that Mary was preserved from original sin -- were both preceded
by floods of petitions.
Yet within the Vatican, the dogma that Miravalle advocates has touched
off a private holy war.
Although it has the support of at least 12 cardinals in Rome, others fear
that its acceptance would cause a major schism among Catholics and set back
all efforts at ecumenism. Because the dogma would be an infallible
proclamation by the pope, it would trigger a renewed debate over the role of
the pop's power in modern society.
"It seems to put her on an equal footing with Christ," said Father John
Roten, director of the International Marian Library in Dayton, articulating
the primary reason for opposition. "That just won't do."
Father Rene Laurentin, a French monk and the leading Mary scholar in the
world, agrees. In a fax, Laurentin said that the proposed dogma would be the
equivalent of launching "bombs" at the Protestants and would deepen the
breach between the Vatican and the Eastern Orthodox church.
"Mary is the model of our faith, but she is not divine," he said. "There
is no mediation or co-redemption except in Christ. He alone is God."
Pope John Paul II has made no secret of his devotion to Mary. He has the
phrase totus tuus (which in Latin means "totally hers") as his papal motto
and credits the Virgin Mary with saving his life during the 1981
assassination attempt and for the fall of communism.
He has used the phrase "co-redemptrix" six times in his papacy to
describe Mary, which has lead Miravalle and his petitioners to hope that
during his lifetime the pope will proclaim her co-redeemer.
Miravalle has visited privately with the pope several times, but he would
not say what happened during his meetings. "All I can tell you," Miravalle
said fervently, "is that I am personally confident that the holy father will
make this solemn definition of the Mother of Jesus at the most appropriate
time. It's not a question of if. It's only a question of when.
However, Joquain Navarro-Valls, spokesman for the Vatican, repeated a
statement made by the Vatican in 1997, which said that "there is no
proclamation of a new dogma on the Madonna under study either by the holy
father of by the International Theological Commission."
The Rev. Paige Patterson, president of the conservative Southern Baptist
Convention, the largest denomination of Protestants in the United States, is
horrified at the mere suggestion that Mary might be a co-redeemer. "Such a
view is clearly heretical," he said. "In order to be a redeemer, it would
require a person to be perfect. It would require a person to be God. We
certainly don't believe she was God."
Some liberal Protestants have lone argued that the Catholic Church has
used the symbol of the Virgin Mary to restrict women's possibilities by
keeping women obedient to the teachings of the church. Retired Bishop John
Spong, one of the most controversial figures in the Episcopal Church, says
that Christians need a feminine symbol for God, but said such a symbol needed
to be created by women, not "a bunch of men sitting around in Rome in their